Competence map

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A competence map or competency map defines a tree or network of connected competences that are in turn operationalized in terms of learning objectives.

Maps are how skills and competencies or competency definitions can be aggregated to form more comprehensive skills and competencies, or decomposed into component skills or competencies. Taxonomies are simple maps in the form of trees, according to the IMS Reusable Definition of Competency or Educational Objective - Best Practice and Implementation Guide [1]

Competence maps allow defining curriculum content in terms of interrelated competencies rather than in terms of fragmented or disassociated knowledge, skills and attitudes. (Stoof et al.2007:348).

Competency data are also essential to automatize training. “Competitive performance in today's organization requires a good handle on how to acquire, recognize and use competencies within the organizations. Automated competency tracking and management in the context of performance support, training and adaptive online learning requires a systematic way to define and track competencies for individuals and teams. However, the competency data may come from a variety of sources and in many different formats.” (Learning Technology: The Big Picture by C. Ostyn (2005), retrieved May 2016.

See also:

Schools can define competence maps in several ways:

  • Identify transversal, global competences
  • Identify competences a program level
  • Map global competences to program-level competences
  • Identify course-level competences
  • etc.

Skill gap analysis, e.g. through various means, e.g. learning analytics or positioning tests allow for better counseling or organization of catch-up modules, etc.

Organisation can use competence maps in the following way:

  • Define competences for given roles
  • Conduct a skill set gap analysis of employees
  • Plan a training curriculum that is defined by the role's expectations and the existing skill set.

The following figure by Claude Ostyn, shows a model of the Ecosystem of competence management. “This diagram is an attempt to show how learning management, training management and performance support systems can be aligned with business goals as part of an "ecosystem of competencies".” (2005)

Ecosystem of competence management. Source Ecosystem of competency management

Competence maps can be defined in non-formal of formal ways. Formal standards do have the advantage that they could integrate with learning infrastructures such as LMSs or LCMS. Claude Ostyn, in a [ working paper] defined sample use case for competency technical standards.

Definitions and dimensions of competence

Schneckenberg's (2010:986) [2] definition of eCompetence (i.e. the bundle that is required from teachers to use educational technology) is defined as action competence, i.e. “relates the ability for adequate action to complex electronic contexts (Phelps, Hase & Ellis, 2005). [3]. He then cites and agrees with Van de Blij (2002) [4] who defines “action competence as ‘...the ability to act within a given context in a responsible and adequate way, while integrating complex knowledge, skills and attitudes’. The dispositional components of knowledge, skills and attitudes (KSA) are at the core of the action competence concept.”.

Knowledge, skills and attitudes alone cannot really be observed and in addition (even if exist) do not guarantee action. The latter depends on context, resources, motivation, etc. Someone is more likely to use a competence if the context requires action and the environment encourages its use. For example, a teacher is more likely to use technology if the pedagogical challenge requires it and if the institution values investment in education and encourages the use of educational technology.

Dimensions of competence

Stoof et al (2007:349) acknowledge that competence can be defined in manners that suit specific situations. They however point out six important dimensions found in an analysis of 16 competence maps and that designers should think about when creating competence maps:

  1. levels: can competencies can be subdivided, e.g. in starting level, advanced level, and experienced level ?
  2. context: are competencies connected to real world phenomena, e.g. example tasks, roles, functions or situations ?
  3. relationships, are competencies are related to each other ?
  4. elements, are competencies composed of several parts, e.g. knowledge, skills and attitudes ?
  5. output, can competencies lead to specific outcomes, such as a product or service, or behavior in general ?
  6. kinds, are there more competencies than just professional competencies, such as learning competencies, career competencies and competencies that are general to all kinds of professions ?
Kinds of competence

Winterton et al. (2005) [5] distinguish between four main kinds of competence as shown in the table below. The cognitive, functional and social competences correspond to the french savoir (knowledge), savoir-faire (know-how), and savoir-être (identity) and also to the KSA (knowledge, skills, attitudes model).

occupational personal
conceptual Cognitive competence (knowledge) Meta-competence (facilitating learning)
operational Functional competence (skills) Social competence (attitudes and behaviours)

The authors also show, that various national cultures, while distinguishing knowledge from know-how (skills) and some sort of social competence, do define competence in different ways, the German approach distinguishing Fachkompetenz (domain knowledge and skills), more general Sachkompetenz (domain knowledge), Methodenkompetenz (methods), Sozialkompetenz (social competence), and Personalkompetenz (personal competence)

Broad types of competence

Many institutions, in particular those define learning standards sometimes define broad categories of competences or learning outcomes. Often a distinction is made between "transversal skills" and domain-specific ones, although generic skills (such a communication, information, of evaluation skills) do seem to be partly or strongly context dependent.

An example of basic stills [6] that would be required from ICT workers is cited in Winterton, 2005:48-49) [5] and includes three categories:

  • Behavioural and Personal Skills: Flexibility, Self Learning, Motivation and Commitment, Stress Resistance and Emotion, Responsibility, Managing Risks, Decision Making, Negotiation, Initiative and Attention, Persuasiveness, Professional Attitude (Business or Technical Orientation and Interests);
  • Cross Section and Basic Work and Technical Skills: Quality Awareness, Commercial and Market Awareness, Entrepreneurship, Customer Orientation and Relationship, Company and Business Organisation, Work and Project Organisation, Business and Work Process Knowledge, Work Safety and Health Protection, Labour Law and Data Privacy, Environmental and Resource Awareness;
  • Soft and Method Skills: Communication and Moderation, Languages and Culture, Collaboration and Interaction, Teamwork and Mentoring, Conflict and Consensus, Creative and Innovation, Analytical and Reasoning, Problem Analysis and Solving, Strategy, Conception and Planning, Context and Causal Connection Thinking, Information Handling, Documentation and Presentation.

Many of the listed skills are higher-level competences and some are metacognitive.

Architecture of a comptence map

Structure of a comptence map

According to Stoof et al. (2007:348)

Competence maps typically consist of three parts:

  • The first part contains competence descriptions, which provide detailed information about each competency that is distinguished in a certain domain or profession. A competence description may contain information about its output or results, its relationships with other competencies, the elements making up the competency, and an example of the competency in practice. [...]
  • The second part of a competence map consists of a competence framework or figure, which is a visual summary of the competence descriptions. A competence figure can be used as an aid to quickly communicate what a competence map is about.
  • The third part of a competence map contains general information about the domain, the goal, and definitions used.

The most important element for instructional designs are the competence descriptions.

Phases and steps in developing competence maps

Stoof et al (2007:352) identify 4 phases:

  1. The initiation phase: the user makes preparations for the construction of the competence map, by composing a project team and writing a project plan.
  2. The construction phase: the competence map is developed in several steps. The whole procecure draws on the kind of qualitative research methods that are for example being used in policy analysis (e.g. Miles and Huberman).
    • definition of a standard format (including categories)
    • data collection (e.g. from practitioners)
    • data analysis (using the format)
    • organization of comptetencies (including a visual format)
    • addition of general information (such as goals and domain of concept map).
  3. The validation phase: subject matter experts validate the competence map. If necessary, the competence map has to be adjusted and validated again.
  4. The acknowledgement phase: the competence map is formally acknowledged by stakeholders and is ready for implementation in the curriculum.


Stoof et al. (2006, 2007) argue that four aids seem to be particularly useful:

  1. Task managers focus on the procedure to be followed and provide descriptions of methods, rules, regulations, and directions for doing the task. They guide users in executing (sub-) tasks, provide feedback, and enable users to check whether a step has been completed.
  2. Construction kits: “a set of prefabricated parts that can be assembled into a variety of working models which can then be taken to pieces. (Stoof, 2006:190)”.
  3. Phenomenaria: “an area for the specific purpose of presenting phenomena and making them accessible to scrutiny and manipulation. It contains extractions, simplifications, simulations, or models of the real world.” (Stoof, 2006:191).
  4. Information banks: provide “explicit information about several topics. It explains phenomena, names causes, gives background information, provides guidelines for performing particular tasks, and so forth.” (Stoof, 2006:191).


COMET is a loose acronym for Competency Modeling Toolkit, a web-based tool developed by Angela Stoof. (Daniel K. Schneider does not know whether it is used in production).

Stoof et al. (2006) studied wether a combination of a construction kit, phenomenarium, and information bank could help designers, i.e. improve the process quality of making a competence map.

“In a factorial design, eight conditions with all possible combinations of construction kits (present or absent), phenomenaria (present or absent) and information banks (full or condensed) were compared. (p. 204).”. Results indicated that availability of a construction kit enhanced percieved support and control however at the cost of taking more time. The phenomeniarium both improved perceived support and control, even in the absence of the construction kit. Finally, the information bank did not have any effect on process quality.

Formats and standards

Competences can be described with formal languages.

These can:

  • Describe hierarchical taxonomies of competences
  • Describe specific learner competences in context


“The Reusable Definition of Competency or Educational Objective (RDCEO) specification provides a means to create common understandings of competencies that appear as part of a learning or career plan, as learning pre-requisites, or as learning outcomes. The information model in this specification can be used to exchange these definitions between learning systems, human resource systems, learning content, competency or skills repositories, and other relevant systems. RDCEO provides unique references to descriptions of competencies or objectives for inclusion in other information models” (IMS Reusable Definition of Competency or Educational Objective Specification, retr. May 2016).

The RDECO Conceptual Model includes three types of data (IMS 2002: section 2.1) [1]

  1. A reusable (generic) definition of the competency
  2. Evidence of competency
  3. Context within witch the competency is defined, or that defines the competency
  4. Dimensions such as proficiency on a scale or time
IMS RDCEO Data Model

IEEE 1484.20.1 - RCD

IMS RDCEO is the basis of IEEE 1484.20.1 IEEE Standard for Learning Technology - Data Model for Reusable Competency Definitions (commercial access) [7]

IEEE definitions of terms

Competency: Any aspect of competence, such as knowledge, skill, attitude, ability, or learning objective.

“In this Standard, the term “competency” is to be interpreted in the broadest sense to include learning objectives (those things that are sought) as well as competencies (those things that are achieved). The term “competency” is also used to include all classes of things that someone, or potentially something, can be competent in, although some communities of practice use the term with nuance, for example, limiting its use to skill and excluding knowledge or understanding.” (IEEE 2007: 3)[7]

The synopsis of the formal data model is defined as follows (page 5). It includes five elements, an identifier, a title, a description, a definition and some metadata.

reusable_competency_definition :
   identifier :
        // Mandatory
        // Occurs 1 time
   title :
     bag of langstring_type(1000),
        // Mandatory
        // Occurs 1 time
        // SPM: 20 instances of langstring_type in the bag
        // The parameter value is the SPM for the number of of characters in the string element of the langstring_type
   description :
     bag of langstring_type(4000),
        // Optional
        // Occurs 0 or 1 times
        // SPM: 20 instances of langstring_type in the bag
        // The parameter value is the SPM for the number of of characters in the string element of the langstring_type
   definition :
        // Optional
        // Occurs 0 or more times
        // SPM: 10 instances of definition in a reusable_competency_definition record
   metadata :
        // Optional
        // Occurs 0 or 1 times
Definitions of abbreviations
SPM - smallest permitted maximum (SPM) values, i.e. the number of elements that conforming application must process.
RCD' - reusable competency definition
RDCEO - Reusable Definition of Competency or Educational Objective

The title is a mandatory single text label for the RCD. The label is a human-readable name for the RCD.

The description is optional and contains a human readable description of a competency.

The definition includes a structured, more formal description of the competency. It includes two subelements.

  • Model source
  • Statements, further decomposed into items



References and bibliography


  • Fletcher, S. (1997). Analysing competence: Tools and techniques for analyzing jobs, roles and functions. London: Kogan Page
  • McClelland, D. C. (1973). Testing for competence rather than for ‘intelligence’. American Psychologist, 28, 1-14.
  • Miles, B. M., & Huberman, A. M. (1984). Qualitative data analysis. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage publications.
  • Mulcahy, D. (2000). Turning the contradictions of competence: Competency-based training and beyond. Journal of Vocational Education and Training, 52, 259-279.
  • Proctor, R. W. & Dutta, A. (1995). Skill acquisition and human performance. London: Sage.
  • Stoof, Angela; Rob L. Martens and Jeroen J. G. van Merriënboer (2007). Web-based support for constructing competence maps: design and formative evaluation, Educational Technology Research and Development, 55 (4). Abstract/PDF (Access restricted).
  • Stoof, Angela; Rob L. Martens and Jeroen J. G. van Merriënboer (2006).Effects of Web-based Support for the Construction of Competence Maps, Instructional Science 34 (3), 189-211. DOI 10.1007/s11251-006-0003-1 (Access restricted).
  • Stoof, A., Martens, R. L., & van Merriënboer, J.J.G. (2005). Web-based support for constructing competence maps: design and formative evaluation. Manuscript submitted for publication
  • Stoof, A., Martens, R.L., Merriënboer, J.J.G., Bastiaens, T.J. (2002) "The boundary approach of competence: a constructivist aid for understanding and using the concept of competence" Human Resource Development Review 1: 345-365
  • Tilman, H., Stoof, A. (2002) "Communicatie als kritische succesfactor bij het ontwikkelen van competentiegerichte beroepsprofielen [Communication as critical success factor in developing competence-based professional profiles]" TH&MA 3: 53
  • Weinert, F. E. (1999). Definition and selection of competencies––concepts of competence. Munich: Max Planck Institute for Psychological Research.
  • Weinert, F. E. (2001). Concept of competence: a conceptual clarification. In D. S. Rychen & L. H. Salganik (Eds), Defining and selecting key competencies (pp. 45–66). Seattle: Hogrefe & Huber.

Cited with footnotes

  1. 1.0 1.1 IMS, IMS Reusable Definition of Competency or Educational Objective - Best Practice and Implementation Guide, Version 1.0 Final Specification, Retrieved May 2016 from
  2. Schneckenberg, Dirk. "Overcoming barriers for eLearning in universities—portfolio models for eCompetence development of faculty." British Journal of Educational Technology 41.6 (2010): 979-991.
  3. Phelps, R., Hase, S. & Ellis, A. (2005). Competency, capability, complexity and computers: exploring a new model for conceptualising end-user computer education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 36, 1, 67–84.
  4. Van der Blij, M. (2002). Van competenties naar proeven van bekwaamheid, een orientatie. Enschede: University of Twente.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Winterton, J., Delamare Le Deist, F., & Stringfellow, E. (2005). Typology of knowledge, skills and competences: clarification of the concept and prototype. Toulouse: Toulouse Business School, Centre for European Research on Employment and Human Resources.
  6. Petersen, A. W., Ward, T., Wehmeyer, C. and Revill, P. (2004) Towards a Comprehensive European level E-Skills Framework: ICT and e-business skills and training at sub-degree and vocational level in Europe , Thessaloniki: Cedefop.
  7. 7.0 7.1 IEEE 2007, IEEE Standard for Learning Technology—Data Model for Reusable Competency Definitions, IEEE 1484.20.1, PDF: ISBN 978-0-7381-5695-8