DEVELOPING COMPETENCIES THROUGH ACTIVE LEARNING: AN EMPIRICAL ANALYSIS
From the 2010/2011 academic course, and following the full implementation of the European Higher Education Area, traditional teaching methods employed in the Spanish University, based mainly on memorization of theoretical content taught through master lectures, have been relegated by new active learning teaching methods. The main objective of this new methodological approach is to change the student's role in the whole teaching-learning process. By using this method, students are tried to be encouraged to develop their learning in an autonomous and self-directed way in terms of skills and abilities. In this new educational context we employ varied and very diverse teaching activities: master lectures, case studies workshops, team based elaboration and oral presentation of works, concept maps, documentation searching, participation in conferences and seminars. These are some of the teaching- earning activities that encourage the student active participation in this learning process and which are meant to facilitate the acquisition and development of different skills to develop the students’ future professional career.
To analyze the relationship between the new methodology which is being employed at Spanish Universities and the development/acquisition of competencies, we studied a sample of 102 Spanish students of the Degrees of “Business Administration and Management” and “Labor Relations and Human Resources Development” at the Faculty of Social Sciences of Cuenca (University of Castilla-La Mancha). We conducted a statistical analysis to study how and to what extent the various new teaching-learning activities used are associated with the acquisition of the different competencies. In particular we analyze the relationship between, on the one hand, the student’s level of satisfaction with the process of teaching-learning (i.e. the teaching methods employed, the temporal organization of the course, support materials provided and suggested, the assessment system) and, on the other hand, the improvement experienced by the student in the different competencies, both generic, (1) search, analysis and synthesis of information, 2) ability to present and defend arguments and ideas, 3) capacity for the continuous learning, self-directed and autonomous, 4) the ability to rightly use Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), 5) foreign language comprehension, 6) development of professional ethics, and specific, 7) theoretical knowledge on business management, 8) ability to manage human resources, 9) capacity for decision-making, and 10) ability to design strategies.
Findings show that for the development of generic competencies, a wider range of educational activities is required while for the acquisition and improvement of specific competencies related to the future profession, very specific activities –e.g. those related to the system assessment and support materials provided- seem to be principal. Furthermore, the data show that depending on the type of competency targeted, both generic and specific ones, the educational/teaching activities that promote their development and acquisition are very different. The paper ends with a discussion of its limitations and a number of proposals for future research.