The What, Who, & How of Competency Based Education

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The competency based education approach, described by Educause, allows students to advance based on their ability to master a skill or competency at their own pace regardless of environment. This method is tailored to meet different learning abilities and can lead to more efficient student outcomes. CBE or “personalized learning” is further explained by the U.S. Department of Education stating,

Competency based education strategies provide flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provide students with personalized learning opportunities. These strategies include online and blended learning, dual enrollment and early college high schools, project-based and community-based learning, and credit recovery, among others.

Once a questioned and misunderstood learning option, is now becoming widely accepted and being implemented at more and more institutions across the country. In a recent presentation about CBE, we polled the participants about their plans, their school’s strengths in preparing for a CBE program, and challenges they believe students face. Below are the charts highlighting some of the information gathered in that presentation.

Competency Based Education


Competency Based Education

Competency Based EducationAs CBE sweeps the country, leading the way are pilot programs like Miami Dade College launched in fall of 2017. With a clearly defined plan offering programs including Banking Operations/Banking Specialist, Building Construction Specialist, Food and Beverage Specialist, and Rooms Division Specialist, MDC set out to establish a year long program. “Our goal is to give students the opportunity to complete an entire certificate program at their own time and pace. Doing so provides a personalized learning initiative that allows students to focus on learning the content they need, not the content they already know “, stated Dr. Jacqueline Hill, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs and leader of the CBE program.

Other programs have already established themselves as leaders in the CBE space like Rasmussen college, Southern New Hampshire University, and American Public University System. Just last week, WCET shared a post from a guest blogger, Sara Appel of Midwestern Higher Education Compact with a slightly different slant on CBE. In the article, Sara spotlights the Multi-State Collaborative on Military Credit (MCMC) and share lessons on converting experience into credit.

CBE is an alternative learning method that provides many benefits. Allowing students to use their knowledge learned through life/work experience to obtain college credit is very beneficial to those students who have spent a lot of time in real-life learning. Students are asked to demonstrate or prove their knowledge of competencies required in a degree program by taking assessments or doing assignments. However, CBE has also presented some very real challenges to schools as they try and fit the alternative learning method into traditional systems/regulations.

Some accrediting agencies are having difficulty in defining the standards and regulations that should govern CBE. Although in late 2016, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) did release their policy statement on CBE requiring several things. Most notably, requiring schools to assess a student’s readiness to participate in a CBE program. Financial aid is another challenging area presented with the self-regulated learning environment. With financial aid being awarded based on terms and credit hours, the lines are blurred of how to fund CBE due to the flex learning schedule. Lastly, lining up CBE with a traditional learning management system that was designed to manage courses with a start and end date within a defined term is like putting a square peg in a round hole. Schools are forced to get creative on entering course information to make it work and in most cases becomes a temporary work around.

The LMS dilemma is something one of our partners, Sagence Learning, recognized as an upcoming challenge that would demand attention and thus created a custom LMS that specializes in CBE a couple of years ago. Their products- Compose, Cognify, and Certify equip students, faculty, coaches, and institutions to meet the unique needs of their program.

In researching Competency Based Education and evaluating best practices schools should keep in mind the critical component of student success. Like with all self-regulated learning, the challenge exists to support students from start to finish leading them to completion. Assessing a student’s readiness to participate in a CBE program is a first step in proactively supporting students on their road to success. The Competency Based Education Readiness Indicator (CBERI) is an assessment that measures readiness in 7 sections including:

  1. Situational Awareness
  2. Individual Attributes (non-cognitive)
  3. Self-Assessment of Competencies
  4. Life Factors
  5. Learning Preferences
  6. Self-Efficacy Assessment
  7. Self-Rating Items.

To learn more about how to implement the best practice of assessing readiness, contact us today.


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