Competency-based education. What it is and why you should care

Over the past several months, we've talked with a number of institutions about their plans to implement competency-based education (CBE), and how these plans will reduce barriers, reach new students, and improve student success.

Overview

So, what is Competency-Based Education?  In short, it's a change in the teaching model where the focus is on measuring competency in key skills for a given subject area.  

In competency-based education, rigid time constraints of semesters or terms are removed.  The student works on mastering skills at his/her own pace.  Additionally, because the curriculum is focused on demonstrating achievement of skills -- failure merely means that the student hasn't mastered something yet (whereas in a traditional curriculum, failure often has a much more dire impact to the student's academic career). 

As you can imagine, implementing a competency-based education curriculum can affect all aspects of an institution:

  • How you teach
  • How you test
  • Course Scheduling
  • Academic Advisement
  • Admissions and Enrollment

Where does it make sense to adopt competency-based education?

CBE is very effective in reaching non-traditional students.  As we've described in prior articles, the nontraditional student will be an engine for future growth and sustainability in the higher education industry.  Therefore, it makes most sense where an institution is seeking to extend nontraditional student enrollment.

This benefits 3 key types of students:

  1. Students who need flexibility in their schedule.  In most circumstances this is due to family or work commitments that divide the student's time and focus.
  2. Less advantaged students who may have challenges with academic preparedness -- and may need more time or resources to demonstrate proficiency.
  3. Students who need flexibility in how they learn.  This could include allowing students to learn at their own pace and giving multiple instruction options such as allowing for trial-and-error.

This means that CBE programs can be instituted for any type of degree being offered, as demonstrated by what institutions are doing today.

  • Certificates
  • Associates
  • Bachelor
  • Graduate

Helpful Resources

If you're looking to get started, here are a few resources that should be helpful.

Information about programs and considerations from institutions already adopting competency based learning.

  • Capella University (link here).  Their CBE offering, FlexPath, begins with a questionnaire asking about study habits and preferences to help students determine what program would be best for them.
  • Purdue Global University (link here).  Their CBE offering, ExcelTrack, has offerings for both bachelor's and master's / postgraduate degrees.  Their website does a great job of describing how courses work.

Articles from Inside Higher Education.

Finally, we recommend the following to help you get started:

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