What Is Competency Based Education: A New Way To Learn


In time, all that was once considered the norm is innovated upon. When it comes to education, the story is no different. We have witnessed changes like the evolution of online colleges to new modalities of learning. Competency-based education is just one example of education reform that is spreading across schools all over the world.


Competency-based education is a form of learning that focuses on what students learn over how much time they spend in a classroom (i.e. quarters or semesters). Students have more control over their learning and can therefore pace themselves.


Let’s break down everything you need to know about competency-based education, including the approach and its cited benefits.



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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash



What Is Competency-Based Education (CBE)?

Competency-based education (CBE) is a learning approach that gauges learning based on a student’s demonstration of understanding. Rather than moving on to the next subject based on how much time was spent on the current topic, teachers check in with students and allow them to demonstrate their mastery before building with more information.


CBE is meant to resolve the shortcomings of traditional education and ensure that every student is prepared to succeed. In traditional education, students learn in courses or modules based on time. In CBE, the teaching becomes fine-grained and tailored. It gets its name because each skill is broken down into one learning unit that results in a competency (or learning outcome).


Each competency may be part of a larger learning goal, but it’s broken down into smaller pieces so that when a student masters one part, they can move on to the next. Once the learning outcome is complete, the student can demonstrate mastery of the subject or concept. Additionally, students get to choose how they demonstrate their understanding of a topic, whether this be by conducting interviews, sharing a project or designing a presentation.


If a student has already demonstrated mastery of a competency, then it can be skipped over because it would otherwise be repetitive and a waste of time.


In traditional education, classrooms move through subject matter together, so even if one student is at a higher level, they have to stick with their peers through the material.



5 Components Of CBE

To implement CBE, there are certain components that must be upheld. Here are the main elements of competency-based education:



1. Advancement Upon Mastery


Seat time isn’t the determinant of success. Rather, students move to the next step after they demonstrate mastery of the current competency. In some cases, students may even move beyond their grade level in achievement. In this model of learning, teachers can really focus on a student’s needs and help them with the aspects of education that they have trouble with specifically.



2. Measurable And Transparent Learning


Students have more ownership of their learning in this setting. As such, education is more transparent. Students get to choose how they can demonstrate their understanding. Teachers are also able to collaborate more with students to achieve goals based on their intentionality.



3. Meaningful Assessment


Assessments are less about grades and more about learning. Tests become practical and allow for teachers to give useful feedback directly to students.



4. Timely And Tailored Support


All support is given based on need. Therefore, students receive tailored assistance. Generally, there is flex time during the day in which students have the opportunity to receive extra help with whatever they are having trouble to understand.



5. Broad Range Of Skills


This type of education stresses practical skills, including: communication, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills.



What Are The Benefits Of CBE?

Everyone likes to learn and teach with different methods. However, some methods work better than others and can be judged based on their benefits.


Let’s take a look at some of the top benefits of competency-based education:

  • Focus On What You Know: The entire point of CBE is to focus on what students know, rather than move through subjects based on timing. This boosts confidence in knowing that students are actually understanding topics before they move on to the next competency.
  • Education In Student’s Control: Students get to have more ownership over their learning. Instead of working at an instructor’s pace, they work at their own and have the power to choose how they demonstrate mastery.
  • Flexible Structure: CBE is designed according to each individual’s learning. This means that it’s flexible in nature because it’s dependent entirely on a student to complete a project or assessment to move on.
  • Engaging Education: When students are able to have more control over their learning, it has shown to make education more engaging. With control over their learning comes empowerment and intrinsic motivation to do well.


What Are The Downsides Of CBE?

Despite its benefits, the other side of the coin is that there are some downsides to CBE. The main downside is that there exists no clear way to define core competencies or assessment styles.


It also requires that there be consensus by educators as to how to support learners who struggle. While this is no different than traditional education and curriculum design, it can still be considered a downside because of its subjective nature.


Additionally, with the aid of technology, teachers and students may have access to the same information at any given time. Therefore, students may move ahead at their own pace and the class will fail to move together as a group.



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Photo by Christin Hume on Unsplash



Alternative Options: Self-Paced Online Learning

While there are many universities adopting the CBE approach, there are others that still offer flexible and self-paced learning with a little more structure.


For example, the University of the People provides degree-granting programs that exist entirely online. The goal of the educational system is set up such that higher education is accessible to all and made affordable because it’s tuition-free.


Students who enroll in UoPeople can expect to earn their associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree at their own pace and in their own time. The online setup makes the degree as flexible as possible so students can log on to learn whenever or wherever they wish.



The Bottom Line

Competency-based learning is rising in popularity because of its unique design that puts the students in the driver’s seat, so to speak. Rather than quantifying learning by time, it’s solely based on a student’s mastery of information before moving to the next level. When students have more control over their learning, it creates an engaging environment that can be tailored to their needs and built for their success.




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