Asking ‘Are education and learning the same thing?’ sounds like a trick question, but that’s what educators are being tasked with discerning as more K-12 schools invest in competency-based education (CBE) and higher education institutions add more competency-based programs. Dr. Deborah Everhart, a Strategist, and Innovator analyzing trends and designing holistic solutions for learning and teaching says there are five considerations when it comes to CBE and competency-based learning (CBL).
Implementing CBE and CBL
- Focus on Learning
Regardless of context, focusing on learning achievements fosters innovations that are not constrained by traditional educational models or the difficulties of changing these models. This empowers and enables learners to achieve their lifelong learning goals, which are at the heart of CBL, and modifying educational practices (CBE) should be a servant to this end. CBL approaches to academic innovation can help define new structures that combine fundamental values of education with the opportunities of a learning-hungry world.
- Start with Backward Design
Defining learning pathways begins with competencies. So, start by choosing a large, comprehensive set (e.g., AAC&U’s LEAP VALUE rubrics) or a concise, targeted set (e.g., Engineering Graphics). Next, define assessments that provide valid evaluation of learners’ competency mastery, including the specific criteria that assessors will use to consistently determine levels of mastery. Curate, create, and compile learning activities and resources (stand-alone and/or structured learning pathways) that will help learners achieve mastery.
- Consider Educational Structure
Once you’ve defined a CBL foundation, then make decisions about the educational structure you’ll use to deliver it at your school or institution. Here are some questions to consider:
- How will learners access the competency-aligned learning activities, resources, and assessments?
- Are there courses, modules, self-serve lessons?
- Are there instructional components led by teachers, mentors, etc. to guide and support the learning process?
- You’ll Probably Need CBE and CLE
Innovation in academics is not always easy. Often it is confined by deeply-rooted academic structures, cultural norms, and financial bureaucracy. Another roadblock is time. How long will it take to redesign the curriculum or redefine educator workloads and roles? Even the smallest CBL changes can have an immediate impact on learner motivation and achievement by helping learners understand the value of competencies. Straightforward CBL ‘wins’ include “Learner agency and choice,” and “Competencies are specialized (field specific) and/or cross- cutting (i.e., problem-solving, critical thinking).”
- Visualizing the Benefits of CBL
Visualize these wins with this fictitious scenario:
A college English Department faculty wanted better ways of understanding what students were learning in different English courses. So, they decided to phase in the option to adopt AAC&U LEAP VALUE rubrics in their courses. By using LEAP, they avoided writing their own competency sets, and they borrowed lessons learned from colleagues at other institutions who were already using the rubrics. Here are two ‘wins’ from this approach:
- Transparency. Students in the courses had a clear understanding of how they would be evaluated on specific criteria such as “Content development” and “Context and purpose for writing.” Faculty understood how to evaluate different types of projects consistently, so they were more comfortable giving students’ choices.
- Portability across courses and departments. More and more faculty trusted that students who had been in entry-level English courses were coming into their upper-level courses with specific competencies mastered. This gave them more time to focus on the competencies in their own courses and not remediation.
The key takeaway is that learners benefit, and when changes like this thrive, education provides more value among ecosystems of stakeholders.
Share in the comments what CBE or CBL implementations you’ve had success with.
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