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Competency-Based Education

The Snapshot Version


By Sasha Thackaberry
What is Competency-Based Education?
Competency-based education bases credentialing like degrees and certificates on demonstrated skills and knowledge. This is different
than the traditional method of earning credentials (primarily college credit) through seat time based on the credit hour.
Competency-based education is modular, self-paced, and often (though not always) involves elements such as Prior Learning
Assessment (PLA), Open Educational Resources, partnerships with employers, subscription-based funding, and student success
coaching.
What Institutions and Organizations You Need to Know About
Institution/Organization
Competency-Based
Education Network
(CBEN)

Focus Area
CompetencyBased
Education

Council for Adult and


Experiential Learning
(CAEL)

Prior
Learning
Assessment

College for America**


(Southern New
Hampshire University)

CompetencyBased
Degrees

Activities
The Competency-Based Education Network is a group
of colleges and universities working together to address
shared challenges to designing, developing and scaling
competency-based degree programs the cohort
includes 18 institutions and two public systems serving
42 campuses.
CAEL is a nonprofit that works with higher education,
public and private institutions in education to codify
and create alternative credentialing beyond the
Carnegie Credit Hour.
College for America is an initiative by the nonprofit
Southern New Hampshire University that works in
partnership with employers through competency-based
learning in the form of project-based learning with the

Additional Resources/Links
http://www.cbenetwork.org/

http://www.cael.org/

http://collegeforamerica.org/
http://collegeforamerica.org/e
mployers/entry/about-ourpartners
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International License.

Capella University**

CompetencyBased
Degrees

Western Governors
University

CompetencyBased
Degrees

Learn on Demand at
Kentucky Community
& Technical College
System

CompetencyBased
Degrees &
Modular
Courses

Flexible Option at
University of Wisconsin
System

CompetencyBased
Degrees

Personalized Learning CompetencyNorthern Arizona


Based
University
Degrees

support of Learning Coaches.


Capella markets their degrees as wholly competencybased, though the majority of those degrees map to
credit hours. Their new competency-based degrees do
not have grades but require proficiency levels.
This online university uses competency-based degree
programs that map to credit hours. Their cost model is
subscription-based, and students can accelerate their
degree program.
Learn on Demand is a modular, anytime/anywhere
learning option which is competency-based. Students
can test out of modules if they can demonstrate
competencies. Students pay only for modules that they
need and take. It was developed 5 years ago in
response to a need that the KCTCS identified to better
educate nontraditional learners.
The Flexible Option provides self-paced, competencybased degrees and certificates that let learners work at
their own course, including PLA, military experience,
and other non-credentialed learning. Academic success
coaches support students progress.
Personalized Learning enables students to transfer
credit in and leverage a subscription model to
accelerate their online degree. Students can use PLA
and also interact with NAU faculty mentors.

http://www.capella.edu/about/
competency-based-education/
http://www.wgu.edu/about_W
GU/overview
https://www.insidehighered.c
om/news/2012/08/06/compete
ncy-based-online-programkentuckys-communitycolleges
http://learnondemand.kctcs.ed
u/About
http://flex.wisconsin.edu/uwflex/

http://pl.nau.edu/

** As of 2014 they are members of two experimental sites approved by the USDOE to offer federal financial aid for competencybased degrees.

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MOOCs the Snapshot Version by Sasha Thackaberry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0
International License.

A Brief History of Competency-Based Education


Credit hours were never intended to be a measure of student learning. First introduced by the Carnegie Foundation for the
Advancement of Teaching, they were intended to measure faculty workload and pension eligibility. Now, credit hours are the basic
building block on which college degrees and federal financial aid funding (as well as high school diplomas) are based.
Traditionally, professional organizations and trade groups have offered certifications to demonstrate competencies in specific skill sets
(for example, Microsoft certification). Higher education has become increasingly interested in competency-based education as a
response to graduates with inconsistent skill sets, the need to accelerate degree completion, and the changing demographic of the
average college student. In higher education, competency-based education is not new, but it has not been widespread. Alverno
College offered Competence Based Learning as early as 1973. In 1997, Western Governors University added self-paced instruction.
The Higher Education Act of 2005 enabled colleges to offer competency-based degrees as long as they are mapped directly to credit
hours. In March of 2013, the DOE provided guidance to the development of competency-based programs. Two experimental
programs College for America and Capella University were the only official institutions allowed to offer federal financial aid for
such programs not mapped to credit hours (as of 11/10/14). In July of 2014, the USDOE announced plans to expand experimental sites
for colleges and universities wishing to explore competency-based education. The new authorization sites include four focus areas: 1)
traditional CBE, 2) hybrid models with combination degrees of for-credit and CBE, 3) Prior Learning Assessment (PLA), and 4)
federal aid for work study students in near-peer counseling.
The anticipated reauthorization of the Higher Education Act has led some to be hopeful that future opportunities will accelerate this
trend.
Macro and Mezzo Implications for Higher Education

Worldwide Implications
o Possible fusion of previously uncredentialed experiences like MOOCs (see Kaplans Open College).
o Increased emphasis on universal federated ID, possibly on biometric signature technology and/or proctoring.
o Increased access for developing nations, increased mobility of students, faculty, and definitions of what higher
education is.
o Increased development and interoperability of Open Educational Resources.
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MOOCs the Snapshot Version by Sasha Thackaberry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0
International License.

Higher Education Implications


o Programs are primarily online, some hybrid/blended components. Increased investment in online learning
infrastructures.
o Many programs support students with academic success coaches of some sort, causing new discussions about faculty,
counselor, and student success specialist roles throughout the industry.
o Additional infrastructures may be necessary for proctoring and ePortfolio analysis.
o Increased use of adaptive learning technology, smart learning systems, big data.
o Increase in exit funding as opposed to entrance funding (i.e. paying for credits upfront).

How Competency-Based Education Intersects with Digital Badging, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), Open
Educational Resources (OER) and Prior Learning Assessment (PLA)
Competency-based education intersects and interacts with other new learning models in a variety of ways. Understanding what those
other learning models are is key to understanding their overlap and interaction. Find definitions below:
Term
Digital Badges

MOOCs

Open
Educational

Definition
A digital badge is a virtual and visual representation of a competency, skill,
achievement, or membership. Digital badges can be verified by the issuing
organization, and used as micro-credentialing for lifelong learning and
workforce skill development.
MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses. They are free online courses that
can enroll tens, or even hundreds of thousands of learners. Their formats and
pedagogies are constantly evolving. There is no one size fits all MOOC. The
salient components are 1) free (though there may be a charge for certificates,
micro-credentialing, or proctoring), 2) huge enrollment numbers and potential,
3) online (though blended models are being developed with institutions), and 4)
courses, not just resources. There are two primary types of MOOCs cMOOCs
(connectivist based), and xMOOCx (more like traditional online courses).
Open Educational Resources (OERs) are any type of educational materials
that are in the public domain or introduced with an open license. The nature of

Resources
http://openbadges.org/about/
http://www.macfound.org/pr
ograms/digital-badges/
http://www.educause.edu/lib
rary/massive-open-onlinecourse-mooc
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Massive_open_online_cours
e
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Open_educational_resources
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MOOCs the Snapshot Version by Sasha Thackaberry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0
International License.

Resources

Prior Learning
Assessment

these open materials means that anyone can legally and freely copy, use, adapt
and re-share them. OERs range from textbooks to curricula, syllabi, lecture
notes, assignments, tests, projects, audio, video and animation from the
UNESCO website: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-andinformation/access-to-knowledge/open-educational-resources/what-are-openeducational-resources-oers/
Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) is the process of codifying previously
obtained competencies, whether through work experiences, military
experiences, or lifelong learning. PLA is typically conducted via various direct
assessment forms, or ePortfolios.

http://www.unesco.org/new/
en/communication-andinformation/access-toknowledge/openeducational-resources/whyshould-i-care-about-oers/
http://www.cael.org/pla.htm
https://www.insidehighered.c
om/news/2012/05/07/priorlearning-assessment-catchesquietly

Additional Resources
https://www.diigo.com/list/sashatberr/gaming (collection of links on Gamification, Digital Badges, and PLA)
https://www.diigo.com/list/sashatberr/Competency-Based-Education (collection of links on Competency-Based Education)
http://www.educause.edu/library/competency-based-education-cbe
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/08/06/competency-based-online-program-kentuckys-community-colleges

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MOOCs the Snapshot Version by Sasha Thackaberry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0
International License.

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MOOCs the Snapshot Version by Sasha Thackaberry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0
International License.