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Your Quick Guide to Competency-Based Learning

Competency-based learning, sometimes referred to by the abbreviation, CBL, is a learner-focused educational approach that’s buffeted and supported by other flexible learning tools such as MOOCs, flipped classrooms, and adaptive learning environments. It’s designed to give students a highly-personalized online education experience so they can learn at their own pace and apply prior knowledge that’s been gained through personal, professional, or academic experience.

Based on a flexible curriculum and self-directed progress, rather than the traditional classroom/lecture structure, effective CBL hinges on demonstrable knowledge. Students advance through increasingly complex course subjects or modules by showing their mastery of content, regardless of objective measures of how much or how little time they put in. Likewise, learners may skip modules or even entire subjects in which they can demonstrate proficiency, dramatically shortening their degree completion time. In this way, competency-based learning offers students practical options in how credit is earned, how much time must be devoted to learning, and in turn, how much money is spent in the process.

Benefits of CBL

As we touched on earlier, competency-based learning provides some compelling benefits for students. But for instructors and institutions, there are important advantages worth considering too. Here are the top benefits that a CBL option affords to students, faculty, and schools:

Students are rewarded for existing knowledge. Validating and rewarding prior learning is, understandably, a big draw for students. CBL’s testing and ongoing assessments encourage students to acknowledge and integrate what they’ve learned fully enough to demonstrate it.

Learners enjoy the flexibility of focus. Once a student shows competency through a formal assessment, he’s free to move on to more advanced courses or course levels. This quality of CBL lets students devote their time, focus, and energy to the subject matter they’re least familiar with and apply their time in ways that produce the greatest benefit.

Students can accelerate learning and degree completion time. Applying existing knowledge to accelerate the pace of study or to test out of courses altogether helps students address two of their primary concerns about higher education — degree completion time and the financial implications of study. With CBL, students who can apply their prior learning successfully may leapfrog over courses or course units to abbreviate both the duration and the cost of their degrees.

Instructors can tailor their focus. Freed from more orthodox teaching models, instructors can enjoy some flexibility too. They can remotely facilitate learning on a student-by-student basis and apply teaching methods that are customized based on observation and assessment. CBL encourages this coach/player relationship between Instructors and students as a way to better tailor learning and more efficiently calibrate resources.

Institutions can appeal to a new demographic. Schools can leverage CBL options to market to and reach non-traditional students who otherwise may not have been motivated to return to school. Like other flexible and personalized learning options, CBL is a popular choice for adult learners who realize the value of being able to apply their knowledge toward college credit and not be restricted in the pace of their study.

Mirroring other new developments in personalized online study, competency-based learning will continue to be refined by student priorities and expectations, faculty needs, and the goals of each institution that applies it. No doubt, the future will continue to shape CBL and bring even newer ways for students to apply existing knowledge and personalize the pace of their education. For institutions, the challenge is how to strategically seize the right opportunities to reach students today while thoroughly preparing them for tomorrow.

At Enrollment Builders, our industry-leading professionals consult on a host of issues for institutions of all sizes. If you’d like more information on competency-based learning or would like to discuss strategies for designing and integrating a CBL component into your existing online program, please contact us at 513-518-7824 or request information here.