3 Reasons Now is a Great Time for Competency-Based Education

Contributed By

Lauren Davis

EdTech Editor, Former Department Chair and Instructional Coach

3 Reasons Now is a Great Time for Competency-Based Education

Posted in Evolving Ed | September 29, 2020

Far from a new approach, competency-based education (CBE) allows students to advance based on their ability to demonstrate mastery of skills or concepts at their own pace—regardless of the environment in which they’re learning. While the concept—though broad—is clear, implementation and adoption can be more than a notion. Like many pedagogical approaches, there is disagreement on its exact definition, its defining traits, and how it should ideally be used with K-12 students. And even though CBE is similar to mastery-based learning, they differ in the fact that competency-based education mainly focuses on observable skills—or competencies—while mastery-based learning typically refers to academic content. In order for students to develop the 21st century skills that will help them succeed throughout school and in life beyond school, they must have a deep understanding of the how and why—not just the content.  

In a Hybrid Education model—especially when blended and virtual learning are so widespread—competency-based education may be an ideal approach for personalizing learning for students when they need it most. Here’s why: 

1. Competency-based education allows students to show what they know as soon as they know it. 

While teachers across the country are doing the best they can to maintain student engagement in virtual classrooms, many students still suffer from the too-fast or too-slow nature of synchronous remote learning. Those students who grasp a skill quickly are often expected to wait for the rest of the class to catch up, while those who need extra time can fall behind as the class moves on to the next thing. Of course, it goes without saying that this vicious cycle is a common occurrence in the in-person classroom, as well.  

CBE allows students to progress with as much or as little time as they need, while changing the meaning of failure from not able to not able yet. Students can be held accountable and take responsibility for their own progress and receive differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.  

2. Competency-based education makes students feel empowered. 

Whether or not they’re able to express it clearly, students crave ownership over their own learning. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, when nearly everything about the way things have always been done has changed and ample uncertainties surround education—from digital inequities and connection issues to social-emotional and family hardships—CBE empowers students to make important decisions about their own learning. By organizing and scheduling their learning time, moving through asynchronous lessons at their own pace, and tapping into the appropriate resources, students are able to take hold of the reins. That kind of empowerment leads to increased confidence, which can intrinsically encourage students to want to learn and grow more.  

3. Competency-based education and Hybrid Education go together. 

Flexibility is an essential component of Hybrid Education. It comes in the form of flexible scheduling, flexible pacing, flexible means for students to demonstrate mastery—you name it. With the right tools—like a learning management system (LMS) that can house hundreds of playlists for students to access learning, a streamlined process for feedback, and a comprehensive progress reporting system—almost anything is possible in CBE.  

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