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What is Competency-Based Education?

  • 2 Min Read

Competency-based education (CBE) is a learning model that prioritizes proficiency over seat time. It measures a student’s progression of learning, rather than how long it takes.

CBE has recently gained popularity, but it isn’t a new concept. It was first introduced in the 1960s, when American schools became concerned that students weren’t being taught the life skills needed after graduation. Institutions around the world are still looking for ways to improve measuring student success and make learning a more affordable experience – so how can CBE help?

Many traditional learning models use a different formula to measure success. The time spent in the classroom is fixed (such as a semester) and a student’s mastery of a skill or subject is variable (i.e. based on an end-of-term assessment).

The opposite is true in a competency-based learning model. Students are able to progress based on their student’s “mastery” of skills and/or learning outcomes. As a result, the pace of learning is much more individualized. It can even be dramatically accelerated.

Traditional Learning Model vs. Competency-based Learning Model
Traditional Competency-based
icon-clock Time is fixed Time is variable
 icon-star Some concepts may be mastered All concepts must be mastered
 icon-content Delivery of content/material is often generalized Delivery of content/material can be more personalized
 icon-fixed Pace is fixed Pace is variable
 icon-graduation Some students succeed More students are setup to succeed


Create More Opportunities for your Students

Competency-based education offers numerous advantages for both students and institutions.

  • Institutions are able to offer non-traditional students (such as adult learners) the chance to learn flexibly, affordably and at their own pace.
  • Students are more marketable as mastered competencies are highly relevant to employers and directly transferable to the workplace.
  • Faculty become advisors and mentors and remain integral to a student’s persistence and successful demonstration of mastery.

CBE does not need to replace traditional learning models. Institutions can consider implementing where it makes sense for them, as an alternative or as an addition to their current teaching model. David Schejbal who is the Dean at University of Wisconsin-Extension shares this perspective, “We’re not intending to use CBE and the UW Flexible Option to replace traditional forms of learning. We see this as a way to significantly grow the pie.

If you’re interested in learning more about competency-based education and why this learning model is gaining popularity, download our new download the new CBE eBook.

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