Competency-Based Learning: 6 Things Educators Should Know

Tuesday, February 7, 2017 -- Sarah Cornelius

Competency-based learning (CBL) is fast gaining popularity as an effective approach to personalize learning, better assess student understanding, and address the challenge of student knowledge gaps. More and more states and districts are implementing competency-based initiatives, and with promising results. Is your school or district considering making the transition? Here are 6 things to know about CBL:

1. CBL is based on skill mastery, not time

Traditionally, our education system takes a time-based approach; students progress through grade levels based on their age and “seat time” in the classroom, and instruction is delivered on a set schedule. However, with a competency-based approach students progress forward with instruction only after they have demonstrated mastery of the current concept. They’re allowed to progress at their own rate of learning and build the foundational knowledge needed to be successful.

2. CBL encourages a personalized approach

With its focus on self-pacing and mastery, competency-based learning is inherently complementary to personalized learning. It asks educators to take the focus away from set lesson plans and learning schedules, and instead shift their mindset to a student-centered approach, looking at each individual learner’s knowledge, learning style, and progress.

Get started with CBL! Register for our live webinar Tuesday, February 28th: Strategies for Implementing Competency Based Learning

3. CBL significantly reduces learning gaps

When instruction is delivered on a set schedule, students are at risk of missing certain material. They may struggle with a particular concept or skill, only to be forced to move ahead with the curriculum before they’ve achieved true understanding. This can result in knowledge gaps that hinder learning of subsequent topics, ultimately leading to poor performance and frustration. By shifting the focus to mastery, a competency based approach eliminates much of this risk. Students only move forward once they’ve demonstrated thorough understanding of the current concept—meaning they’re well prepared for success on the next lesson.

4. CBL assessments require students to apply knowledge

Demonstrating skills mastery is about more than filling in the right multiple choice bubble. With a competency-based approach, assessments become more application-focused. They’re delivered when students are ready, and to the greatest extent possible, seek to give students options in how they demonstrate their understanding. This may be through research papers, presentations, projects, or assessments that make greater use of technology-enhanced item types. The result is that students have a more flexible assessment experience, and educators receive more detailed, nuanced information about their knowledge and progress.

5. CBL prepares students for success beyond the classroom

Competency-based learning is all about translating standards into demonstrable skills. This makes it a great strategy for integrating college and career preparation into the classroom. Students are empowered to take ownership of their learning, explore their interests, and build explicit, applicable, and transferrable skills that will benefit them outside the classroom as well.

6. CBL maximizes the use of technology

To truly meet the personalized expectations of a competency-based approach for all students, technology can be a powerful tool. Educators can take advantage of online curriculum to help students get the content they need at the pace that’s right for them. Simultaneously, online assessment tools can help educators collect and analyze student progress to make informed instructional decisions in real-time. We've designed Edmentum's new Individualized Learning Solution to support a CBL approach, providing targeted instruction driven by an adaptive diagnostic assessment to give students greater control over their own educational journey.

Interested in learning more about how a competency-based approach could benefit your students—and how to design an initiative that will work? Register for our live webinar next Tuesday, February 28, to hear more about Strategies for Implementing Competency Based Learning!