Excitement about competency-based education or CBE continues apace. (See links below.) But the reasons for the excitement differ and, sometimes, conflict. In research reports, essays and press releases, we find a wide range of different motivations for getting behind the rise of CBE. The instructional model acts as vessel for a variety of interests and hopes for professionals in higher ed.
Our review of the literature found at least five different areas of interest of those supporting competency based learning.
The “Why” of Competency Based Learning
- The value of competency based learning lies in the promise that it will provide greater clarity about what students are actually learning. This is of value to institutions and organizations that need to evaluate students, such as employers and other educational institutions. But of course it will also help students invest their time and money more wisely.
- The value of competency based learning is found in its focus on “competence” which some stakeholders interpret as more tangible, immediate and easily measured, in contrast to, say, critical thinking. Often hidden within this perspective is the notion that classic liberal education in less valuable.
- The value of competency based learning lies in the fact that it recognizes the different skills and knowledge held by students and that the practice of catering to these differences is a more effective instructional strategy than the one-size-fits-all approach.
- The value lies in the potential of competency based learning to reduce costs. By enabling students to focus their time on only those part of the curriculum required, the door is opened to reducing the amount of time that students must spend enrolled, the tuition spent (especially if tuition is charged on a per month, rather than per course, basis).
- The value lies, especially among people interested in broad reform of higher education, in how competency based learning moves the focus from inputs to learning and student outcomes. Higher educations historical focus on inputs, such as high admission standards, is interpreted by some as a hindrance to substantial change in the sector.
In subsequent posts we’ll consider what’s required of institutions that wish to explore the potential of competency based learning and the role of adaptive learning technology.