Competency-based learning or education (CBE) is not a new trend, but has received much attention over the past few years as more institutions develop programs. Like MOOCs, CBE has gained popularity with learners due to its flexible structure and affordability. As the name suggests, these programs are based on the development of competencies applicable to a particular career.
What is unique about CBE is that it focuses on what students learn and not on the time spent in the classroom completing credits. In this approach, students work at their own pace to demonstrate mastery in the competencies necessary for their chosen field of study. Check out this useful infographic from Rasmussen College that explains CBE and the differences between it and traditional education. This leads to the focus of this article where we will examine the key benefits of CBE for students including flexibility, engagement, and affordability.
Competency based programs are very flexible as their structure depends on the individual learner. There is no rigid schedule in these programs, no set semesters and no classes. Instead, students guide their learning and control when and where they complete projects and assessments. CBE is also flexible in that it allows students to enter a program at any level where they are given credit for previous experience.
The focus of CBE is on the final outcome and not the journey. This enables students to control their pacing because they are not confined by a set learning process. As soon as a student feels they can prove mastery, they can take an assessment, receive credit and start on the next material. Moving as slow or fast as they wish, students are able to complete a degree when they are ready. This is a huge benefit for independent and adult learners who may be working towards a degree around other schedules.
One of the strongest outcomes of competency based education is increased student engagement. Students are more engaged in the material because they have ownership over their learning. They are empowered because they have control over when, where and how they learn. CBE also promotes individualized learning and accommodates a variety of learning styles, making it a truly personalized experience. This experience increases engagement because content is tailored to each student and more relevant.
The cost of competency based programs varies by institution, program and student pace. Many institutions have created CBE programs precisely as a strategy to increase learning and to lower the cost of education. In many institutions, the tuition depends on how long it takes a student to complete a degree. The faster a learner progresses through the material, the less expensive the program is. Since many CBE programs are offered online and leverage technology, operating costs are eliminated resulting in lower tuition fees.
One of the key benefits of CBE is that learning centers on real-world skills and competency development. Programs are designed around competencies that are needed for a particular career ensuring that the material is relevant. The outcome is that students are workplace ready and have expertise in their chosen fields. For many students, CBE is a direct path to a successful career. Employees also value CBE and according to a recent article on Western Governors University’s (WGU) competency program graduates “98 percent of employers with WGU graduates would hire more of our students” (JCUonline).
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