Competency, Proficiency, Mastery … by any Name These Programs Offer Exciting Potential for Education.
In Sunday's article, we briefly considered the exciting potential of Competency Based Education and considered some of the hurdles and barriers it must overcome to evolve into a larger scale success. Today we take a look at a couple of early pioneers of CBE and consider forward steps in its progress.
Pioneers and Successes
A number of schools in the U.S. have been working with various approaches to Competency Based Learning (at time referred to with other monikers, such as Proficiency-Based, Performance-Based, and Mastery Learning). This work goes back a decade or more in some cases. While there have been challenges such as those cited in New Hampshire in Sunday's article, there are also plenty of successes that can be studied and learned from.
Maine School Districts
CompetencyWorks is a collaborative initiative drawing on the knowledge of an Advisory Board and sponsors including iNACOL, the National Governors Board, and the Donnell-Kay Foundation among others. The CompetencyWorks.org website is rich with articles and resources focused on the move towards CBE, with a particular focus on schools in New England region of the U.S.
A recent article on the ComptencyWorks site shared a district level analysis report, “Understanding the Needs of Students: A Report on Maine’s Implementation”. The report examined Eight Maine school districts, representing different school district sizes, geographic areas, and years of implementing proficiency‐based reforms. Four benefits of Proficiency Based learning programs are cited in the report:
- Improved student engagement.
- Continued development of robust intervention systems for struggling students.
- Collaborative professional work to develop common standards, align curriculum, and create assessments.
- Collective and transparent monitoring of student progress and needs by educators, administrators and families
There are also a host of challenges noted as well, but these benefits are certainly solid steps forward. Article author Chris Sturgis notes that he found the report, “incredibly affirming that we are going in the right direction”.
Western Governors University
One of the most widely referenced innovators in higher education, and an accredited practitioner of Competency Based Education, is Western Governors University. WGU is a non-profit online educational institution chartered in 1996 by a coalition of 19 United States Governors seeking to address rapid population growth and confronted by limited public funds for educational services. The governors enlisted the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems to help design the newly envisioned university.
WGU's approach to CBE, “means never having to spend time (or money) “re-learning” material you already know. Already have experience? Great! You can use it to complete assessments as soon as you’re ready. If you’re already competent in a subject area, you can prove it faster and complete your degree faster.” So you can test out of courses, and as you take courses you can move through as quickly as you can master and demonstrate the learning material. You are able to complete your degree program as soon as you can successfully complete all of the necessary assessments. This also means you can save money by accelerating completion of the programs for less tuition dollars.
The results of WGU's approach to teaching and delivery have been impressive, with higher than average retention, excellent performance on national certification exams, high employer ratings for grads, and more (read all about it in this EmergingEdTech article). While not all of these results can be directly attributed to WGU's Competency Based Learning approach, given the various innovations in their program, CBE is certainly a key element in their approach and it would be hard to deny it's positive role. It should also be noted that any savings on tuition as a result of being able to move through the program at a faster approach (without sacrificing any required proficiencies!) are directly attributable to their incorporation of CBE.
These are just a few of the different types of benefits and quantifiable successes that are coming to light in carefully planned and overseen academic uses of CBE and similar models.
The education world, and various government and regulatory bodies have shown a willingness to learn more about how to grow the use of CBE in a way that achieves its promise. Here's a few examples:
- The Department of Education features a web page full of stories about CBE implementations across the US. It seems pretty clear that they are in support of the idea and continuing to learn more about it.
- EDUCAUSE, through their Gates Foundation backed NGLC Breakthrough Models Incubator grant program recently selected 12 institutions of higher education that are already working on designing and launching competency-based education program, or were ready to start doing so, to receive $50K grants to develop these programs and share their approaches and findings.
- Regional Accreditors are starting to examine what CBE means from their perspective. The article, “Big Disruption, Big Questions” published in Inside Higher Ed in April, 2013 explained, “Officials from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the largest regional accreditor, said this week that they are collecting submissions from four institutions to participate in a direct assessment pilot group”.
- We've learned how several states have taken the initiative at the high school level, these include New Hampshire, Maine, Kentucky, and Hawaii to name a few.
With all this focus on Competency Based Learning and funds being channeled into expanded programs, research, and innovative approaches, it seem likely that this is the beginning of something that is going to expand and become more prevalent.
Do you know of other CBE and similarly themed programs? Is this the beginning of a significant transition or something that will ultimately be a trend that will come and go? What do you think?
Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Is Competency Based Education the Next Game Changer on the Horizon? Can it Succeed?
Western Governors University – Measurable Academic Innovation Success, Enabled by Technology
Interview with Innovative Higher Ed CIO and Thought Leader Phil Komarny (Part 2 of 2)