Innovative Learning

Competency-Based Learning

Competency-based learning is a learning experience in which students progress through a learning pathway based on their ability to demonstrate competency (what they know or can do) rather than on their time spent learning or completing previous courses

Competency-based learning, also referred to as mastery-based learning, requires defining what competencies (i.e., demonstrable learning outcomes) are expected from a given learning experience. We tend to be so locked into a system of moving every student through the same classes at the same time that we haven’t given nearly enough thought to how a learner would demonstrate his/her understanding of the content being taught.

Competency-based learning can save time and resources, particularly for adult learners who may already have deep expertise in some areas but not others. Perhaps the greatest challenge to competency-based learning is figuring out the right level of granularity for the learning outcomes. Demonstrating many complex concepts in one shot would be challenging. Likewise, assessing every minor skill or sub-skill would be cumbersome. Effective competency-based learning can exist only with highly effective assessments aligned to desired learning outcomes. 

Competency-Based Learning in Practice

To see competency-based learning at scale, check out Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America. And if you want to see an awesome example of identifying learning outcomes, check out MIT’s Xoces (a tool that can be used by other institutions as well).