What’s Next for Competency Based Education?

Competency Based Education, or CBE, is an ongoing topic of debate in the sphere of higher education, with many predicting it will continue to disrupt the current system. The practice is often hailed as a solution for adult or non-traditional learners, as it allows learners to progress at their own pace, focusing on mastery of a skill rather than time spent in a classroom. CBE-only programs such as College for America or Western Governors University have gained popularity for their CBE programs. But the growing trend isn’t limited to CBE-only programs; today, more than 600 institutions have or plan to incorporate new competency-based credentials.

It would take a paradigm shift to push CBE into global adoption, yet the results from CBE-based programs are encouraging. CBE methods are far from orthodox, as the goal is to teach for competency and ability to transfer knowledge rather than rote learning to pass tests.

But are the current methods to assess knowledge transfer and evaluate a student’s competency as progressive as they need to be? Or do they simply reuse conventional testing methodologies that score the ability to memorize the curriculum, rather than a student’s ability to actively apply what they learn? While these old methods are convenient and cost effective at scale, they have proven time and again to inaccurately predict a student’s skills. And though, with the use of adaptive technology, these methods may illustrate mastery of concepts, they fall short of demonstrating mastery of how to apply those concepts.

There is a need for CBE and we have seen great progress in recent years, but educators, students, and the labor markets continuously ask the question: how is CBE assessed and do we have the means to prove mastery beyond mere knowledge of content?

What’s the Hype About?

CBE has been around for quite some time, and has gained significant momentum in recent years as the number of non-traditional learners seeking to continue their education increases. While the traditional education model measures competency on some level, the time-based nature of a college course — about four months — means students may proceed without fully understanding the material.

Evangelists of the CBE movement believe it enhances the value of education and improves overall understanding. With Competency Based Education, students are not pressured with required classroom time. Their progress is measured by demonstrating their competence with the subject matter, proving they have mastered the knowledge and skills of the course.

Many educators hoping to burst the multiple choice Scantron bubble argue that CBE measures student learning more accurately than traditional education programs — an assertion that could increase CBE’s credibility for both students and their future employers. A recent study found that 71% of colleges said they hoped CBE would expand employment opportunities for non-traditional students. Further, we know CBE aligns with the needs of employers, who are looking for students with domain-specific and 21st century skills, not content knowledge that can be easily discovered online.

“Competency Based Education does away with the defined duration and credit hours, replacing time with mastery. Not all students study at the same rate — and some have already acquired a range of knowledge and skills — so competency-based education offers an “to each their own” model for degree completion.”

Promise and Problems

Education and learning take many forms, and limiting the structure of higher education to time spent in a classroom creates a barrier for many non-traditional learners (who now make up the majority). When implemented correctly, CBE can improve quality and consistency, reduce costs, and shorten the time required to graduate. While offering competency-based education could be advantageous for many traditional students, it is particularly ideal for the 37 million American adults with some college experience but no degree. CBE makes it possible for them to pick up where they left off on the path toward their degree.

The major barrier to mainstream adoption of CBE are the methods used to assess the competency it purports to cultivate. There continues to be a lack of faith from the labor market in the ability to predict success from a resume and a transcript. Some concerns have been expressed from accreditation auditors tasked with approving diplomas from CBE programs. With a system focused on competency, it’s crucial that educators adopt methods to accurately assess a student’s ability to apply what has been learned. In order for CBE to gain real traction and truly compete with the traditional system, educators and prospective employers need a credible, demonstrable method to assess and prove that students have mastered application of the material and acquired real world skills.

So, Does It Work?

Ideally, CBE “works” for many reasons and for many different categories of people. Non-traditional learners can receive higher education while saving time and money, and taking ownership of their own education. Educators can expose students to the skills they will need in the real world, get better insight into each student’s skills, and create better alignment with industry by making sure students are not simply memorizing facts, but are learning to apply their knowledge in realistic situations. Employers can trust that their investment in new talent will be more predictable and effective.

Developing a framework to authentically assess competency-based learning experiences is the next step for CBE — one that connects the real-world skills employers are asking for with the power skills needed for future success.

Our team at Authess is working on addressing this complex challenge by providing cost effective and scalable scoring of hard-to-measure competencies, including complex problem solving — the kind of evidence any CBE program needs. Using machine learning and advanced analytics, Authess assesses the learner’s ability to apply skills in real-world scenarios. Authess provides employers, educators, and students alike the ability to gauge whether or not they’ll be successful in the given field or with specific tasks, and if not, where they need to focus their efforts. Put simply, Authess can provide CBE programs meaningful insight into the competencies they seek to support.

By leveraging the competency-based assessments like those delivered by Authess, CBE can fully claim a place as a compelling alternative to traditional methods of learning and assessment. Authess gives competency-based educators the ability to accurately place students, teach them using real-world examples, and authentically measure how they apply knowledge. With a mission focused on workforce readiness and successful employment, Authess equips educators and employers with a cost-effective and scalable tool to engage their candidates authentically, providing invaluable insight into their true capabilities.

To learn more about Authess and the ability to assess skills and competency, visit our website at www.authess.com.