A pioneer of competency-based education shares the key steps for developing a successful CBE program.
For competency-based education, it’s no longer a question of why but how. Once viewed as a Quixotic undertaking at best, CBE has shouldered its way into the mainstream, propelled by the knowledge that non-traditional students now represent a majority of the post-secondary population. While some schools are hiring vendors to help them jump onto the CBE bandwagon, others are turning for guidance to pioneering schools that have already made the leap.
One such exemplar is Brandman University, a nonprofit institution that focuses primarily on adult education. In 2014, Brandman launched its first CBE offering, known as MyPath: Bachelor of Business Administration degrees in four disciplines ranging from marketing to supply-chain management and logistics. “When we started, there wasn’t much out there on CBE,” said Gary Brahm, chancellor and CEO of Brandman University, which is part of the Chapman University System. “We spent a lot of time and effort doing research, talking to companies, and learning what we thought were the best practices.”
Looking back to the program’s beginning, Brahm identified several areas that were critical to its success. Then, as now, the driving impetus behind CBE was to equip adult learners with the skills needed to succeed in the job market.
1.Identify Skills From Both Sectors
In developing its CBE program, Brandman’s first task was to identify those skills and then use them as the framework for the entire program.
“We did what we call backwards design,” said Brahm, noting that the school started with the federal job database known as O*NET, which contains in-depth descriptions of the knowledge and skills associated with specific jobs and careers. The school also utilized the Degree Qualification Profile competencies from the Lumina Foundation, as well as the Liberal Education and America’s Promise (LEAP) competencies developed by the Association of American Colleges & Universities.
In addition, Brandman worked closely with industry associations for each of the four BBA degrees. For the supply-chain management BBA, for instance, the school consulted with the Institute of Supply Chain Management to ensure its exam certification competencies were embedded into the assessments. “We then asked employers, ‘Are these the right competencies? Are these the right assessments to demonstrate mastery of these competencies?'” said Brahm.
2.Develop/Find a New LMS
Identifying the necessary skills was one thing. Structuring a degree program around them was a whole new challenge that involved significant changes in curriculum design, business operations, financial-aid processes, and the role of faculty. To accommodate all these changes, a new type of learning management system was also needed.
“Three years ago, there wasn’t an LMS that did all the things we thought were important—and we looked at all of them,” recalled Brahm. “But we identified Flat World as a company that could develop a system to capture the benefits of CBE.”
Flat World is a DC-based company that started as a developer of digital textbooks and courseware before creating its own CBE learning platform and academic services group. Flat World worked with Brandman to develop a checklist of LMS features that the school considered essential for CBE, including the ability to support adaptive learning.