Imagine you’re a student.
You walk into a classroom on the first day of the semester. You approach your chosen desk and there sits a thick sealed envelope. Looking around, you see that each desk has its own thick sealed envelope.
Your professor approaches the podium and speaks.
“On your desks, in the envelope, you will find your syllabus along with all materials and assignments for the term. In it, you will even find your final exam. Since many of you are adult learners, we respect the fact that you are bringing a meaningful amount of life and workplace experience to this classroom. As such, you are free to begin these assignments whenever you’d like. We’ll be meeting for classroom learning and discussion each week so you can ask the big questions and collaborate with peers. You’ll also have access to videos and other media to help you learn more whenever you’d like. Some may finish all of your work within a few weeks; for others, it may take you the whole term. In this class, we prioritize your learning and how it’s measured more than time. Show what you know as soon as you know it.”
This is competency-based education (CBE). At least one form of it.
A quick guide to CBE models
Right now in the United States, there are several types of CBE models. Some programs are known as direct assessment, which are programs absent of courses or, in some cases, academic terms and are designed around competencies, e.g, discrete knowledge or skills. Others, like Rasmussen College’s Flex Choice® CBE program model, are credit- and course-based CBE within academic terms.
All CBE programs share one major element: They are increasingly time-fluid and prioritize student learning and the assessment of its demonstration. Show what you know as soon as you know it—not when the designated due date arrives or when the calendar dictates. Instead, share when you, the learner, are ready.
Now, imagine you’re a faculty member.
All this sounds great for the learner, but now imagine you are the faculty member in this CBE class? How can you present new content, engage in rich group dialogue, and assess learning when students are moving at their own pace? What if half your class moves faster than the other half?
These are all tricky questions that faculty members face. It’s unsurprising that student-faculty interaction is the most criticized component of the CBE concept.
As the Competency-Based Education Network’s Quality Principles and Standards for Competency-Based Education Programs state, CBE programs:
• Must be “sufficiently resourced with faculty and staff to meet the needs of the learner. Faculty and staff roles are designed to provide differentiated support to a diverse range of learners that leverages the individual talents, strengths, and competence of the faculty and staff.”
• Must provide “opportunities for engagement with peers, faculty, staff, and employers, who reflect the diversity of the learner population.”
• “Learners [must] have meaningful access to faculty subject-matter experts who play an active, central role in the design and delivery of the program.”
Using these parameters, schools are faced with implementing an effective program that serves the needs of students.