3 ways to bolster competency in higher education

Converting a student’s experience into college credits has proven one of the most complex, oft-discussed issues in higher education

competency-educationCompetency based learning, or CBE, has been pushed by educators and lawmakers who want to increase the number of U.S. degree holders by helping nontraditional students — working adults and military veterans among them — turn their professional experience into college credits.

The focus, these CBE advocates argue, should be on a student’s understanding of a subject, not their time re-learning what they already know.

With competency-based learning — which has gained traction over the past decade — student progress is not necessarily linked to traditional grades, textbook chapters, or even semester time-frames, known as seat time. Competency-based learning is instead based on the mastering of key concepts at a more personalized pace.

Pearson in July released what could be a critical tool in making CBE more efficient in higher education, mainstreaming it along the way.

(Next page: What industry is doing for CBE)

Pearson announced a framework and assessment for competency-based education that focuses on three main areas of creating an effective program: Prepare, build and sustain. The Pearson program was designed to help a school launch a CBE program from the ground up, allowing institutions to serve more students in less time, with a focus on skills that typically lead to employment after graduation.

Brian Epp, Pearson’s strategic consultant for higher education services, said that by the company’s framework for CBE available to colleges and universities, Pearson hoped to “empower institutions to incorporate CBE into their teaching and learning models, as it’s materializing to be a viable and successful option for more students.”

“It’s something that colleges have wanted for a while now,” Epp said in an interview with eCampus News. “Competency is an important piece and [the CBE framework] will go a long way in helping schools deal with the complexity that comes with competency based education on campuses.”

At a January conference in Washington, D.C., two representatives from Western Governors University claimed that the institution had transitioned from an experiment in competency-based learning to a “proof of concept.”

“We know from that different people learn things at different rates,” said Sally Johnstone, vice president for academic advancement at the university. “We also know that the same individual may learn different subjects at different rates. We can use competency-based education and online tools to accommodate that. We are no longer in a position where we have to ask all students to do the same thing at the same time at the same pacing.”

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding an incubator for institutions trying to design competency-based learning models.

The Lumina Foundation recently created a network of more than 20 institutions that will offer competency-based degrees, including DePaul University, Southern New Hampshire University, and Texas A&M University.

The “prepare” phase of Pearson’s CBE framework includes in-depth “initial market analysis, including current demand, future growth, employment needs, and target students,” according to the company. In short: This helps a college better understand if it is ready to launch and maintain a CBE program.

The “build” phase that follows “looks at detailed processes associated with program design, curriculum design and development, program scalability, marketing and recruitment, and admissions and registrations,” while the third and final phase “focuses on enrolled student engagement, including student engagement techniques, at-risk learner intervention, and advising.”

That third phase, known as “sustain,” is data-centric and focuses on the use of information to improve student performance.

“We think it’s important to use the data available in making sure that students are moving through college, and not getting stuck,” Epp said.

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