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6 Things to Know About Competency-Based Learning

Recently, we briefly introduced some of the different types of learning methods and environments available to adult students. Now, we want to provide some fast facts about one in particular—competency-based education (CBE).

1. Why is competency-based learning different?

  • As opposed to traditional courses that measure your success and assign grades based on the amount of information you have retained, CBE prioritizes competency over theory.
  • These courses measure and advance according to your individual skill level, giving you credit for how you actually apply the theory you’ve learned, rather than the number of classes you’ve taken. It focuses on mastering concrete skills rather than becoming an expert in an abstract idea.
  • Students are able to move along at a pace that is comfortable to them, ensuring that they truly grasp what they’re taught and not restricted to set deadlines and terms.

2. How do you progress?

  • Competency-based learning doesn’t just teach theories or concepts. Students are assessed objectively by their ability to perform a set of skills. These tests may still include multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank exams, but they will primarily measure practical application.
  • Performance assignments—papers, presentations, and projects—are also assigned and assessed to determine one’s advancement.
  • Because students have the opportunity to progress at their own pace, there is no official start and end of a term. Each student may spend more or less time on a particular subject than their peers.
  • Students may not advance until they have proven their competency in a certain area.

3. How much does Competency-Based Learning cost?

  • For students who are serious about completing their education quickly, one of the most compelling attractors to CBE may be how it is priced. Instead of paying per unit (credit hour), competency-based learning comes at a fixed rate for a given time frame (six months, one year, etc.).
  • Your goal is to master as many skills in your progression as you can—the more you learn during your subscription, the cheaper your overall costs.

4. When do you get support?

  • As with any college course, it is up to you to find out when/where to get help.
  • Because course lengths are not rigidly dictated by set schedules, you won’t need to cram yourself into an already busy professor’s office hours schedule. The self-directed method of learning makes it possible to seek out and receive intensive guidance.
  • Many competency-based learning programs are offered through “open laboratory” or “open classroom” settings in which professors and/or lab staff available for support and to answer questions.

5. Who is it right for?

  • Competency-based learning is ideal for those who can thrive in an unstructured setting, those who can work efficiently even when they aren’t subject to many deadlines.
  • Training through CBE can be great for students seeking to move quickly into the workforce. The practice of competency-based learning fits well with the practical requirements of a successful employee; students are not only skillful, but they are also used to a model of continual, lifelong learning.
  • Competency-based learning is likely not a good option for anyone hoping to enroll in a competitive graduate program after earning their degree. Traditional learning models assess and weigh grades differently, so some schools may find a competency-based transcript/GPA less competitive.

6. Where can I find a program?

  • is a great place to start your search. Check out the programs at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, University of Maine at Presque Isle, and  Western Governors University to see if any of them look right for you!

More Helpful Resources:

I Have Years of Experience, but No Degree. Is That Enough to Get Hired? – Answers from HR Professionals

7 Tips to Help You Balance School and Work

Getting College Credit for Life Experience You Already Have

Financial Aid: Funds for Adult Students

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