Helpful Tools for Developing Effective Competency-Based Education

Competency-based learning is part of the move towards experiential education and student-centered learning and focuses on the mastery of academic content rather than traditional methods of spending a specific amount of time in a classroom. With competency-based learning, students can go at their own pace, create their schedule for learning, and become flexible with their education. Students progress based on their educational foundations. By passing certain milestones set by the educator, they can demonstrate mastery of academic content.

Backwards Design

One of the best practices in education that is focused on creating meaningful assessments is backward design in lesson planning. Backward design focuses on the end goals of each lesson and then structures the rest of the lesson to point towards those goals. There are three stages to backward design:

  1. Identify the desired results
  2. Identify evidence of learning
  3. Design the instructional plan

By identifying the desired results, educators can pinpoint what the student outcome is. Asking questions such as “What do we want the students to walk away with?” and “What do we want students to be able to do?” can help identify the desired results when designing assessments for competency-based courses.

Once the desired results have been determined, then educators can begin the process of identifying what forms of evidence they would like to see students produce. This is where the actual assessments, projects, and activities can be designed. Questions such as “What do we want students to produce that will demonstrate understanding?” are helpful in this stage of backward design. Having determined the desired results already makes it much easier to create the assessment that points towards the end goals.

The last stage of backward design is creating the instructional plan that is meant to prepare students for the assessment stage. Educators should think about what activities to incorporate in this teaching phase of the lesson. All of the activities should be designed to teach students the new content to prepare them for mastery through assessments.

Additional Tools

As educators work to develop competency-based courses, another useful resource is a step-by-step guide that outlines explicitly how to design the assessments. Since competency-based learning focuses heavily on mastery of content through evaluations, it makes sense that creating these assessments with quality are one of the more essential parts of this process.

Lastly, it’s important to note that the difference with this type of course versus the traditional methods is that competency-based education relies on student ownership. Building a culture of student ownership in a competency-based curriculum helps students understand what is expected of them when it comes to demonstrating mastery. Competency-based education provides another means of non-traditional education that accommodates for our non-traditional learners as we move into the 21st century.

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