Student Success Blog For Educators


July 04, 2017

What is Competency-based Education?

In search of actionable methods to make higher education more affordable and more aligned with the needs of students today, competency-based education, or CBE, has come on the scene as a viable solution. Like other new concepts in college and university settings, however, several different definitions of CBE exist which make sit challenging to truly understand what it is and how it is intended to benefit students and educators alike. If you’ve heard the buzz about competency-based education but need some clarification, you’re in the right place.

Breaking Down CBE

Competency-based education in its simplest form is a method of learning that ditches a time-based measurement of a student’s progress and replaces it with measurements of learning or competency. In the traditional higher education system, students work toward a degree based on units of time, whether that is credit hours, quarters, or semesters. Without fulfilling the preset amount of time deemed necessary to finish a course, students cannot advance. The problem with the conventional notion of time-based measurement is that some students master the skills the course aims to teach in a shorter amount of time, leading to unnecessarily prolonged degree programs and some, most importantly, disheartened learners.


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Competency-based education focuses on learning as the unit of measurement instead of time spent in the classroom. This creates an environment where gaining the knowledge and competency required to excel beyond the classroom and in the workplace is weighted more heavily than the hours put into a course. Competency-based education allows students to learn at their own pace, and it gives educators more control in assessing the skills their students are gaining over time.

How CBE Works

Developing a competency-based education program requires some mindset shifts, including a change to how faculty perceived their role in the classroom. Instead of lecturing for a set number of weeks based on a rigid schedule of information to present, educators can act as a side-by-side guide for students, allowing them to apply the knowledge they have gained when they are ready.


Also, developing a competency-based education system requires the development of valid, reliable assessments dictated by the knowledge and skills students should have by finishing a course. The proof of these competencies can be more easily recognized with technology-based tools like ePortfolios, digital badges, and micro-credentials that educators create and students strive to achieve. Throughout a student’s educational journey, these evidence-based achievements highlight the skills they have garnered over time, and those skills can be used by employers to search for and ultimately hire the best-fit graduates.


Competency-based learning is a more efficient way to assess the progress students make toward earning a degree, and it provides a personalized path to learning for each unique student. Educators benefit from course design based on achieved skills rather than time in seats because the method offers a clear and verifiable proof of accomplishments that follow a student far beyond the end of a course or graduation. With these powerful advantages, shifting the focus toward CBE is an undeniable part of the future of education.


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