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January 18, 2017

A Successful Competency-Based Education Program Begins with Measuring Learning Outcomes

Increasingly, competency-based education (CBE) is becoming an essential component to competency-based hiring (CBH). Because CBE models are based on clearly defined learning outcomes, their transparency gets employers attention for three reasons:

  1. Successful competency-based education programs inherently foster the development of higher order critical thinking, problem-solving, organization, innovation, and communication skills.
  2. CBE students can demonstrate what they have learned through multifaceted projects, portfolios, and assessments. Because of this, they can prove they have the ability to contribute and be successful through innovation and competitive advantage.
  3. A CBE background gives potential hires more confidence in what they can offer. This makes them a valuable commodity to an employer because less training will be needed, which allows their business to reap the benefits of the employee’s expertise.

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In 2015, an estimated 600 colleges were designing a CBE program, were in the process of creating one, or already offered one. Just the year prior, only 52 institutions fell in that spectrum. Consider for a moment that almost eight million Americans are unemployed, while an estimated six million jobs go unfilled. Why? Because while 53 percent of college graduates believe they’re ready to apply the skills and knowledge they’ve worked hard to acquire, only 23 percent of employers agree. For CBE and CBH to work in a cohesive fashion, then educational institutions need to write measurable learning outcomes to ensure their CBE programs will meet CBH needs. And it all begins with assessment.

Why Measuring Learning Outcomes Matter

Assessment is a systematic and on-going process of collecting, interpreting, and acting on information relating to the goals and outcomes developed to support the institution’s mission and purpose. It asks: What we are trying to do? How well are we doing it? And How can we improve what we are doing? Learning outcomes encompass what students are expected to demonstrate in terms of knowledge, skills, and values upon completion of a course(s) or program(s). Clear articulation of learning outcomes serves as the foundation to evaluating the effectiveness of the teaching and learning process.

Three essential components of a measurable learning outcome are:

  1. Student learning behaviors
  2. Appropriate assessment methods
  3. Specific student performance criteria/criteria for success

Focus on student behavior and be very clear about what you are trying to assess. Do you want to assess what students are learning or what staff is learning as a result of the curriculum or training your program is offering (learning outcomes)? Is the outcome measurable? If it is not, you need to redefine your outcome. Be patient and don’t get frustrated with the process. Ask others to evaluate your outcomes so you can improve them. Be patient. Writing good outcomes takes practice, and it takes time. And don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments.

CBE isn’t one size fits all, and neither should be your learning outcomes that you create for your program.

Share with how which learning outcomes you’ve used when developing your CBE program.

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Photo Courtesy of: wwarby

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