Can Competency-Based Education Demonstrate Mastery Across a Lifetime?...

Digital Learning

Can Competency-Based Education Demonstrate Mastery Across a Lifetime? #DLNchat

By Michael Sano     Aug 16, 2018

Can Competency-Based Education Demonstrate Mastery Across a Lifetime? #DLNchat

When students master a competency, have they mastered it for life? And how can they continue to build on competencies through employment or demonstrate that growth? Those were a couple of questions that popped up at #DLNchat on Tuesday, August 14. The conversation was guided by our special guest Executive Director of C-BEN (Competency-Based Education Network), Charla Long. Much of the discussion focused on how competency-based education (CBE) could support students in acquiring and demonstrating knowledge, skills and abilities while enrolled and after completion.

The Twitter chat started by first defining the buzzwords at the center of our discussion. Our guest pointed to a five-page definition of CBE. Then Long boiled CBE down more simply: “Where a learner earns her credential based on demonstration of knowledge, skills, abilities, and intellectual behaviors at required level of mastery.” Cali Morrison added: “I define CBE as personalized pace, mastery-based learning where students demonstrate mastery through authentic assessment and progress as they learn rather than after a set amount of time.”

The span of time learners can take to master a competency is an important variable to the CBE model. But what span of time does the mastery then last for? Maria Andersen asked, “Are we just measuring competency at a moment in time?” #DLNchat-ters had differing views. Some agreed that competencies have to be remastered repeatedly over a lifetime of learning; others argued that certain competencies have more staying power than others. Brian Peddle offered this solution: “I think they should be measured in education and then in the workforce. The competencies should be additive. A lifelong competency transcript that is always updated.”

The relationship between employers and students is particularly relevant to competency-based educators. As Long advised, “It is an essential element of quality to engage employers. Part of this engagement is identifying whether your CBE program aligns to career pathways and invites employers to assist with assessment.” Erin Crisp agreed. “It's like employers are saying ‘yeah, I see that you have a degree, but what can you actually do?’ An assessment that shows knowledge, skill and abilities in context will be a valuable asset,” she tweeted. Crisp and other #DLNchat-ters see the growth of CBE and its relevance to employers supported by the expansion of online learning. Other signals that CBE is gaining traction can be seen with how more colleges are adding competencies to student transcripts.

But how do competencies transfer to other institutions? Or become recognized by employers? Those were questions looming throughout the chat. As Andersen said, “It would help everyone if we all subscribe to a common core of competencies and associated learning objectives.” Morrison felt, “the issue with working together right now is that we're all putting our own 'spin' on CBE which makes it hard to aggregate data across institutions.”

So how can institutions work better together? As Bill Weber posited, “Data analytics is another piece of the pie that I’m not sure most institutions are ready to cooperate on.” A representative from Orbis Communications replied, “The short answer is they can't [work together]. Different approaches mean the emergence of unique taxonomies. Within higher ed and between higher ed & industry. The approach should be about translators that can map equivalent competencies.”

Long felt differently, based on her experience with C-BEN member institutions. “I've found the CBE community to be very transparent and open, much different than other communities.” She continued saying, “data analytics allow programs to target faculty and staff engagement, better support learners during all facets of the student lifecycle, and increase the likelihood of moving an individual to a successful demonstration of competence.” But don’t bet all your bitcoin on big data. Crisp noted, “most analytics right now just show engagement, which is one measure, but strategically placed Q&A could tell curriculum designers a lot about what knowledge, skills and abilities are sticking and where the instruction misses the mark.”

Perhaps adaptive courseware could help in this regard? “Many institutions are using adaptive courseware to personalize the learning journey in a more effective way. Before this technology existed, faculty & staff were making modifications manually so automation helps students, and the faculty and staff who serve them,” Long shared. Not everyone in the #DLNchat community was as enthusiastic about the potential of adaptive learning for CBE. Jeff Grann said, “Adaptive may help tweak, but it’s important to start with building high quality CBE learning experiences that prioritize gains in student learning.” Jim Vanides wondered about the assumptions underlying the use adaptive courseware in CBE programs. “I worry about trying to make a project-based experience ‘adaptive’ in the same way as a ‘know these facts’ course,” he tweeted.

Regardless of the delivery, it’s the outcome that learners need to demonstrate. Many #DLNchat-ters agreed that digital portfolios were one way to show skill mastery, but needed to go further. Keith Bevacqua shared this idea: “Perhaps by archiving full work sets after a course, not just providing a digital badge. The work completed in a CBE program could become part of a digital CV.” But, Weber said, “it takes more than evidence, we need to teach students how to be able to reflect and articulate why the evidence demonstrates their skills.” #DLNchat-ters imagined a repository overseen by a network of experts. Or, as Evan Smith suggested, “Websites of state coordinating boards could list objectives cross-listed for, e.g., both secondary and post-secondary levels.”

There were a lot of big dreams shared about where CBE could take learners. Most focused on centralizing opportunities for students and connecting learning from high school to college and into employment. Morrison’s idea: “In my CBE utopia students are in one system that handles all administrative functions, provides robust digital learning objects, immersive experiences, artifact repository, and an engagement layer for working with faculty and other students in a mobile first environment. Too much?” Grann didn’t think so. He envisions“a ‘product’ that aligns ecosystem incentives to maximize each student's potential.”

“You may call me a dreamer,” he concluded “but I'm not the only one.”

What’s your dream for the future of competency-based education? Tweet our community with #DLNchat to share your ideas! You can also RSVP for our next chat: How Do We Best Teach Digital and Information Literacy in Higher Ed? on Tuesday, September 11 at 1pm PT/ 4pm ET. For more topics, check out our index of past chats. #DLNchat is co-hosted by the Online Learning Consortium, WCET and Tyton Partners.

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