7 Reasons for Competency Based Learning in online courses

Competency-based learning is a natural approach for online learning and the de facto choice for many virtual institutions. 

Competency-based learning, often called mastery-learning, insists on mastery of subjects.  It provides students the opportunity to learn in a more personalized way and educators with the ability to ensure standards of achievement throughout the course. 

Students are not marched past failure.  Alternatively, competency-based programs set goals for students that must be met then affords every student the flexibility and resources to get there.

Here are 7 reasons to consider this approach for your online classes:

  1. Students advance when they master skills at a defined level of proficiency.
    • Instead of allowing students to accept a mediocre score and corresponding level of understanding, they are held accountable for achieving at a predefined level of mastery.
    • Standards are typically set around 80% to require that students prove understanding at least at a B level to get credit for assignments.
  2. Learning is much more personalized. 
    • Tutoring is based on individual skill gaps.  Each student’s specific knowledge deficits are highlighted during the learning process to give instructors or educational technology the opportunity to address those areas of weakness in real-time.
    • Each student brings a unique level of prior knowledge of the content and will learn at different speeds.  Some students may need to review more content, watch instructional videos again, or utilize more of the tutorials.  This approach allows students to take advantage of those resources if initially unsuccessful and then try again.
  3. Emphasis on demonstrated learning over seat time.
    • This doesn’t necessarily mean a self-paced schedule, but instead provides each student with unlimited opportunities to learn and reach the same level of achievement as their peers, regardless if it takes them a little bit more time to get there. 
    • Timing and due dates for assignments can still be fixed, but Competency Based Education gives students more opportunities to prove proficiency before that time.
  4. Transparency empowers and motivates learners.
    • Students know that they have an opportunity to achieve without penalty if they aren’t initially successful.  Anxiety is reduced when penalty for initial failure is taken off the table.
    • It is incredibly motivational to ensure students persist when they can see their progress towards achieving mastery goals and receiving full credit for assignment completion.
  5. Assessment is a continual part of the learning cycle.
    • Assessment shouldn’t be a final judgment at a time when a student has no hope of changing the outcome.
    • Incremental reporting of progress supports students toward achieving cumulative understanding and identifies the roadmap to get there.
  6. Educators can offer more timely support.
    • Ongoing review of where students stand in relation to their goals for learning provides a more realistic picture to both students and educators.
    • This understanding of where each student struggles in real-time allows educators to provide faster support on any part of the required material where students are struggling.
  7. Students develop life-long learning habits.
    • Students learn how to persevere, demonstrate that they can transfer their knowledge to new contexts, and apply skills learned to new challenges.
    • Mastering skills takes persistence and translates to long-term achievement orientation.

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