Competency-based education: great potential, but little adoption

student under a competency-based education program

A recent report shows that educational leaders think this model better prepares students in the face of job challenges and favors non-traditional students.

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A recent report shows the optimism of educational leaders about the effectiveness of competency-based education (CBE). However, it also evidences its little adoption and barriers to its implementation.

What is competency-based learning? Although there are countless definitions, in all of them, the curriculum focuses on the development of specific competencies; progress is evaluated with the mastery or demonstration of capacity, and the time to master these competencies is variable depending on the student and the academic program.

A survey undertaken by American Institutes for Research and Eduventures, collected the sentiment of educational leaders from more than 500 American universities about their ventures in EBC strategies. The general opinion perceives this model as effective and attractive for students; nevertheless, there are significant barriers to its implementation and scale.

Key points:

  • Most respondents think that this model better prepares students in the face of job challenges and favors students considered as non-traditional (over 25 years old, workers, with family, belonging to ethnic minorities, among other characteristics).

  • Although more and more institutions adopt this type of program, most do not implement it wholly or rigorously. Contrary to what is recommended, many institutions measure the progress of their EBC programs through class hours; they do not require mastery of skills to advance between units, and there is no personalization of the curriculum depending on the rhythm of each student.

  • In most institutions that adopt these models, teachers are responsible for defining competencies, evaluating the performance of students and designing instructional content.

  • The 53% of institutions that fully implement this type of program do so in groups of 50 students or less. Only 4% carry it out with more than 1000 students.

Implementation barriers

Because competency-based education takes an unconventional approach, program leaders may encounter local obstacles to implementation on their campuses, ranging from institutional processes and infrastructure to lack of interest from those involved. External factors, such as accreditation regulations and financial aid, can also undermine an institution's decision to implement these models.

The researchers point out that the proliferation of this model in integral educational programs, and not only in some courses, depends on the disposition and economic power of each institution in addition to the ability of universities to train and motivate their teachers.

If you want to know more about competency-based education, download the free report developed by the Observatory.