Off the Clock: Moving to Competency-Based Learning

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There is a good article, "Technologies that Unlock Competency-Based Learning" by Dian Schaffhauser, that looks at how in New Hampshire a shift away from an educational system based on "seat time" is already underway.

I have been writing about "competency-based" programs for a few years, but a real national shift started in August 2013 when the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching released a report calling for the dismantling of their own "Carnegie Unit."

That unit of measurement, which is tightly tied to the high school and college credit system, is being questioned even by those who created it. One alternative getting the most attention is CBL - Competency-Based Learning.

This new approach flips the Carnegie Unit (time is the constant and learning is the variable).
Learning becomes the constant and time is the variable. That means students take as much or as little time as they need to master a competency. The main requirement is that they continue to make progress. The student who completes a 15 week, 3 credit course in 9 weeks moves on. Another student takes 20 weeks to complete those competencies.

Obviously, this requires some big shifts to how we view credits, degrees, semesters and coursework.

It's an idea that has been used more in online courses and programs than with F2F courses in recent years, and technology plays a big role in this transformational approach.

According to the article, New Hampshire was trying this concept prior to the Carnegie announcement. High schools there have been shifting since the 2008-2009 academic year from the traditional time-based model of credit for sitting in class for about 180 days and moving students on even if they have not mastered the content.

The program has had challenges, which is what we would expect.

In a somewhat oversimplified explanation, you have a competency itself, and an assessment by which that competency is measured. New Hampshire-based Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (VLACS) sees a competency as including a "student's ability to transfer concepts and skills across content areas. A sample competency might be the following: "Students will demonstrate the ability to comprehend, analyze, and critique informational text in print and non-print media." VLACS is a a competency-based charter school for grades 5 to 12. Tuition-free to in-state students, this "alternative school" appeals to a variety of learners, including those who want to take courses not offered by their own schools.

How would this work in colleges that don't have the time luxury of 180 classes and a 10 month year? 

Will we see the completion rate at colleges decrease as students speed through courses in less than a semester - or will it get even longer than it is now because students cannot meet the competencies for certain required courses?

Many questions still to be asked and answered.


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