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CBE in the Classroom

CBE in the Classroom

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, you will discover why a competency-based approach is helpful in meeting the needs of all learners, along with how competency-based instruction compares with traditional instruction.

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In this tutorial, we'll explore what Competency-Based Education can look like in the classroom environment. We'll begin by reviewing the five principles of CBE. And then we'll review some of the benefits of CBE. Finally, we'll compare CBE with traditional instruction. Let's get started.

Recall that the five principles of CBE were identified by iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, at a 2011 summit. This summit on Competency-Based Education included not only educators, but also instructional leaders and education advocates. And these participants worked together to develop the working definition of Competency-Based Education based on these five design principles.

Principle number 1 states that students advance upon mastery. Principle number 2, explicit and measurable learning objectives empower students. Principle 3, assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students. Principle number 4 states that students receive rapid, differentiated support. And finally, principle 5, learning outcomes emphasized include application and creation of knowledge.

What are the benefits of CBE? Why would we implement this approach in our classrooms? Well, first, CBE helps us to better meet the needs of the individual learners in our classrooms. It provides a way for us to tailor our instruction in order to address students' unique strengths and weaknesses.

CBE allows for individualized pacing and gives students more control over the learning methods that help them learn best. In CBE, one of the goals of assessment is to really focused in on the knowledge and skills that are going to be necessary for our students to be lifelong learners, skills that will impact them both in college and in their future careers. And finally, in CBE students have the opportunity to advance quickly if they already have existing background knowledge on a topic.

Let's look at how Competency-Based Education compares to more traditional instructional techniques. First, in Competency-Based Education, the focus is on mastery of competencies or specific skills. Compare that to a more traditional educational model, where the goal of instruction really is to try to help all students master the same grade-level content.

While the traditional instruction, then, is trying to more generally align with the grade-level content standards, Competency-Based Education allows us to still have students working towards the appropriate grade-level standards. But also, we can increase the focus on helping students to master the skills and knowledge that they need to be successful in life in general, as their learning plans allow for greater personalization of the skills and competencies, as appropriate.

CBE is a more student-centered approach to learning, while traditional instruction is typically more teacher-centered. In CBE, each student has a learning path that is tailored to his or her individual needs. And often, this is accomplished through the use of technology. In more traditional instruction, the learning is definitely teacher-centered. The teacher is the holder of all of the knowledge and is the one person who is typically responsible for delivering all of that knowledge to the students.

In Competency-Based Education, students are more actively engaged, whereas in traditional instruction, students are often just the passive receivers of the knowledge. CBE often uses inquiry and problem-based learning techniques. This helps students develop skills that they'll need in the long-term-- skills like collaboration, problem-solving, and communication. In a more traditional learning environment, however, instruction is often just occurring through direct instruction-- for example, through lectures where students are sitting passively and not very actively engaged.

Competency-Based Education tends to focus more on open-ended work, compared to the closed-ended work that is a part of more traditional instruction. In CBE, students are often tackling questions that allow them to really grapple with real-world applications of skills. They have to contend with problems that might have multiple potential solutions. Compare this to the more traditional approach of asking students questions that only have one correct answer or questions that are formulaic.

Finally, the focus in CBE really is on promoting lifelong success, whereas the focus has often been, in more traditional instruction, to just look at the success that is necessary within the school environment itself. Sometimes in traditional instruction, we are so focused on just having students master the current grade-level content and having them perform really well on end of year standardized testing and then promoting them to the next grade level in school. But in CBE, the focus is on developing those lifelong competencies that students are going to be able to use in their future careers, in further education, and just in life outside of school in general.

In this tutorial, we reviewed the principles and benefits of Competency-Based Education. And then we compared CBE to more traditional instruction. Now it's your turn to stop and reflect. Think about your current classroom environment and your current instructional approaches. Are you more closely aligned with a traditional instructional approach? Or do you identify more with the student-centered CBE approach?

For more information on how to apply what you learned in this video, please view the additional resources section that accompanies this video presentation. The additional resources section includes hyperlinks useful for applications of the course material, including a brief description of each resource. Thanks for watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "CBE in the Classroom"

(00:00 - 00:20) Introduction

(00:21 - 01:16) 5 Principles of CBE

(01:17 - 02:02) Benefits of CBE

(02:03 - 05:00) CBE vs Traditional Instruction

(05:01 - 05:10) Review

(05:11 - 05:47) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

3 Ways Competency-Based Education is Being Used by Teachers

This article from the National Center for Learning Disabilities illustrates how three teachers are using CBE with their students in very different settings.

Competency-Based Learning or Personalized Learning

This USDOE webpage links to various school programs in the US that are using CBE, and explains how they are doing it. This site provides useful resources when considering a CBE approach.