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Competency Based Education and iNacol's 5 Principles

Competency Based Education and iNacol's 5 Principles

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, students review the history of CBE and analyze the design principles of CBE as they relate to curriculum.

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Source: Image of iNACOL logo, Fair Use, http://www.inacol.org/

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In this tutorial, you'll learn about the five design principles of CBE as identified by iNACOL. We'll begin by talking about the history of CBE. And then I'll outline those five principles for you. And finally, we'll examine competency-based education through the lens of iNACOL's five design principles. Let's get started.

First, competency-based education, or CBE, is actually based on outcomes-based education or OBE. This movement began in the 1960s when there was a new emphasis on teaching students the skills that they would need beyond high school. In both CBE and OBE, instruction is actually designed backwards. We begin by identifying the desired outcomes, and these outcomes are linked to real world applications.

In CBE, we usually also build in opportunities for self-pacing for students and perhaps flexible learning pathways as well. These methods are suitable for face-to-face instruction or online instruction, or a hybrid model, or a combination of the two.

In 2011, iNACOL, the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, held a summit in order to discuss competency-based education. This summit involved educators, education advocates, and instructional leaders from around the country. And this group developed these five design principles for competency-based education.

Principle number one states that students advance upon demonstrated mastery of the current competency. Principle two states that explicit and measurable learning objectives empower students. Principle three is that assessment is meaningful and it's a positive learning experience for students. Principle four states that students should receive rapid, differentiated support. And principle five. Learning outcomes that are emphasized should include the application and creation of knowledge.

So let's look at competency-based education then through the lens of iNACOL's five principles. In CBE, students need to demonstrate mastery of the current skill or competency before they move on to the next objective. The learning targets and expectations for the students are clearly communicated by the teacher. Standards-based assessments are used to measure mastery. These should be common assessments that use standard-based proficiency measures in order to determine whether students have mastered competencies.

If students are not able to demonstrate mastery on the first attempt, they need to be given interventions and then they need to be provided with retake opportunities in order to again attempt to demonstrate their mastery. And finally, though all of the students may be working towards common standards-based learning expectations or outcomes, there are still opportunities for personalisation on the part of both the students and teachers.

So let's take look at a couple of example classroom scenarios to see how these principles might be implemented. For one, I will actually share with you some personal experiences from my classroom and then I'll also compare and contrast that with a classroom environment where CBE has really been truly completely integrated into the classroom routine. Again, compared to my classroom, where I'm implementing these principles in various ways but I haven't fully implemented CBE as my complete total approach to my instruction.

So for principle number one, students advancing upon mastery. In my classroom, a great example of this is in the ACT prep course that I teach where we use some adaptive learning technology that guides students along their learning paths. And so I administer a pre-assessment at the beginning of the term and then I use the results of that assessment to assign various modules or various topics or skills to the students. And then they work through those modules at their own pace.

They can take an assessment whenever they are ready for it. And if they pass that assessment, they move right on to the next topic. If they do not pass the assessment, they need to go back through the tutorial and do some more practice before they can attempt the assessment again.

Contrast that with a truly CBE environment where CBE has been fully integrated into the everyday classroom routine. This would mean that through the use of technology or other means, this would be the setup in every single class. I don't currently use this setup in my math or my French classes, for example.

But in a true competency-based environment, this would be the scenario for every single student in every single one of their classes. They would be progressing along their own learning paths at their own pace and advancing to the next topic as soon as they had demonstrated mastery.

Let's look at principle number two. In my classroom, I have written my math objectives as "I can" statements, and I've posted those on the wall for my students. And I also keep a list of them at my desk. And I find not only that this empowers my students, but this empowers me, too. I refer to that list often as I am planning my upcoming instruction.

In a fully integrated CBE environment, it's likely that students would see their learning objectives right away when they log into the learning software that they're using. Or if they are not using software, perhaps each student would have their own binder or folder or poster where they are tracking their progress. And so those learning objectives or those learning targets are always visible for students, and that helps them to take ownership of their learning and their progress.

Design principle three. I think I've made great progress on this throughout my now many years of teaching, especially when it comes to formative assessments. I really try to frame these assessments to my students as very positive learning experiences. The formative assessments that I administer really serve the purpose of helping me to peek inside my students' brains to see their thought processes and to gauge where they are at as they make progress towards meeting the various goals that I've set for them.

In a fully integrated CBE environment, this would be the case not only for the formative assessments but for the summative assessments as well. I still use pretty traditional summative assessments in both my French and math classes. But in a true competency-based environment, even the summative assessments would be serving that purpose of just showing us where students are at. And if they have not demonstrated mastery, it wouldn't be under the context that they've failed. Instead, they would go back and rework the material and would get another chance at that same assessment.

In design principle four, thinking again back to the ACT prep class that I teach. The software definitely helps to provide this rapid and differentiated support. Although one of the valuable lessons that I've learned is that the software is not the be all end all. It can't provide everything that students need.

And so that's really where then the teachers need to be gauging student's progress as well. And we need to be ready to provide additional supports as necessary. And those could take all sorts of different forms.

So thinking about that hypothetical classroom where CBE is fully implemented, those supports could be coming from not only the classroom teacher, but also specialists and through grouping of students with similar interests or ability levels. Or from a learning center set up around the classroom. Or from centers in the classroom where students can get online and find information that way.

So there are all sorts of different options for this differentiated support. Again, the key is that this is rapid support. We don't wait. We don't make students wait to receive the support. It needs to happen right away to keep students moving along their learning paths.

And finally, design principle five. This is something that I have really focused on throughout all of my years of teaching. I'm always on the lookout for real, authentic learning and assessment experiences for my students. I'm always looking for ways to link the information that we're learning in class to the real world, to students' everyday lives, to their potential future careers.

And so again, in a true competency-based environment where CBE is fully implemented all the time, this would just be the constant focus, the overarching focus of all of these learning targets that are set for students, that they would all link to the application and the creation of knowledge, focusing on those skills that are going to serve students throughout their lifetimes.

Now it's your turn to stop and reflect. How might you implement each of iNACOL's five design principles for CBE into your everyday classroom? To dive a little deeper and learn how to apply this information, be sure to check out the Additional Resources section associated with this video. This is where you'll find links targeted toward helping you discover more ways to apply this course material. Thanks for joining me. Have a great day.

Notes on "Competency Based Education and iNacol's 5 Principles"

(00:00 - 00:22) Introduction

(00:23 - 01:08) History of CBE

(01:09 - 02:02) iNACOL's 5 Principles of CBE

(02:03 - 03:00) CBE through iNACOL's 5 Principles

(03:01 - 08:27) Examples

(08:28 - 08:54) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

The Learning Edge: Supporting Student Success in a Competency-Based Learning Environment 

This is comprehensive report on CBE. Scroll to section III to understand the design principles behind establishing a CBE learning environment.

Learning Outcomes Workshop

This presentation highlights the differences between outcomes and objectives, and has participants practice writing each. This presentation is a helpful tool in designing outcomes for CBE.