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Contemporary Competency Based Education

Contemporary Competency Based Education

Author: Jody Waltman

In this lesson, students examine contemporary competency based curriculum design considerations.

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Understanding Competency-Based Curriculum

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In this tutorial, we'll be exploring curriculum design within the context of competency-based education. We'll begin by determining what the term curriculum means within the context of CBE. We'll then look at some of the specific aspects of competency-based curriculum design.

We'll talk about some expectations regarding using standards in your curriculum design. And we'll review the three stages of instructional design from Understanding by Design. Finally, we'll talk about the deeper learning model and how this also fits into the process. Let's get started.

First, what does the term curriculum refer to in terms of competency-based education? It's important to realize that if we want to implement competency-based instruction in our classrooms, we have to start at the beginning. We first need to develop curriculum that is competency-based, and then we can design our units and lessons from that curriculum. This ensures that our students are going to be able to practice the standards and skills, or the competencies that are required in order for them to achieve proficiency and mastery of the various objectives and outcomes that we set for them.

So in this context, the term curriculum actually refers to both the content and the instruction that you're going to put into place in your classroom. So this refers to the content, the knowledge, the skills, and the competencies that you identify for your students to learn. But it also refers to instructional processes or strategies that you'll be implementing. It also refers to the products by which students are going to be assessed, those products that students create to demonstrate their mastery of the competencies. And finally, it also refers to the practices that you are going to implement for curriculum development, implementation, and assessment.

It's important that you are aware of what curriculum standards you are expected to be implementing your classroom because all the curriculum that you design-- any written, instructed, or assessed curriculum-- needs to be aligned to those particular curriculum standards. And in addition, all of these various types of curricula that you design need to align to each other.

One thing to watch out for is what we refer to as hidden curriculum. The phrase "hidden curriculum" refers to when the beliefs or values of a school or individual teacher impact how curriculum is implemented. The result is some practices that may differ from what it it's really indicated in the actual written curriculum. For example, if your English language arts curriculum refers to the use of a particular novel in order to teach students a certain set of skills but a teacher doesn't want to use that novel for personal reasons or professional reasons and instead makes the choice to substitute a different novel, that choice to use a different novel is not honoring the intent of the curriculum. This would be considered a hidden curriculum that the teacher is putting in place.

Now that we're aware of what the term curriculum means in the context of competency-based education, let's see what competency-based curriculum design might look like. CBE curriculum design really is very similar to other types of curriculum design theories as well. You would begin by identifying your course outcomes. These course outcomes need to be aligned to the standards that you're using in your particular course. After you establish these outcomes, you'll next identify your competencies and your objectives for the course.

Then you'll determine what methods you'll use for measuring and assessing a student's progress towards these competencies and objectives. Then you'll create the specific instructional plan, including any differentiated strategies that you plan to use in order to meet the needs of all of your students. Since pacing and mastery are prime considerations in CBE, next, you'll decide what you're going to do if a student is struggling to meet a competency and what you're going to do if a student masters a competency before the other students in class. And finally, you're going to establish the specific criteria that are needed for success in the course.

Let's chat a little more about the role of standards in competency-based curriculum development. Remember that just like in other types of curriculum design, you need to keep in mind that the objectives, the competencies, and the outcomes that you determine must all be aligned to your curricular standards. And it's a great idea to do some cross-checking after you've developed your curriculum. Go back and review the standards and make sure that all of the standards that your students are required to master are both taught and assessed in the curriculum that you've written. You need to ensure that students are proficient in or mastering all of the required standards in the intended areas.

You may have noticed as I covered the competency-based curriculum design steps that CBE curriculum design is actually aligned with the three stages of Understanding by Design. In stage one of UbD, we identify the desired outcomes. And in those first couple of steps of competency-based curriculum design, that's exactly what we did.

Stage two of Understanding by Design, is when we determine the acceptable evidence. We determine how the competencies and objectives are going to be assessed. And finally, stage three of Understanding by Design is where we develop the specific learning plan. And this was also how we wrapped up the CBE curriculum design process. So if you're already familiar with the stages of Understanding by Design, you've got a great foundation to work from.

Let's also look at the connections between deeper learning theory and competency-based education. In deeper learning theory, teachers focus on providing opportunities for students to master the skills and knowledge that are going to be necessary for real-world applications. The goal is to have students master the content skills and knowledge while also learning in the 21st century skills that they're going to need-- things like critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. There's a focus in deeper learning on the development of self-directed learning skills, like self-efficacy and confidence, that are needed for success not only in academics but also in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

All of these various elements are not only components of deeper learning. They also relate directly back to competency-based education. In fact, we can link them to Understanding by Design as well. We would instruct students about these knowledge and skills in stage three. We would think about ways to measure these skills in stage two of Understanding by Design, and we would make decisions about the student outcomes and skills and knowledge that we want to transfer beyond the classroom and beyond the curriculum in stage one of Understanding by Design.

In this tutorial, we took an in depth look at the curriculum design process in competency-based education. We defined the term curriculum in terms of CBE, and we outlined the curriculum design steps in competency-based education. We reviewed the fact that curriculum design needs to be aligned to content standards. And we also saw how the elements of Understanding by Design and deeper learning theory are really closely intertwined with the elements of competency-based education.

So here's a chance for you to stop and reflect. If you were already familiar with the stages of Understanding by Design, did you recognize those stages as I went through the steps of competency-based curriculum design? Can you see the links between CBE, UbD, and deeper learning?

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 today. Have a great day.

Notes on "Contemporary Competency Based Education"

(00:00 - 00:33) Introduction

(00:34 - 02:49) Definition of "Curriculum" in CBE

(02:50 - 04:02) Competency Based Curriculum Design

(04:03 - 04:42) Standards in CBE Curriculum Design

(04:43 - 05:32) UbD and CBE Curriculum Design

(05:33 - 06:45) Deeper Learning Theory

(06:46 - 07:12) Review

(07:13 - 07:49) Stop and Reflect

Additional Resources

Preparing Teachers for Deeper Learning: Competency-Based Teacher Preparation and Education

This paper from Getting Smart is a great resource on implementing competency based education. 

The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: Deeper Learning

This website provides a comprehensive overview of Deeper Learning.

UbD in a Nutshell

This is a great handout by Jay McTighe that provides a clear overview of the three stages and components of UbD.