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Overview of CBE

Overview of CBE

Author: Kathleen Johnson

In this lesson, you will learn what competency-based education is, a brief history of it, and what it might look like in the classroom.

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Hello, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you're having a wonderful day today. Today we're going to be looking at an overview of competency-based education. And for today's lesson, I've chosen a quote by Soren Kierkegaard which states, "life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards."

Now, by the end of the lesson today, you will have been able to review the history of competency-based education, describe CBE and what it really might look like in practice, and provide a rationale for implementing CBE into your classroom.

So first let's take a look at the history of competency-based education. Now, competency-based education was introduced in the 1960s. And it was really brought in to help make sure that students were being taught lessons and material knowledge and skills that they need to know by the time that they are done with high school and beyond to really help prepare them for college and career readiness.

It is based on Outcomes-Based Education, or OBE, as it's sometimes referred to. What this means is that the instruction is really designed backwards. So you look at the desired outcome of a lesson, and then you plan the lesson, as opposed to having what you want to teach and determining how it matches up or what students will learn from it.

Also, it's important to know the competency-based education, as well as outcomes-based education, can be implemented in many different types of education. So you could use the face-to-face, online, or, what's more popular now, hybrid models of instruction. So it's really versatile.

And finally, it's important to note that outcomes are often tied to those real-world applications within competency-based education. So some of the benefits of it are that you really offer students that opportunity to not only learn elements beyond the classroom, but also to really pace themselves as they're working through the various elements.

So let's dig a little bit deeper now into what competency-based education is. So as we said before, competency-based education is really a student-centered approach to learning. So rather than taking a course or measuring various learning elements within a course based on the amount of time we spend there, students are instead working to master certain skills or competencies. And that's how it's determined that students move on.

So competency-based education is very different from traditional education, specifically in that learning is measured, not time being measured. So for example, for any given instructional plan, if it does not meet the needs of all of the learners, then in competency-based education, we're really focusing more in on each individual learner and not necessarily the amount of time I have left in my class.

So within competency-based education, there are a number of things that a teacher should consider. First, the teacher should consider, what about the students who can't master the knowledge or the skills? What should I do about them? Does the teacher simply move on regardless? Not in competency-based education. In competency-based education, there is differentiation so that it can meet the needs of those students.

They have to consider about the students who have already mastered the knowledge or skills. What should I do there? Should I just let them sit and go back through all of that even though they already know it? No. In competency-based education, students have the opportunity to go further in their education and to continue to move on while the teacher is working to help reteach those who don't know it or who haven't learned it yet.

Now let's take a look at really what competency-based education can look like. All of this is according to the website So you can find more information there.

So first and foremost, in competency-based education, students advance upon demonstration of mastery. So we're looking at the knowledge and the skills that are being taught. They only move on to new ones once they've mastered the current elements.

Competencies that we're talking about should include clear and measurable learning targets. This really helps the students be able to focus in on what they're learning and take ownership over that learning.

In CBE assessments that are given-- and often they are formative assessments, as well as summative-- offer meaningful information to both the students and to the teachers. So students know where it is that they need to go. And teachers are able to determine, especially from the use of preassessments, as well as formative assessments, where the students need to go next.

In competency-based education, students often receive that timely and differentiated support so that if a student is struggling, there is support available to them so that they can continue to advance their learning.

And finally, in CBE, competencies really focus in on some of those high-level cognitive processes. They also really ensure that students are looking at the creation of knowledge rather than just the attainment of facts and that students are developing those skills and giving an application where students can put those skills. So it's not just about the student learning the material, but also the student having that positive attitude toward learning so that they are ready for their college or career.

Finally, let's take a look at why we should implement competency-based education. This is also according to So first and foremost, we as teachers must begin to empower all students, specifically students who might need a little more help than others. We're looking to help empower them to succeed so that they have those college and career readiness skills. And the benefit of CBE is that all of it can be aligned to the common core.

Also, we must provide opportunities for students to take advantage of technology. That is the way our world is turning. And rather than steering away from it, competency-based education really allows students to investigate various online environments so that they can really take advantage of that personalized learning. So students can access the knowledge any time, anywhere and really individualize it to their own pace and their own learning styles.

And finally, we must provide more flexibility for some of those struggling students. So if we have students with disabilities or students that need to work, we're offering them the flexibility in our classroom so that we focus on the mastery of certain content and competencies rather than the amount of time that they're sitting in a seat in our classroom.

Now that we've reached the end of the lesson today, you have been able to review the history of competency-based education. You have been able to describe CBE and what it might look like in practice. And you've been able to provide a rationale for implementing competency-based education.

Now I'd like you to think for just a moment. After learning all about competency-based education, what do you think would be the first step you would take to begin implementing it in your 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.

Notes on "Overview of CBE"

(00:00-00:17) Intro

(00:18-00:38) Objectives

(00:39-02:10) History of CBE

(02:11-04:12) What is CBE?

(04:13-06:13) What does CBE look like?

(06:14-07:36) Why implement CBE?

(07:37-08:23) Review & Reflection

Additional Resources

Competency-Based Education: No More Semesters?

In this blog post by National Public Radio (NPR), the idea of competency-based education and how learners might experience it is explored.


This collaborative initiative to advance competency-based education is a partnership among iNacol, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, and others. This website is a repository for competency-based education articles and resources, a wiki, blog posts, and listings of conferences, workshops, and other events related to CBE.