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Overview of CBE

Overview of CBE

Author: Jody Waltman

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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In this tutorial, you'll get an overview of competency-based education. We'll begin by talking about the origins and the basics of CBE. And then we'll explore some of the benefits of implementing competency-based education. Let's get started.

Competency-based education, or CBE, is based on outcomes-based education, or OBE. In OBE, instruction is designed backwards. You first select your desired outcomes, and then you design your instructional activities based on that decision. In OBE, students usually have opportunities for self-pacing. In CBE, we blend this approach with opportunities for flexible pathways and self-pacing.

A push for competency-based education came in the 1960s, when there was a new emphasis on teaching students the skills that they would need beyond high school. In CBE, the outcomes that are chosen, are tied to real-world applications. And students' learning paths may be self-paced. Both CBE and OBE are suitable for face-to-face or online instruction, or a combination of the two.

So let's learn about the basics of CBE. CBE is a student-centered approach to education. Instead of measuring learning units based on the amount of time that students spend in a course, or the length of an educational term in your school year, like a quarter or a semester, student progression through the material is mastery-based. Students are working on mastering certain skills, or competencies. So it's the learning that's measured, not the time.

CBE helps to address the issue that education is not one-size-fits-all. One single instructional plan isn't going to necessarily meet the needs of all of your learners. So as a teacher, here are some things that you need to consider. What are you going to do with students who don't master the current knowledge and skills, or the current competencies, in the amount of time that you've allocated for the unit? Do you simply move on and leave those students behind?

On the other end of the spectrum, what about the students who already have mastered the knowledge and skills in the unit? If you know that they would already be able to demonstrate their competence in the current skills, are you still going to require them to participate in all of the same instructional activities as the other students?

Well, in a competency-based approach, a student who has not achieve mastery, would not move on. That student would receive additional supports. And students who have already achieved mastery on the current skill, don't have to go back and sit through that same instruction. Instead, they can move on to the next skill on their individual learning path.

So what might competency-based education look like in your classroom? If you're implementing CBE, upon mastery of the current topic, each of your students would automatically advance to the next topic on their learning path. You would identify clear learning targets for students. These competencies are measurable, and they can be generalized to many different contexts. This helps to empower students and helps them to take ownership of, and focus on, their own learning.

The assessment choices that you make would be meaningful to both students and yourself. Assessment is supposed to be a positive learning experience for students in CBE. It helps them know exactly where they're at, and where they need to go, in terms of their learning. Knowing exactly where they're headed, can help students feel good about their own learning.

In a CBE environment, timely, differentiated support is provided to students who need it. This might be accomplished through different technology tools. And finally, the competencies that are emphasized a CBE classroom include high level cognitive processes, things like the creation and application of knowledge. And the development of skills that are critical for students' future learning, for their college and career readiness, and towards creating an overall positive attitude about learning.

So why might you choose to implement CBE? What are some of the benefits? CBE helps to empower students in the development of their college and career readiness skills. This is definitely in alignment with the expectations of the Common Core Standards.

CBE can also help you to provide opportunities for personalized learning. For example, in a technology-rich environment, students might be able to approach some of their learning online, which facilitates the idea of anytime, anywhere learning where students learn at their own pace, and in their own way.

And finally, CBE increases your ability as a teacher, to meet the diverse needs of your students. For example, you might have some students who have circumstances in their life that make it difficult for them to make traditional progress towards school graduation. For example, students with disabilities, or students who spend a lot of their time outside of school working, in order to help support their family.

It's critical that we are able to provide some flexibility for these students so that they can focus on mastering the current skills and competencies, instead of just being concerned about whether they are putting in the appropriate amount of seat time in the classroom. CBE can help make that happen.

In this tutorial, we examined the origins and the basics of competency-based education. And then we explored some of the benefits of CBE.

So here's a chance for you to stop and reflect. Were you able to relate, already, to some of the components of CBE? Do you already employ some of these techniques in your classroom to help meet the diverse needs of your students?

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 watching. Have a great day.

Notes on "Overview of CBE"

(00:00 - 00:15) Introduction

(00:16 - 02:38) Origins of CBE

(02:39 - 03:50) Basics of CBE

(03:51 - 04:58) Benefits of CBE

(04:59 - 05:08) Review

(05:09 - 05:38) Stop and Reflect

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.