Course Planning: 3 Things to Know for Online Competency-Based Higher Education

students use course planning

As more institutions of higher learning move toward online learning options, they must create course planning that leads to successful student outcomes. Toward that end, utilizing online competency-based higher education (OCBHE) can help achieve these goals. Ideally, successful OCBHE has the following components:

  • Student learning is active and personalized.
  • Students learn through various types of instruction and media.
  • Students experience opportunities to process and apply information in a tailored way.
  • Learning experiences match real-world contexts where learning might be applied.


Colleges and universities will apply these 3 strategies for successful course planning in a competency-based online learning environment.


1.) College Leaders Adopt a Course Planning Learning Tool (CPLT) That Monitors Progress in Real-Time

Colleges begin by adopting an effective course planning learning tool (CPLT). A well-designed CPLT drives individualized course content and supports students throughout their learning journey. Therefore, the following components comprise a CPLT that is highly effective:

  • Pre-assessment to determine each student’s existing level of knowledge, confidence, and experience with the course and degree program material.
  • Analysis of pre-assessment results by faculty team members to drive the course and program content based on those results.
  • An initial planning meeting between a student and staff to map out the learning process.
  • Ongoing, weekly student-staff meetings to make any needed adjustments.
  • Repetition of the above process throughout the student’s educational journey.


Most importantly, a CPLT allows OCBHE faculty to respond in real-time to student needs instead of waiting until student work is collected, scored, and evaluated. The synchronous learning process helps the faculty to track student progress and quickly address student needs. The needs include various challenges or obstacles students inevitably experience at different phases of their progress toward a degree.


College leaders lead faculty to build learner assessment profiles over several years, not simply per course. These assessments cover diverse, seemingly unrelated course topics and include various aspects of a student’s degree program.


Thus, OCBHE staff can point students to instructional materials that are helpful and appropriate. In essence, a properly designed CPLT increases the objectivity of the learning process. Because of this characteristic, it increases student success, promotes fairness, and provides structure to a centralized system of learning that is efficient and effective.


2.) Assess Individual Differences in Students’ Learner Profiles for Course Planning

Therefore, conducting a pre-assessment with a correctly designed CPLT is an essential part of proper OCBHE course planning. Assessing each student’s level of knowledge, confidence, and experience establishes a baseline for instructors to set learning goals. Furthermore, knowing where each student begins allows faculty to project possible additional instruction.


Research indicates that students whose readiness includes higher levels of knowledge or confidence perform well in OCBHE programs. However, students with higher experience levels, yet lower knowledge levels or confidence generally perform lower. They also struggle more with course material. Therefore, knowing these readiness levels at the beginning stages of the students learning journey indicates how much and what kind of efforts are needed to help the student succeed. To effectively plan instruction, OCBHE institutions utilize a CPLT by assessing learner profiles. Components of such planning include interaction with faculty, types of learning resources, course pace, and formative assessment performance.


3.) Assist Students in Becoming Self-Directed Learners Course Planning

Finally, OCBHE institutions should focus their efforts on helping students develop the skills that make them self-directed learners. Self-directed learners take responsibility for their own learning. These students become life-long learners. They become successful, not only at school but also in their careers and life in general.


Thus, colleges and universities can help students learn the self-monitoring strategies present in self-directed learners. These include collaborative confirmation, critical reflection, focusing on the task at hand, creating a study schedule, and even choosing to sign up for an online course. Additionally, schools can increase opportunities for students to engage more with learning materials because it shows improved outcomes.


In sum, OCBHE institutions help learners overcome readiness issues, providing support throughout their learning journey. College leaders provide students with a knowledge base, utilizing their learning profiles. In addition, faculty should provide context to their students, so they see the relevance of the subject matter and guide them to develop self-directed learning strategies.

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