Leaders face many critical decisions when converting curricula from traditional course-based degree programs to competency-based learning (CBL) paths. General ed classes weave through curriculums. Transfer courses encounter discrepancies in inequality between institutions. So, leaders need to establish criteria for CBL courses. Higher-ed leaders can follow these tips to create successful competency-based learning for college courses.
What Needs to be Set Up for Competency-Based Learning?
Leaders Identify Core Competencies
First, leaders must manage their design team’s expectations. Transforming a traditional course-based curriculum into a competency-based learning (CBL) program takes a lot of time. Most importantly, the slow, tedious part of CBL comes at the beginning of the process. Leaders who take the time to identify core competencies will reap great rewards. Likewise, deans who gloss over critical foundational steps risk program quality and waste resources. So, leaders must meet with their institutional stakeholders to review resources, budgets, and faculty training. Because for CBL to succeed, leaders must take an active role in ensuring their team completes this time-consuming step.
Define Competency-Based Learning
Likewise, deans will need to understand how to define CBL. Competency is a set of demonstrable characteristics and skills that enable and improve the efficiency or performance of a task. So, research institutions teach students how to help with efficiency or solve existing problems with innovations. CBE supports a learning design model that focuses on mastering competencies that many jobs require. Still, university leaders will need to bring together department heads, faculty, and stakeholders to ready the institution to move ahead.
Build Bridges Between Traditional Programs and Competency-Based Learning
Likewise, leaders bridge the change from traditional course-based education to CBL. They direct the school toward competency-based learning. Thus, leaders update the strategic plans and solicit buy-in. Leaders evaluate course offerings to understand their college’s current status. They scrutinize the enrollment numbers, the degree completion statistics, and student surveys. Then, leaders create a blueprint to convert current course offerings to CBL to meet their school’s vision, mission, and community needs.
College Leaders Manage Organizational Change
In addition, leaders need a mindset to manage through organizational change. Deans must prepare for staff hesitancy and barriers. They evaluate the needs assessments to understand potential technology demands. So, leaders must iterate the benefits of the change. CBL ensures students achieve learning outcomes. Besides that, CBL provides students and faculty with effective learning materials. CBL creates a personalized learning experience for the students. Most importantly, leaders must manage faculty expectations as effective CBL is challenging to design.
Design and Create Competency-Based Learning Curriculum
Embrace Iterative and Incremental Design
Instructional design methodology continues to evolve and adapt to the ever-changing needs of organizations. So, leaders must be well versed in iterative and incremental design processes. Leaders must consider three critical aspects to make CBL effective:
- Evaluation: Good CBL design starts by asking, “What does the student know?” Assessment is key to establishing a CBL program. Designers can assess student knowledge with the familiar tools of online tests, quizzes, polls, and surveys. Now, faculty can use analytics to deliver instruction.
- Personalization: Faculty can personalize the learning experience for the student based on evaluation results. But to do so, staff must know how to leverage the power of the learning management system.
- Tracking: Schools use LMS tracking features to ensure results. Faculty can now track the progress of the individual learner toward competency fulfillment.
Leaders may hire a consultant to guide their departments through this process. It is worth the cost. CBL works effectively when broken into small, learning sections.
Create Competency-Based Learning Aligned Modules
Learning materials, modules, and assessments are created based on each learning competency. Also, the competency taught and assessed must match. Moreover, long, lengthy lectures do not translate into good CBL. A student shows how they have mastered a skill in competency-based learning. Colleges encounter challenges because “trying out” CBL on one course is ineffective.
Rely on Professionals for Competency-Based Learning
Likewise, universities cannot expect success with one or two courses in a degree program. CBL is an entire learning ecosystem. So, the provost should lean into the 4-stage learning process to audit courses. Leaders can compare their curriculum/course development process to this model.
- Task Analysis: This stage asks, “What is the task?” For example, the learner must use data to make purchasing decisions.
- Core Competency Identification: “What skills and abilities must the learner demonstrate to do that task?” The competencies are critical thinking and communication. In the example above, the learner must be able to communicate the decision in English.
- Skills Assessment: “What do they already know?” Now, the student may not speak English. So, the faculty should expect the student to be fluent in math, data analytics, and communication.
- Learning path defined: So, the student can be assigned an English-speaking class.
Now, department heads can lay out current traditional courses against the model to establish a conversion plan. IDs can work with faculty to move individual courses through each stage. Seasoned program managers can weave competencies across subject areas. Besides that, they can help schools set up their learning management system.
Leverage the LMS to Create Individualized Learning Plans
Good learning design lays out the competencies in the LMS per course or job description. Then, as learners move into the grade or job position, the LMS can populate the competencies the student needs to know to be competent in that role. Assessment results inform educators what the learner knows and needs to know. Besides that, the LMS might house optional content. Now, educators can effectively and efficiently meet the needs of students with uneven competencies. But what happens when conditions change? Change might happen. Thus, one of the plusses of CBL is that competencies tend to be constants. For example, organizations most likely will ask schools to provide good problem-solvers, communicators, and innovators. Sure, the tools folks use to communicate may change, but the ability to communicate is still needed.
Understand That Competency Builds Performance
Universities must meet the demands of a wide and varied range of customers. Therefore, performance supports a critical advantage for companies and universities in today’s competitive markets. Likewise, top organizations prefer CBL. Business executives and research scientists both benefit from effective CBL programs. Most importantly, faculty must be in step with workplace needs to teach the skills required for the current job market. Otherwise, the faculty will not know how to develop competencies. But, leaders must work to change the perception that CBL is only for trade schools.
Colleges Target Nontraditional Students for Competency-Based Learning
So, CBL programs open new opportunities for students who lack the time and resources to learn with traditional course-based degrees. Likewise, CBL attracts nontraditional students to schools. Enrollments increase. CBL focuses exclusively on mastering the competencies in the subject area of a student. For many students, this is the better use of time and money. This approach offers flexibility to students. For students looking to upskill or switch careers, CBL is a great approach as well. Moreover, provosts battle the perception that CBL is best for skilled trade programs, not traditional course-based college degrees. So, how do leaders change that perception?
Offer Variety and Academic Support
First, schools that maintain CBL offer varied content to their students. Every student learns differently. So, the program should provide a wide variety of content in as many formats as possible. Secondly, students thrive when the school offers firm support, such as access to faculty, tutoring, and academic coaches. Thirdly, these colleges provide students with clear assessment standards through rubrics that lay out expectations. Likewise, colleges can provide clear definitions of passing to students before the course begins. CBL recognizes how learning can be powerful when students take ownership of their learning path. Yes, the disadvantages of CBL exist. When leaders shepherd their team through the process, it minimizes disadvantages. The results are worth it.
In sum, designing competency-based learning presents a challenge, but it is worth the effort. University leaders deliver effective CBL programs by actively driving their institutions toward this unifying goal. Most importantly, leaders must manage faculty and administrative staff expectations throughout the process. Deans must invest the time, energy, and resources needed to transform traditional course-based programs into CBL programs. Many leaders may find hiring outside consultants to facilitate departments through the tedious, deliberate upfront processes worth the cost. Also, leaders may discover that consultants can help the institution weave CBL across several programs. CBL gives students the gift of lifelong learning. Competencies ensure that students will be able to grow in skill mastery as the world changes. CBL prepares students by giving them the foundational skills to collaborate, think critically, and innovate solutions. These skills will continue to be in demand.