5 Strategies for Giving Learners a V.O.I.C.E. in Competency-Based Education

I recently asked a friend of mine, Elizabeth, a student enrolled in a competency-based program, why she chose that program instead of a traditional program. Without hesitation, she said, “The ability to learn on my own terms and to make the process work for me.”

Elizabeth selected the program because its freedom and flexibility allowed her to juggle school and work. What she described is what we call student-centered learning.

As described in this document jointly prepared by Jobs for the Future and the Council of Chief State School Officers, there are four characteristics of student-centered learning:

1. Learning activities allow learners to personalize the learning experience to meet their needs.
2. Learners demonstrate competency as a measure of learning.
3. Learners can choose when and where they learn.
4. Learning activities and course structure allow learners to take responsibility for their learning.


When developing a competency-based course, focus on your audience, preparation, introduction, presentation, engagement, evaluation, and continued support. This checklist outlines the key elements of developing a competency-based course.


During Competency Based Education (CBE) course development, course designers make many decisions about the content and delivery of the learning experience. To help students thrive in a CBE course, designers can give learners a larger V.O.I.C.E. in the learning process.

Having a V.O.I.C.E. in the learning process gives learners:

● Variety
● Options
● Interaction
● Control
● Enjoyment

Research suggests that millennials want variety in their learning experience, which isn’t surprising given their easy access to a wide range of rich, multimedia experiences online and offline.

Variety here means offering learners different types of learning activities. For example, a learning unit might require that learners conduct an online scavenger hunt for information, then use that information to create a deliverable for a digital portfolio.

The next learning unit might require that learners create a mind map to illustrate key elements of a problem, then use the mind map to generate possible solutions to the problem.

Adding variety to learning activities makes learning interesting. Students who find learning interesting are more likely to put more effort into the learning process.

Almost everyone accepts the idea that people have preferences in how they consume information. This is evident online where information is widely available and easily accessed in text, video, and audio formats.

Today, technology makes it possible to let learners choose how they consume learning material. For example, technology makes it easy to present the same information as a text-based document, a video, or a audio file.

Giving learners options is also practical. The learner studying at her desk may prefer to read a lesson while eating lunch, then listen to an audio lesson during the commute home. While studying at home, she may prefer to watch a video lesson.

The flexibility to choose how they consume course materials helps learners personalize the learning experience in ways that are beneficial to them.

Assume you were going to spend several years pursuing a degree, but during that time you would have virtually no interaction with instructors or other learners. How would the lack of interaction affect you? Over time, many of us (and possibly most) would drop out.

While the need for human interaction varies from person to person, most people want and benefit from interaction with others during the learning experience.

Instructor input and feedback is a critical element of the learning process. This interaction also helps reduce the isolation that can lead learners to disengage-and eventually drop out of the learning process.

No stakes or low stakes interaction with peers through informal discussions and other learning activities can also help reduce feelings of isolation.

Today we see more learning designed around the idea that learners, not instructors, control the learning experience.

Learners are often drawn to CBE because they want the flexibility that CBE programs offer. They also want to make their own decisions about when and how they will move through the learning process.

Learning activities can be designed to give learners control over the learning process and encourage independence and autonomy. Examples include setting learning goals, solving content-related problems, and self-assessment. Check out NC’s Ed Portal for more learner autonomy examples.

Encouraging learner control over the learning process also helps learners develop skills they can use to achieve future academic and career goals.

Making learning enjoyable encourages learners to participate in the learning process and may help them persist when they feel discouraged, overwhelmed, or distracted by the learning experience or life events.

Many factors can make a learning experience enjoyable, including the previously discussed factors of variety, options, interaction, and choice.

Don’t overlook the importance of preventing simple frustrations, such as out-of-date or inoperable learning links and poorly-sequenced learning materials. These problems lead to unnecessary frustration and disrupt the learning experience.

Like my friend Elizabeth mentioned earlier, learners want the ability to learn on their own terms. Giving students a V.O.I.C.E. in the learning process is a good starting point.

Want to give your learners a V.O.I.C.E., but not sure how to get started? There’s no need to go it alone. With a click or a call, we can help you get started.

Who is A Pass?

A Pass Educational Group, LLC is an organization dedicated to the development of quality educational resources. We partner with publishers, K-12 schools, higher ed institutions, corporations, and other educational stakeholders to create custom quality content. Have questions?

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