Competency-Based Learning

When we say: “It’s about the learning,” we’re advancing a core commitment, a belief that educational quality shouldn’t be measured by a list of courses taken or grades earned or even the time students spend in classrooms. Rather, we believe that education should be measured by what students actually learn – by the specific knowledge and skills they gain through their programs and courses of study.

This competency-based approach might seem logical – perhaps even self-evident. But in reality, it’s much more the exception than the rule. Fortunately, that’s changing. In fact, one of Lumina’s objectives is that all degrees, certificates, and other credentials be competency based, or rooted in clearly defined, measurable learning outcomes which allow people to advance their studies based on proficiency or mastery of these competencies.

Competency-based learning often “looks different” to students, parents, and hiring managers. There may be no grades, and students often have more flexibility in how they approach coursework—if courses are even used to structure learning experiences. Expanding the availability of these programs will require policy and funding environments that encourage new responsible innovation.

This new thinking includes:

  • Alternatives to standard definitions of “satisfactory academic progress” and other time-based measures of academic progress.

  • Transfer agreements based on students’ demonstrated mastery of specific learning objectives rather than the accumulation of credit hours.

  • Approval processes that do not place unfair burdens on competency-based programs merely because they look different.

  • Outcomes-based funding that increases the likelihood students finish, structured in ways which encourage competency-based learning.

  • Flat-rate tuition charges that may allow several attempts to demonstrate the acquisition of—and ability to apply—specific knowledge and skills in real-world situations.

Education innovators say competency-based education combines an intentional and transparent approach to curriculum design with an academic model in which the time it takes to demonstrate competencies varies and the expectations about learning are held constant. Students acquire and demonstrate their knowledge and skills by engaging in learning exercises, activities, and experiences that align with clearly defined program outcomes. Students receive proactive guidance and support from faculty and staff members. Individuals earn credentials by demonstrating mastery through multiple forms of assessment, often at a personalized pace.

Competency-Based Learning

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