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Competency-Based Education for Students, Institutions and Employers

  • 4 Min Read

We define CBE and look at how it can benefit students, academic institutions, and employers


Traditional education models have focused on students completing postsecondary education at the outset of their careers. However, in today’s rapidly changing economy, the learning experience is much more than gaining knowledge for specific jobs. Rather, it’s about learning how to learn and developing the necessary soft skills to succeed. A variety of models have been developed to accommodate this new fluid learning economy, such as competency-based education (CBE).

In this blog, we define CBE and look at how this learning model can benefit students, academic institutions and employers.

What Is CBE?

CBE is often referred to as problem-based learning, mastery-based learning, outcome-based learning or performance-based learning. Based on data from the literature surrounding these terms, Gervais (2016) defines CBE as an outcome-based approach to education that is used to design instructional delivery, material and assessments that enable students to master specific skills or competencies at their own pace.

Competency-based learning breaks away from the traditional classroom model where students study the same subject matter at the same speed in a cohort of fellow students. Instead, with CBE, learners can work individually to master competencies.

What Are the Benefits of CBE?

Rather than memorizing content and listening to lectures, CBE reconstructs the educational process toward demonstrated mastery and the application of knowledge and skills in the real world. This shift in learning benefits all stakeholders involved in the learning process, including students, academic institutions, and employers.

CBE Student Benefits

CBE differs from traditional education programs in that it focuses on what students learn and not on the time spent in the classroom. It has many additional benefits for students, such as:

  • CBE programs are flexible in that they have no specific set hours, semesters, or rigid structures. Instead, these programs are completed based on the individual learner’s schedule. This means that students guide their learning as well as control when and where they complete projects and assessments.
  • CBE programs give students more control over time frames and topics, which promotes individualized learning and accommodates a variety of learning styles, making education a personalized experience for learners.
  • CBE programs provide students with the resources and support needed throughout the learning process. This additional support differs from traditional education where a student is offered remedial support only after failing or doing poorly.

With CBE the main goal is to provide students with the necessary knowledge, skills, and tools to prepare them for the next stage of their lives, whether that is further education or starting a career.

CBE Benefits for Academic Institutions

CBE’s approach to teaching, learning, curriculum, and assessment development is effective for colleges and universities. Higher education institutions can benefit in many ways:

  • CBE programs are created by backward design, with a focus on what a degree holder should know and be able to do through the input of academic and industry experts. Using CBE as the basis for developing courses and degree programs provides structured learning opportunities that lead to recognized educational credentials.
  • CBE programs designed effectively provide students with additional opportunities to demonstrate learning and achievement beyond just face-to-face teaching. The flexibility of this instructional model makes it adaptable to various learning modalities, such as online and hybrid teaching.
  • CBE programs focus on developing competencies rather than completing certain credit requirements. Therefore, these programs are not constrained to a specific schedule, and institutions can develop short-term programs using certificates. This in turn expands learning opportunities for mature students, working professionals, and part-time learners.

It’s important to remember that there isn’t a one-model-fits-all approach to CBE. Academic institutions and faculty have the freedom to design their own CBE courses or adapt programs that suit their needs.

CBE Benefits for Industry

The CBE model not only directly benefits students and academic intuitions, but also supports the workforce. This method of instruction has many benefits for employers, such as:

  • CBE programs provide current and future employees with 21st-century skills, knowledge, and abilities, as programs are centered on developing competencies. The programs support a continually changing workforce where employees are not only required to have technical skills but also soft skills, such as critical thinking ability and good communication skills.
  • CBE programs are designed with industry involvement, so learning is geared to real-world expectations and job needs. Education that is aligned with industry input helps meet current and emerging business needs in a globally competitive world
  • CBE programs help develop key competencies through innovative and flexible delivery. This instructional model functions as an alternative to traditional in-class instruction and provides opportunities for employees, managers, and new graduates to reskill and/or upskill.

With CBE programs the focus is no longer just on receiving an education and joining the workforce. Rather, it creates pathways for continual learning to develop valuable characteristics and skill sets for all kinds of students.

Getting Started with Competency-Based Education

The student demographic is changing and many educational institutions are looking for new ways to serve a growing number of non-traditional students and meet the expected demands of working adults. The competency-based education (CBE) model is one option which holds a lot of promise for helping to meet both of these demands.

The Complete Guide to Competency-Based Education

CBE is helping schools, institutions and organizations deliver learning experiences that translate to practical, provable outcomes and true skill mastery.

Read the blog

Written by:

Zeina Abouchacra

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Table of Contents

  1. What Is CBE?
  2. What Are the Benefits of CBE?
  3. CBE Student Benefits
  4. CBE Benefits for Academic Institutions
  5. CBE Benefits for Industry
  6. Getting Started with Competency-Based Education