Designing for CBE: Master the Planning Stage | D2L
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Designing for CBE: Master the Planning Stage

  • 3 Min Read

Learn about the four essential guiding documents you need to help you build out your plans for creating a competency-based education program.

It seems every year or so, there’s a new craze to hit the education community and the latest buzzword is competency-based education or CBE. For some, these pedagogical movements are exciting and full of promise for improved student achievement. For others, the idea of integrating yet another educational philosophy into courses and programs makes their heads spin.

Thankfully, CBE may not be as foreign of an idea as you might think. It’s actually been around for years under various names including Outcome-Based Education, and Proficiency-Based Education. So why has it gained so much popularity as of late, and how is it different from its predecessors?

The biggest difference is CBE’s complete disregard for how long it takes a student to achieve a certain level of competency. Past iterations have focused on what a competent student looks like after they have completed a program (which is indeed a valuable consideration), but now CBE is giving credit to the fact that different people learn at different rates.

This latest time-independent amendment creates a lot of stress for instructors and administrators. How can you properly support a group of students who are all at different points in the curriculum? How do you keep track of everyone’s assessments and progress? How can we give the student greater control over their learning without compromising the accountability of the course?

The answer is two-fold. First you have to ensure you build the appropriate plans, and second, you need to pick the right CBE tools. I’ll focus on part one for the purposes of this post.

Build out Your Planning Documents

There’s a few ducks you need to have in a row before creating a CBE program. Here are four main guiding documents that are worth the time it takes to create them:

Competency Mapping

Sometimes called “Action Mapping” – this plan involves working backwards from what a student needs to be competent in, then determines how they may demonstrate this competence, and what information and supports will be needed along the way.

Assessment Policies

These are guiding principles that will define parameters around evaluations and their flexibilities. These policies will help outline how strict your assessments should be, what does and does not count as ‘demonstrating competence,’ and how you will maintain accountability and reliability in your various assessments.

Assessment Planning

Based on the assessment policies document, how will you assess competencies outlined on the competency map? Assessment planning helps you tie both the competency map and the assessment policies together.

Content Planning

What is the bare minimum content students need to succeed? What content will be initially available? What content will be remediation? What sorts of formative assessments will you provide? Once you have these questions at least partially fleshed out, you should have a better understanding of what you need to do and create, as you begin designing and developing a CBE program.


These planning documents may take some time to create, but I promise you the payoff is worth it. Mapping out the competencies, defining and outlining assessment plans, and determining a content plan will make creating a CBE program from scratch or uplifting your current curriculum much easier.

Keep an eye out for part two of designing a CBE course, where I’ll go over the three main CBE tools and how to pick the right one for your needs.


Additional Resources:
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