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Designing for CBE: Pick the Right Tools

  • 3 Min Read

There are three key tools for creating a competency-based education (CBE) program  – make sure you know what they are and how to choose the right ones for your needs.

Last time, I went over four main guiding documents that will help you create a solid plan before you start designing your CBE program. If you haven’t had a chance to read my first post, I strongly encourage you do so before reading on.

Implementing a complete CBE course or program from scratch, or even revising an existing course to include CBE – is no easy task. There are many interconnected parts that can quickly become a tangled web of release conditions, learning tracks, rubrics, and more. The key to rolling out a CBE program in the real world is selecting one facet of CBE at a time, and learning how to implement it before complicating things with another CBE tool.

I suggest focusing on three key deliverables when uplifting courses to include CBE. I also highly recommended you do not focus on all three at the once. Rather, pick the CBE tool that best suits the needs of your students and institution, and learn how to do that before moving to the next. The three core CBE tools are as follows:

Progression by Mastery

This tool is probably the one that strikes closest to the heart of CBE. Progression by mastery focuses on the assessment side of things and has the biggest impact for students at the beginning of a program.  The biggest questions you should ask yourself include:

  • How can a student with prior knowledge of the subject matter progress quickly to where they need to be in the course?
  • How can students that don’t take tests well be allowed to demonstrate mastery?
  • What does mastery look like and what happens to a student who has not mastered the subject?

Augmented Assistance

This focuses on remediation and personalized feedback. Augmented assistance is a great tool to use if instructors are starting to feel the strain of dealing with students scattered across the course. It involves creating automated messages and strict protocols that are to be enacted when a student achieves something or more importantly, fails at something. The biggest questions you should ask yourself include:

  • What supports do struggling students need to succeed?
  • How can I automate these supports?
  • What supplemental content and assessments can I provide for students on their second, third, and fourth attempts?

Perceived Control

This CBE tool has more niche applications and is more of a ‘nice-to-have’ than the others. Perceived control involves giving your students control over their learning paths – or at least giving them the impression they have control. Allowing students to select Module 2 before Module 1 can have a great impact on a student’s perception of ownership of their learning – and taking ownership of learning is what CBE is all about. Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  • What content MUST be covered before other content?
  • What might constitute essential content versus advanced content? How can you give students the option of one over the other?
  • Are there natural divergent learning paths within the content?

Whatever CBE tool you decide to implement, it’s important you take the time to plan ahead. Every decision you make for the design and implementation of any of these tenants of CBE should be based on the guiding principles you originally defined in your competency mapping, assessment policies, and content plans. Planning ahead will make the many individual pieces such as release conditions, assessment tools, rubrics, news items, intelligent agents, etc. fit together more easily and seamlessly.

If you’re interested in learning more about rolling out your own CBE programs, check out our webinar with Valdosta State University to learn what happens when a school decides to transform a traditional course or program into one that is competency-based, and the best way to go about designing its course material.


Show Me How They Did It


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