7 Key Takeaways from the Competency-based Education Summit | D2L Asia Pacific
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7 Key Takeaways from the 2016 Competency-based Education Summit

  • 3 Min Read

D2L hosted its first Competency-based Education Summit last month. In case you missed it, here are seven key takeaways you need to know about CBE.

On a clear day in September, the 99th floor of the Willis Tower offers spectacular views of the surrounding Chicago skyline. It also offered several remarkable insights into the world of competency-based education (CBE).

For the first time ever, D2L hosted its inaugural CBE Summit, and in attendance were over 50 educational professionals from across the US eager to learn lessons about CBE from a host of knowledgeable presenters.

In fact, we have them all online now so you can check out the full sessions, ranging from development, implementation, and delivery of competency-based programs.

Here are seven big takeaways that we hope you find useful.

1. One size does not fit all

There is no one-size-fits-all competency-based organizational model – nor will there ever be. Institutions have the ability to see what works best for them and build programs accordingly. CBE models offer a chance for institutions to rethink what mastery of a subject area looks like and fine-tune offerings to meet the specific needs of their audience.

2. CBE is not a just a passing educational fad

Unlike massively open online courses (MOOCs), competency-based education is designed to support learners who need more flexibility. So far, MOOCs have primarily served those who have already completed a degree program. Competency-based programming, on the other hand, is primarily aimed to support underserved learner populations in an untapped adult education market.

3. A Framework for Competency-Based Education

Charla Long, Executive Director of The Competency Based Education Network (C-BEN), and her team have developed an Ecosystem Framework that offers a baseline description and common language guide. This framework is for developing high-quality competency-based programs from the perspectives of learners, higher education professionals, policymakers, and others involved in this rapidly expanding movement.

4. How Does Automated Communication Fit In?

The US Department of Education is strongly in favor of new and unique CBE models and is offering support to institutions that are willing to experiment. The Office of the Inspector General believes the mastery of learning outcomes is essential and should be tied to “regular and substantive interaction” between an instructor and a student via emails, discussion posts, and video/audio conferences. However, there’s question about whether or not an automated communication constitutes a “substantive interaction” (even if it’s considered “regular”). This clause requires careful reflection about how automated messaging can be used in competency-based courseware in concert with conventional instructional engagement.

5. Be mission-driven

To be truly successful, Ryan Anderson, Director of Instructional Design and Development from the University of Wisconsin-Extension, argues that competency-based education programs should be driven by a guiding mission, not by content. A guiding mission defines specific goals and outcomes that reside beyond the classroom. Such outcomes are important for establishing program values that anchor instruction and course activities.

6. Think projects instead of courses

In rethinking how learning and CBE is designed and organized, it might be more useful to think about developing competency-based projects rather than competency-based courses. For example, a project has a real world connotation but a course has an academic one. By identifying CBE coursework as a project, it allows instructors and course designers to place an emphasis on developing real-world activities. Such a perspective can help program developers organize content, activities, and assessments around real-world outcomes that can inspire adult learners who may not have fared well in traditional learning environments.

7. A great resource worth checking out

Presented by Howard Lurie, Principal Analyst from Eduventures, the report, Deconstructing CBE: An Assessment of Institutional Activity, Goals, and Challenges in Higher Education, provides the first years’ results of a three-year study currently underway that’s designed to help higher education leaders recognize and better interpret the diverse ways in which institutions implement CBE, and respond strategically to the implementation challenges going forward.


Competency-based education offers new ways to think about learning and teaching that meet learners where they are. At D2L, we’re excited to be actively involved in this emerging area of education. We look forward to continuing to work with our clients and others in this space as new innovations and models develop and evolve.


If you’re interested in continuing to build your knowledge about competency-based education and you want to see what the experts had to say about the development, implementation, and delivery of competency-based programs, check out the full video sessions featured at this year’s CBE summit.

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