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Ask the CBE Experts – Part 1: Back to Basics

  • 3 Min Read

“Measuring student learning by ‘seat time’ in this new educational era
most certainly seems obsolete.”
– Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching


In a recent webinar, we sat down with Michael Moore, Senior Advisory Consultant at D2L and Ryan Anderson, Director of Instructional Design & Development at University of Wisconsin-Extension to talk about their experiences with competency-based education (CBE). There were a lot of great questions about the competency learning model, both in theory and in practice. Here are some of the top questions we received, with answers straight from the experts!

How does CBE differentiate from MOOCs? Is CBE just another fad?

Moore: “Massive open online courses (MOOCs), like CBE are an example of providing education to scale. When delivering education to a large number of people, there is often a high dropout rate. We’ve seen huge dropout rates in most MOOCs. A very low percentage of entrants actually complete the course, while some never even intend on finishing. The other part is the personalized aspect. A lot of MOOCs (and it’s hard to generalize here) are not highly personalized. That personal interaction isn’t there for the students. It’s an isolated learning experience. That’s one of the key differences in a CBE course. Even though you might be handling a large number of students through the CBE course, one of the main goals is to make it personalized. You really want to provide high contact, high touch learning to the student, as well as trying to personalize it with content and communication/feedback. Within a learning management system (LMS), you can customize the content that students see, the learning activities which they engage in, as well as communicate with them in a personal manner – based on trigger events or automatic notifications. You want to make sure the student feels there is contact and engagement from the faculty member.

It’s not just a fad, it’s going to be around for a while. Maybe not in the exact form it is today, I expect it to evolve. Personalized and high contact instruction which provides effective student learning will continue to evolve.”

How does UW-Extension personalize the CBE student experience?

Anderson: “For our program, the personalization starts at the beginning when we ask students to complete an introductory activity. They’re setting goals, looking at the competencies, and making a plan to complete their competency set. This activity is something their success coach looks at and uses to help guide them through the entire program.

We begin right away with that analysis of where students feel they’re at and the pace they want to go. They’re able to go slower if they need to, perhaps they’re going too fast and missed completing an assessment at a satisfactory level. If this happens, maybe it’s time for the student to have a conversation with faculty or their success coach to get a tutor. We’re also able to plug into third party products that allow students to have a greater level of personalization. No two students will have the same experience with the program.”

Stay tuned for our next post where we’ll be answering questions about getting your CBE program up and running.

Want to learn more about competency-based education? Here are some additional resources:


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