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Ask the CBE Experts – Part 2: Getting Up and Running

  • 4 Min para leer

What is a PLA?
How much does a CBE program cost for a student?
How do you get your CBE program accredited?
If you want to get your CBE program up and running, these are the types of questions you need answered.


In our blog last week, we asked competency-based education (CBE) experts Michael Moore, Senior Advisory Consultant at D2L and Ryan Anderson, Director of Instructional Design & Development at University of Wisconsin-Extension to answer a couple questions on the fundamentals of CBE.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, we’re focusing the next round of questions on how to get a CBE program up and running.

Prior Learning Assessment: What is it? Is it necessary?

Moore: “A prior learning assessment (PLA) is not mandatory but is often a very attractive feature of CBE programs for adult learners.  A PLA provides the ability for adult learners, who are coming back to their education with workforce experience, to receive competency credit for the knowledge, skills and abilities they already possess.  This often allows them to shorten their degree pathway and complete their degree in less time, requiring fewer courses or competencies and ultimately saving tuition dollars.  Studies show that adult learners who receive prior learning credit for their experience are 2.5 times more likely to persist in their degree program to completion.”

Anderson: “We don’t have a way for students to “test out.” If we’re using their prior learning, they look at the competencies and the associated assessment. If they feel like they’re ready, then they’re able to do that assessment right away. We don’t put any gates or impediments in front of the student to stop them from taking one of the assessments. There are other models of CBE where students may take assessments before they actually begin, and we do have a little bit of that. For example, we have some prerequisites to determine where people are at with math skills, but we don’t do a lot of prior learning assessment. If they’re ready to take the assessment, we allow them to take it right away.”

What is the cost of a CBE program for a student?

Moore: “The costing models (or tuition models) for CBE programs vary based on the institution.  Two of the more common models are pay for a period of time or pay-per-competency.  In the period of time model, a learner pays for access to resources, materials and assessments for a period of time.  The learner then has the ability to achieve and demonstrate mastery of whatever can be completed within that window of time.  This model has often been analogized to an all-you-can-eat buffet.  The per-competency model is fairly self-explanatory in that the learner pays a fee for each competency that is completed.  These are only two options though, there are other variations.  Ultimately it is up to the institution and their accreditation approval, to determine the tuition fee model that works for them.”

Anderson: “For our model, it’s $2250 (USD) for a three month period.  We refer to that as an “all-you-can-eat” model.  Students are able to take as many competency sets as they like, in that time period.  A typical student can complete three sets in a three-month period.  Most of the competency sets are about three credits in length.  This equates to roughly nine credits for $2250.  We had a student complete 33 credits in a three-month period, based on the prior knowledge they had.  If they have prior knowledge of the competency, they can move at a much faster pace.  This student had a LOT of prior knowledge.  He was able to get to a certain point with that knowledge, but there was a time where he had to slow down.  Towards the end he was doing 1-2 competency sets in a three-month period.  He hit the threshold of where his prior knowledge wasn’t helping him anymore.

How do I get accreditation for my program?

Moore: “Any school seeking to offer a CBE program must go through an accreditation approval process from their accrediting agency.  The specifics of this process vary based on the agency.  However the core process involves documenting the new program, the competencies to be completed, the credentials of the instructing faculty, the business use case for the program, and the community and economic demand for the program, as well as the fee structure to be charged.”

Anderson: “Accreditation is handled through the accrediting region in the US. Another thing you need to do is be designated as an experimental site by the federal government to pursue a CBE program. We’re one of the first programs in the nation to do that. We had to get approval first for the direct assessment model. Seat time is irrelevant and our program is based on the assessments students take to achieve their degree. There are other models/flavors of CBE – this is just one of them.”

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Want to learn more about Competency-Based Education? Here are some additional resources

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