Competency-Based Learning Bibliography


Competency-Based Learning Bibliography

Newly Added Resources

Competency Works

Competency Works is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system. Drawing on lessons learned by innovators and early adopters, Competency Works shares original research, knowledge and a variety of perspectives through an informative blog with practitioner knowledge, policy advancements, papers on emerging issues and a wiki with resources curated from across the field. CompetencyWorks also offers a blog on competency education in higher education so that the sectors can learn from each other and begin to align systems across K-12, higher education and the workplace.

Competency-Based Education Network

The Competency-Based Education Network is a group of colleges and universities working together to address shared challenges to designing, developing and scaling competency-based degree programs. There are participating institutions from SREB states.

Does Competency Education Mean the Same Thing for K-12 and Higher Education?
Chris Sturgis, Competency Works, June 19, 2014

There is lengthy discussion here, and they end with comments that says there may be risks in talking about HE’s and K12’s transition to competency education as one and the same. Certainly both emphasize progress upon mastery. However, much of the drive for change in HE is to reduce tuition costs, whereas in K12 it is to personalize education so that all students get what they need to succeed. Thus, the K12 focus is on cost-effectiveness, not cost reduction. This may have large implications about what is emphasized and how models develop. Furthermore, our efforts will come to a grinding halt if we lead policymakers to assume that they can reduce budgets in K12 competency education systems. We can explore competency education in both sectors without advancing the idea that they are the same thing.

Next Gen Higher Ed: Blended, Personalized & Competency-based
Tom Vander Ark, Getting Smart, December 19, 2014

An increasing percentage of adults need to work while learning — and keep learning to keep working. Fortunately, the postsecondary landscape changing fast. Learning opportunities are becoming more flexible and engaging, more tailored to individual learners, and better linked to employment opportunities.
Demand is growing for postsecondary options that are:
•Blended: combining online and face-to-face learning options to optimize achievement and flexibility;
•Personalized: flexible pathways focused on real jobs with online and evening classes, digital resources, and real-time support for working adults;
•Flexible: continuous enrollment that starts when the learner is ready, along with self-paced options;
•Affordable: recognize prior credits/learning, potential for rapid progress, and inexpensive credits;
•Relevant: not a random series of theory courses but courses of study mapped to the competencies required for high demand jobs;
•Compelling: experienced instructors with real-world experience;
•Motivating: engaging experiences including team-based projects and real dialogue; and
•Updated: a modern web and mobile, fully social user experience.

Vocab Lesson: “Competency-Based Learning”
Carri Schneider, Getting Smart, January 26, 2015

Schneider’s primary focus on “getting everyone on the same page,” is a link to Achieve.
The new competency-based pathways communications toolkit and core messages from Achieve does such a great job of breaking down definitions and key messages that I couldn’t resist sharing them in full. The toolkit contains a step-by-step planning document for states, a useful set of FAQs (my favorite is the first one, “Why the need for change?”) and ideas for communicating success-stories, and additional worksheets and tools.

Definition: Competency/proficiency-based education helps prepare all K-12 students for college and career by ensuring that they proceed through course material at a pace that is right for them, rather than waiting for their peers to catch up or moving on without having fully mastered the material. Under this model, students learn one set of skills and knowledge within a subject area before advancing to the next set –rather than move on as part of a group whether or not they have learned the material.
Three key benefits of Competency-Based Learning from Achieve are:
•It is personalized, not “one size fits all”;
•It better prepares students;
•It is transparent.
She expounds on each of these topics related to Competency-Based Learning.

How State Policies Help or Hinder Competency-Based Education
Tanya Roscoria, Center for Digital Education, June 8, 2015

A shift to learning by mastery can really go far with policy support at the state level.
With competency-based education, schools are trying to reinvent the system. Instead of moving students ahead based on chronological age, they move along at the pace they learn best – quickly through concepts that are easy for them, and slower for concepts that are difficult. And they have to demonstrate that they understand those concepts and skills before they can move on.
But it’s not quite that simple, as they often have to do it within the confines of policies created for the traditional era of schooling. And that’s a challenge for forward-thinking education leaders.
“When you really start to innovate to personalize learning, those school leaders that are leading the change and pioneering new learning environments in competency education quickly start running into state regulations that a more traditional system has,” said iNACOL CEO Susan Patrick.

Designing Assessments for Competency-Based Learning
Catherine Gewertz, Education Week, April 24, 2015

What would the testing experience be like if schools allowed students to show what they know whenever they’re ready,
in a variety of ways that suit them, and in ways that are instructionally useful?
That vision is the subject of a new report that explores assessment for competency-based pathways. The study,
Assessment to Support Competency-Based Pathways, by Achieve and the Center for Assessment, paints a picture of a
testing system that looks radically different from the one that dominates schools now, and offers guidelines to those
who want to design such a system.

Read how the report sums up the difference between traditional tests and those used in a competency-based setting.

A K-12 Federal Policy Framework for Competency Education: Building Capacity for Systems Change
Maria Worthen, Lillian Pace, iNACOL, Competency Works, February 2014

It is time to move away from traditional assumptions about how schools should look, how teachers should teach, and how students should learn. These assumptions too often restrict learning to physical buildings, bell schedules, credit hours, and static, paper-based learning materials. Many of these assumptions are further reinforced by federal, state, and local governments that incorporate them through outdated compliance requirements and funding structures.
Our education system must break free from these traditional views so it can adequately prepare students for success in college, career, and the global economy. Fortunately, a growing number of districts and states have begun to think about the next step to increase equity, rigor, and relevance in the system, increasing achievement for students who have been underserved, and opening new opportunities for advancement. Using college- and career-ready standards as the foundation, these innovators envision a system in which students master deeper, aligned competencies that provide graduates with the skills to navigate the demands of an increasingly dynamic global economy. Their success rests heavily on federal adoption of a new student-centered policy framework that will advance the growth of competency education.

Hence, this paper provides guidance toward a new student-centered policy framework.

Note these three cooperative organizations: iNACOL, Knowledge Works, and Competency Works.
Competency Works is an online resource dedicated to providing information and knowledge about competency education in the K-12 education system.
Knowledge Works’ mission is delivering innovative education approaches and advancing aligned policies,
KnowledgeWorks activates and develops the capacity of communities and educators to imagine, build and sustain
vibrant learning ecosystems that allow each student to thrive.


Competency-Based Learning Bibliography

Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013
Report of Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, U.S. Senate

Competency education was inserted in two places in this report. Chris Sturgis (iNACOL, Competency Works) provides guidance through the report’s 1,054 pages. For example, the working definition of competency education is inserted into Title 1, Part B: “Pathways to College” as a method to improve secondary schools (Page 33). In Title IV: “Supporting Successful, Well-Rounded Students,” the emergence of competency education is recognized (among a list of special programs) with a pilot for competency-based assessment and accountability (Page 51).

The Future of Learning: Personalized, Adaptive, and Competency-Based
Tom Vander Ark, Getting Smart, White Paper, 2013

Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart, explains that we are living through the most important change in how human beings access information and educational opportunities—it may be bigger than the printing press and it’s certainly happening faster. Promising new models suggest that it is possible to serve more students with excellence while improving working conditions for teachers. Consider his explanations of competency-based learning and adaptive learning. Included are:
– The reason technology is a valuable tool to implement the Common Core
– Why “show what they know” is the best metric for evaluation, not seat-time or birthdate
– How Intelligent Adaptive Learning™ approximates human levels of coaching for ultimate personalized learning


College for America — A New Exploration

College for America
Southern New Hampshire University

Developed by the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Innovation Lab, College for America (CfA) is a competency-based, self-paced, highly affordable online program that offers an associate’s degree based on definable skills and measurable results. It is the first and only program of its kind to be approved by a regional accreditation agency and the first and only program of its kind to be approved by the U. S. Department of Education for Title IV financial aid support.

CfA delivers an innovative solution to the most pressing problems of cost, access and quality in higher education throughout the U.S. and around the world. CfA seeks to create a talent pipeline that addresses retention, succession and economic prosperity.


iNACOL’s Competency-based Education

iNACOL Competency Education

This iNACOL Web page features description and links to several publications related to competency education.

Re-Engineering Information Technology: Design Considerations for Competency Education
Liz Glowa, Susan Patrick, iNACOL, February 2013

This issue brief analyzes and examines components and elements of effective competency-based information systems. Based on interviews and research, the ideas presented build upon the lessons learned in analyzing information systems developed by competency education innovators, best practices of systemic approaches to information management, and emerging opportunities. The paper is designed for readers to find those issues that are of most interest to them in their role and can be used to catalyze strategies, support new competency-based instructional models, and inform decision-making for continuous improvement. Read comments about the paper in T.H.E. Journal.

Necessary for Success: A State Policymaker’s Guide to Competency Education
Susan Patrick, Chris Sturgis, iNACOL, February 2013

An opportunity for state leaders to reflect upon the efforts of contemporaries around the country, this issue brief shares insights into re-engineering the policy and practices of K-12 systems; introduces the main concepts behind competency-based learning; studies important initial steps taken by states in introducing this emerging model, and considers creating a culture of competency within state agencies.

When Success is the Only Option: Designing Competency-Based Pathways for Next Generation Learning
Susan Patrick and Chris Sturgis, EDUCAUSE, November 1, 2010

This paper is an introduction to competency-based pathways, a necessary condition to realizing the potential of next generation learning. The most important finding from this investigation is that competency-based pathways are a re-engineering of our education system around learning – a re-engineering designed for success in which failure is no longer an option.


Competency-based Learning in Higher Education

EDUCAUSE Library: Competency-Based Learning

EDUCAUSE provides an archive of resources on the topic.

“Changing the Rules: Competency Based Learning in Higher Education”
Todd Hitchcock, Pearson Research and Innovation Network, February 13, 2013

This posting notes that a recent Inside Higher Ed article dives into the challenges facing institutions following the rise of competency based learning. With the realization that seat time is less indicative of student success and as practical knowledge-attained takes the center-stage, the question arises: What happens to commonly held ideals about accreditation and the sacred credit hour? While it’s not a new conversation, and these details must be worked out at the institutional level, it’s certainly worth exploring the value of competency-based learning.

“The Role of Disruptive Technology in the Future of Higher Education”
Katrina A. Meyer, EDUCAUSE, March 3, 2013

Although not a magical way to transform higher education, disruptive technology must interrupt our usual policies, practices, and assumptions, this article asserts. Truly disruptive tools will force new thinking and new approaches to ensuring student learning in higher education. Technology enables online learning, which potentially qualifies as a disruptive innovation in education.

“A ‘Disruptive’ Look at Competency-Based Education”
Louis Soares, Center for American Progress, June 7, 2012

The article explores how the innovative use of technology will transform the college experience. The first section of this brief provides a short primer on competency-based education in postsecondary education. Next there is an introduction to the four elements of disruptive innovation theory and the use of these elements as a guide to study education initiatives that could promote disruptive innovation. Lastly, there is an outline a number of recommendations for policymakers on how to facilitate disruptive innovation to transform higher education.

In competency-based education, assessment is embedded in every step of the learning process in order to provide students with guidance and support toward mastery. This heightened level of assessment is designed to build competencies in real time. The enclosed graphic from the National Postsecondary Education Cooperative’s report “Defining and Assessing Learning,” provides a simple yet powerful visual of the competency-based approach.

Cracking the Credit Hour
Amy Laitinen, New America Foundation, September 5, 2012

The basic currency of higher education — the credit hour — represents the root of many problems plaguing America’s higher education system: the practice of measuring time rather than learning. This report traces the history of this time-based unit, from the days of Andrew Carnegie to recent federal efforts to define a credit hour. A credit hour typically represents one hour of faculty-student contact time per week over a fifteen-week semester. Most bachelor’s degrees require 120 credit hours.

This was a joint publication of New American Foundation and Education Sector. A former Education Sector analyst, Amy Laitinen is now deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation. Additional information may be found here on Education Sector.


Competency-Based Learning and Blended Learning

Competency-Based Learning Innovation
Michael Horn, Clayton Christensen Institute, Video, Georgia Public Policy Foundation, June 6, 2013

Michael Horn discusses the relationship between competency-based and blended learning. Horn is co-founder and education director at the Clayton Christensen Institute. His power point presentation can be found at

“Competency-based education and blended learning: Worlds apart or just two sides of the personalization coin?”
Julia Freeland, Christensen Institute, September 18, 2013

This blog notes that: “At the Clayton Christensen Institute, we often talk about blended learning and competency-based education in the same breath. That’s because we see both as necessary features of accomplishing personalized learning at scale. A competency-based system allows students to move at their own pace upon mastering concepts, rather than being forced to move beyond material they don’t fully understand or being held back when they are learning at an advanced pace. You can imagine this highly individualized model in a traditional classroom with extremely low teacher-to-student ratios. But to operate personalization at scale, we believe technology must play a part. Software tools in a blended classroom stand to provide a mix of content, assessment, and meaningful real-time feedback that can help teachers move each student along an individual learning pathway at his own pace.”