Insights on Competency-Based Education: The View from the 20th Annual Online Learning Consortium International Conference
By Senior Analyst, Brian Fleming
Last week, Eduventures presented at the 20th Annual Online Learning Consortium (OLC) International Conference in Orlando, FL. The event confirmed what our latest national survey of adult learners clearly shows: competency-based education (CBE) is in demand. More than a third of adult learners in our most recent survey say they want components of CBE in a degree program.
The most attention at OLC was paid to how institutions can meet this demand for CBE, with particular focus on the tools and technologies needed to successfully adopt a CBE approach in online and blended education. Our takeaway is three observations that stem from engaging institutions, organizations, and technology vendors that are active in this space:
- Launching a CBE program is not a lone endeavor. CBE is a fledgling movement built on collaboration among peers and partners. Institutions, such as University of Central Florida, Central Washington University, Western Kentucky University, were all more than willing to share best practices with potential adopters. Organizations, such as OLC, EDUCAUSE, the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN), and Quality Matters (QM), frequently came up as potential partners for early adopters thinking about this practice. In addition, a number of technology vendors drove productive conversations about their frameworks for adoption, such as Pearson and Helix Education, which showcased the impressive ways in which they have helped institutions think constructively about this space.
- New LMS technologies are needed. With CBE, existing tools rarely work, especially existing Learning Management Systems (LMS). Most traditional LMSs were not designed with the needs of non-traditional learners or the unique platform specifications needed to support CBE in mind. Helix Education (formerly Datamark), in particular, stole the show this year with Helix LMS, one of only a handful of new platforms available that can support CBE (LoudCloud and Desire2Learn are also active in this space). Helix was built out of the platform used for Altius Education and Tiffin University’s Ivy Bridge College and, therefore, designed exclusively with the needs of non-traditional learners in mind. In our view, Helix “gets” non-traditional higher education like few others, likely because it was born within it.
- New design frameworks should guide the CBE movement forward. Of particular note was a session facilitated by Ron Legon, Executive Director of Quality Matters (QM), who introduced new design standards for competency-based direct assessment, currently being used, for instance, by Broward College. QM’s longstanding commitment to quality assurance in online education and its focused and actionable framework helps inform a still underexplored connection between CBE and the ongoing trend to quantitatively improve online course quality. We applaud QM for so quickly moving into this space and would suggest anyone serious about CBE consider exploring QM’s new framework.
- Explore CBE in partnerships with others. Listen, learn, and engage institutions, organizations, and vendors that are further along in building and supporting CBE programs.
- Explore LMSs designed with the needs of non-traditional learners in mind.
- Pay attention to quality measures in the design of CBE courses. Learning more about QM’s most recent initiative is a great place to start.
As always, we look forward to hearing any questions or comments that you have on this topic. Please contact a member of our team to learn more.