By Brian Fleming, Senior Analyst
With hundreds of schools flocking to competency-based education (CBE), a surge in tools and technologies is infusing this market. Over the past few weeks, we met with a number of vendors playing actively in this space, including Muzzy Lane, Credly, and Wonderlic. Here’s a snapshot of what we learned through formal product briefings and informal conversations with execs from these companies.
Let the Games Begin
CBE should offer students an immersive, scaffolded experience that makes extensive use of interactive learning environments, such as those designed around the principles of game-based learning. Make no mistake about what gaming means and what it will bring to CBE. This is not Candy Crush for education.
We spoke to David Martz, VP of Sales and Marketing at Muzzy Lane. The company was recently awarded a Gates Foundation grant to further the application of game-based learning in CBE. What stands out most in Muzzy Lane’s approach is its distinct commitment to using game-based learning to support broader teaching and learning priorities, namely retention and attainment for adult learners and low-income students. Given how closely the efficacy and impact of CBE is being monitored and how vocally skeptics are calling out the potential for CBE to quickly devolve into a weak instructional model, efforts to closely align technology with student success are a win-win.
Bring on the Badges
Credly, a digital badging management company, recently garnered attention through its partnership with Brandman University, an innovative adult-serving school that is now approved to offer CBE through direct assessment. Speaking with Jonathan Finkelstein, Credly’s Founder and CEO, it is clear that the breadth of Credly’s product offerings is impressive and that the possibilities for its work with schools like Brandman are endless.
Much of this has to do with the fact that digital badging aligns perfectly with the highly modularized nature of direct assessment, which many critics argue will leave students high and dry without proper guideposts, such as badges, to encourage progress and timely completion. Enter Credly, which allows students to earn badges incrementally as they progress through their programs. Credly allows these students to readily and measurably display their progress to faculty, coaches, and most importantly, employers.
Most compelling about Credly’s approach, though, is its “open credit application interface.” This basically means that Credly does not itself issue badges (in this case, Brandman does), nor does it command any visible part of a college’s brand or student experience. Instead, schools retain full credentialing rights (often thought to be a major threat with badging) and ownership of the look, feel, and nature of the student experience. In other words, Credly aspires to be a true partner. In a climate of increased skepticism of vendor influence over higher education, this approach is sure to stick. It will also give Credly (and direct assessment) quite a boost in the years ahead, as more and more schools imitate Brandman’s success.
Time for Tests
Often overlooked in conversations about CBE is the fact that it is an assessment-driven practice through and through. Schools that do not take seriously the rigors of designing a high quality, data-rich assessment practice will not succeed with CBE.
This is all good news for companies that specialize exclusively in assessment, including Wonderlic. Since the 1930s, Wonderlic has delivered skills and aptitude tests for military, corporate, and educational clients. Speaking with Charlie Wonderlic, President and CEO, and Larry Banks, Director of Competency Based Education Services, it is clear why they have decided to move so ambitiously into CBE. Wonderlic was into CBE before CBE was cool. The company has deep expertise in what it takes to incorporate assessment into all stages of a program lifecycle—from readiness exams and assessments used to measure prior learning to various types of in-program exams. Leveraging this expertise, Wonderlic offers a breadth of products and services that can be readily adapted for any learning environment.
Most compelling about companies like Wonderlic, though, is their positioning in the market as independent third-party validators of student learning. As CBE matures, we suspect that policy makers, accreditors, and other regulatory bodies will require schools to turn to external specialists in order to keep CBE programs relevant and engaged with evolving student and employer demand, as well as industry standards and best practices. Assessment specialists will thus prove to be invaluable partners for schools that are serious about CBE and will most likely become quite profitable along the way.
Want to Hear More?
Our report, The Competency-Based Education Landscape: Tools and Technologies, highlights many more vendors active in CBE. Stay tuned…