What is Competency Based Learning?

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A number of pedagogical approaches are being implemented in the public school system, including competency based learning. Also known as personalized learning, this suite of concepts represents a decided progression away from the more traditional classroom dynamic. Below, we’ll explore the different types of learning represented in a personalized curriculum, and how it differs from the standard educational path.

De-Emphasizing Seat Time

The term denotes time spent by students in a traditional classroom setting, receiving instruction from a teacher. In competency based learning, this method of instruction is often eschewed in part, in order to offer students different paths to earning study credit. Remote learning, in which a student completes lessons via a computer module is a popular alternative to time in a corporeal classroom.

While the student is still held accountable for completing assignments and receives assistance from a teaching professional, lessons can be completed at non-standard times that benefit the individual student. Computer based learning is often used as part of a blended learning program, in which students devote a portion of time to standard education within a classroom setting, but will complete lessons remotely on their own schedule.

The RISC Model and Other Approaches

Another form of personalized learning that has been implemented in a number of school districts is the Re-inventing Schools Coalition (RISC) model. First attempted in Alaska, this approach emphasizes student ownership and personal authority over static learning standards. The programs are tailored to specific schools and districts, but essentially replace grade levels with learning modules. Students complete these at their own pace, guided and assisted by teachers. To date, 16 districts and schools across the United States use this model.

While the RISC model is a dramatic departure from traditional classroom approaches, several other models seek to embrace a middle path. Some institutions are experimenting with a completely tailored approach to the individual education. In these schools, a student and their parents meet with an advisor who guides the creation of a tailored curriculum. Even though a well-rounded approach is still emphasized in order to meet the educational standards for higher education, the tailored curriculum helps to support student efforts and aptitudes.

Another application of the personalized learning pedagogy is within alternative high schools. These institutions are specifically intended for young adults who are re-entering high school after a prolonged hiatus or for those in danger of dropping out. In these institutions, they receive instruction as needed, but are otherwise free to work at their own pace. This approach promotes their strengths by allowing them to proceed quickly and complete more work in a shorter time frame, while also providing additional support in the areas it is most needed. Alternative high schools are a preferred path for non-traditional young adult students, according a legitimate diploma in place of a GED.

While it represents a general pedagogical approach more than it does a single method of instruction, personalized learning may be preferable for many students. Moreover, it maximizes the energies and gifts of teachers who provide alternative, focused guidance to individual students. The future of the educational system is rooted in the ability to respond flexibly to the changing needs of the population. Traditional classroom instruction and credit based on active seat time may be less effective in providing adequate education to students. However, competency based learning offers a viable, adaptive solution for many teachers, parents, and students.

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