Competency-based education (CBE) builds a stronger bridge between what students learn and what they’ll do in a future career. Although CBE isn’t new to higher education, many institutions are working to convert programs to CBE models. More institutions are hoping to realize the various benefits of CBE, including personalizing the learning experience, connecting learning to job-based skills and scenarios, and designing student-centered learning environments, among other advantages. However, converting your program to a CBE model can feel overwhelming. Our unique approach to CBE transformation at WGU Labs includes four distinct components to make the process more manageable. 

Transitioning to CBE in Higher Education

WGU Labs’ CBE learning experience design team has worked with institutions of all types to design educational experiences centered around learners that employ evidence-based strategies. One fundamental part of our process is our Periodic Table of CBE Elements™, which is used to help evaluate the current state of an institution or program and guide its CBE transformation.

Our CBE transformation approach breaks down CBE into its core elements — curriculum mapping, assessment, instruction, and evaluation. The four areas help transformation leaders identify key competencies and learning objectives, develop equitable assessments, train faculty to deliver content, build in methods to evaluate the program, and more.

1. Curriculum mapping

Using backward design, curriculum mapping starts with identifying the objective, or competency, students need to build. We use the elements in the curriculum mapping row of the table to assess your current process for curriculum design and identify ways to pivot it toward backward design.

  • Determining how to assess meeting the objective 
  • Designing activities to guide students toward meeting the objective

2. Assessment

There are three types of CBE assessments: 

  • Assessing prior knowledge: Tools to assess learning outside a student’s academic program, including prior courses or work experience. Tools can include pre-tests, portfolios, or self-reports.
  • Summative assessments: Assessments that evaluate student learning at the end of a unit or course. Examples of this approach include measuring skills in a realistic environment or case studies.
  • Formative assessments: Methods that monitor student progress and provide ongoing feedback in a low-stakes manner. Examples of formative assessments can include having students engage in project-based learning that includes milestones for feedback.

We can help you develop an assessment strategy and provide steps to transition to incorporating them into courses.

3. Instruction

Active learning, an approach that intentionally engages students in the learning process, is an important aspect of CBE. Assignments and activities focusing on active learning help students build skills through projects, case studies, and experiential learning. We evaluate the levels of active instruction in a course and work with faculty members to develop new strategies when needed.

4. Program Evaluation

Evaluation provides the opportunity to have closure, identify gaps in a program, and ensure standards are being met. We examine what evaluation processes are in place and work with faculty to develop new evaluations, including designing systems to track improvements and collecting student and faculty feedback. 

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to CBE and the core elements can be customized to meet your institution’s specific needs. Some institutions are ready to transition a full course to CBE, and others need to start with an assignment or two. Using the CBE elements framework as a guide, Labs can help you understand where you are in your CBE transition and explain how to navigate each element to reach your goal.


Effective CBE in Action: Nursing Program Spotlight

Because each institution is unique, you can use the Periodic Table of CBE Elements as a guiding framework and adapt applicable elements to your institution’s needs. When we work with colleges, universities, and postsecondary programs, we align different elements from the table with the individual institution’s goals.

For example, a research-intensive university recently needed assistance guiding its nursing program through a CBE transformation. They were one of hundreds of colleges and universities aligning their program to new accreditation standards. We used the Periodic Table of CBE ElementsTM to assess the institution’s course outcomes and instructional content, identifying alignment and gaps with industry-developed competencies. The results of that readiness assessment and gap analysis were then used to lead administrators and faculty in a workshop to address the course-specific requirements of shifting to a CBE model. The university added active learning strategies to its courses and started delivering a customized student-centered experience, which led to a recent graduating class earning 100% on an industry licensing exam.  

To learn more about transitioning to CBE and how Labs can help, check out our other blogs in this series on the key questions you need to ask when transitioning to a CBE model and debunking common misconceptions of CBE.

WGU Labs can help your college or institution master the transition to CBE. Get started with our learning experience designers! Contact us today