Competency-Based Learning Roundup: Recent Information, Insights, and Resources, Fall 2014

In this post, I want to shine a spotlight on a few recent noteworthy items related to competency-based education (CBE).

  1. Southern New Hampshire University’s (SNHU) recently spun off Motivis Learning as a for-profit subsidiary. Motivis Learning is the customized “learning relationship management platform built on Salesforce that powers College of America’s competency –based education program. A student-centric, rather than course-centric learning platform running on top of relationship management software is an intriguing concept – one that I believe aligns with Shea and Bidjerano’s (2014) call for a new model of student retention that includes institutional technology-enabled adaptation to the student. In our review of the literature on military learners for an upcoming special issue of Online Learning Journal (in press), CILSS Vice Provost Karen Vignare and I also discuss the need for a mutually adaptive relational model for student success that transcends the “college as a place” paradigm underlying most college retention models.
  2. Jobs for the Future, a not-for-profit organization whose goal is to “fix all leaks along the education-to-career pipeline” recently released the first in a series of reports related to competency based education. The Past and the Promise: Today’s Competency Education Movement (Le, Wolfe, Steinberg, 2014). The report targets K-12, but those who work in higher education will also find the report’s discussion on the history, opportunities, and challenges of CBE useful. Three key points stand out in the author’s discussion: a) standards-based curriculum and personalization are converging as an education innovation strategy; b) effective competency-based education provides a balanced system assessment approaches and tools; and c) individualized instruction does not preclude collaborative learning; rather, it necessitates more creative and flexible approaches to promote individual learner agency and social learning.
  3. Also on the subject of the learning to earning pipeline, Diana Cobbe, the winner of a crowdsourcing ideation challenge sponsored by The Economist and Lumina Foundation on bridging the skills gap between the workforce and higher education shared more information about her winning submission during The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Google + Hangout on October, 9, 2014. Cobbe’s submission was a mobile app that incorporates gamification and social media elements to motivate college students to learn and develop the skills sought by employers. Students are rewarded with employability scores, which hiring managers can also use to identify potential recruits.
  4. During a recent PBS Newshour feature on competency-based education, I was surprised by the remarks of one college professor, who said “The purpose of a college education is actually to produce insight, not competency OK?” I would argue that a well-designed degree program must do both.
  5. In early October, the Lumina Foundation announced the official release of the Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP). The DQP has been positioned in the competency-based education and assessment literature as an adaptable higher education outcomes framework around which individual institutions can build their own outcome-oriented degree frameworks at the Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and Master’s levels (Ewell 2013; Jankowski, Hutchings, Ewell, Kinzie, & Kuh, 2013; & Klein-Collins, 2012, 2013). During the past five years, over 400 colleges and universities beta-tested the DQP, which the Lumina Foundation describes as a baseline set of reference points for what college students should know and be able to do to earn their degrees. The Lumina Foundation also announced a number of investments aimed at supporting knowledge and use of the DQP and the complimentary process of Tuning, which involves defining outcomes at the discipline level. Additional information and resources related to the DQP/Tuning process are available at
  6. My CBE briefing paper, Competency-Based Education: History, Opportunities, and Challenges, is now available for download.
  7. One of the problems that accompanies discussions on competency-based education is the lack of a common vocabulary capable conveying the diversity of current design and implementation approaches reflecting each institution’s unique mission or value proposition relative to the needs of the marketplace for college graduates. In her recent white paper on competency-based education, Marie A. Cini,(2014) UMUC’s Provost and Senior Vice President, does an excellent job breaking down the generalizations and misconceptions surrounding competency-based education, including the notion that CBE shortens time to degree completion for all students.


Cini, M. (2014). Compass point: Competency-based education. Retrieved from:

Ewell, P. T. (2013). The Lumina Degree Qualifications Profile (DQP): Implications for assessment. National Institute For Learning Outcomes Assessment, Retrieved from

Ford, K. & Vignare, K. (in press). The Evolving Military Learner Population: A Review of the Literature. Online Learning Journal. Retrieved from:

Jankowski, N., Hutchings, P., Ewell, P., Kinzie, J. & Kuh, G. (2013). The Degree Qualifications Profile: What it is and why we need it now. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 45(6), 6–15. Taylor & Francis.

Klein-Collins, R. (2012). Competency-based degree programs in the US. Council for Adult and Experiential Learning. Retrieved from

Klein-Collins, R. (2013). Sharpening our focus on learning: the rise of competency-based approaches to degree completion. National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. Retrieved from

Shea, P. & Bidjerano, T. (2014). Does online learning impede degree completion? A national study of community college students. Computers & Education, 75, 103–111.

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