Competency based education (CBE) is not new but the interest in CBE has been supercharged lately. Karen Ford at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC) has published a very helpful literature review on the topic: Competency-Based Education History, Opportunities, and Challenges and dates early models of competency-based learning back to the 1920’s and 1930’s as mastery learning and behaviorist models of vocational training were being developed.
If you attended Educause or any other educational conference in 2014 then you know that Competency is one of the “Buzzwords” of the year. While CBE is not new thinking about learning, the idea of leveraging technology to power this educational model in a meaningful way is fairly new in the field of education.
In an article on Inside Higher Ed, Paul Leblanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University referred to Motivis Learning as a Learning Relationship Management System (LRMS). Rather than being course-centric, they are committed to developing a solution that is learner-centric. In this same article, Casey Green of the Campus Computing Project said that Motivis has the potential to capture some share of the LMS market simply by building a “better digital mousetrap”.
Brian Peddle, CEO of Motivis Learning provided me with a tour of their competency-based learning platform and the screen shots that are included in this post. The Motivis platform, got its start as the technology that powered the competency based program College for America (CfA) at Southern New Hampshire University (SHNU). You may recall that President Obama spotlighted SNHU’s College for America in his call for higher education to be more innovative and reduce costs while improving value.
Time is not a good indicator of knowledge
In the words of Sir Ken Robinson, “we educate children in batches by their date of manufacture“, but is that the only way? Is that the best way? What happens when we remove time from the learning equation? Can some students move faster? others slower? Is this good for education? Is this good for society?
Enter the CfA Competency Based Learning model where time is not a factor in the equation toward completion. In the College for America program students are able to move as fast as they want through the competencies. Students must complete a series of activities in order to demonstrate mastery.
Project-Based Learning without “F”ail
There are no multiple choice tests. The entire CfA program is project-based and each project is carefully evaluated by a qualified evaluator for mastery of each competency. The competencies are marked either mastered or “not yet” mastered allowing students multiple attempts at mastery of skills. In a recent article, Brian pointed out that the College for America (CfA) does not talk about students failing they refer to is as the “F” word. There is not failing there is only “Mastery” and “Not Yet.”
I was impressed with the fact that the learner has a choice of pathways. There are two paths for mastery. One path requires multiple smaller projects, while the other path may only require one large project that allows the learner to demonstrate their competency. Giving learners this simple choice in their learning pathway seems simple, yet it is often not included in traditional face to face or online teaching.
Progress Tracking and Analytics
The data collected by the system allows the coaches or mentors to track the students and determine when interventions are needed. Brian described one such intervention that was created for CfA: When learners submitted an assignment for evaluation and the grader was sending feedback to the learner that they would need to resubmit the assignment as it did “not yet” demonstrate mastery the student’s coach/mentor was notified and a call scheduled to help the learner internalize the feedback and become motivated to resubmit the assignment. It is this “human-touch” that is necessary in education.
Students can also view their progress against goals which can be intrinsically motivating. Very few systems turn the data around for the learner to act on it themselves however, I think this idea is catching on and will likely be the new wave of innovation for many learning systems.
Motivis, built on salesforce, is in the adaptation stage and are working with a few schools to learn of use cases and develop a wider features set before coming to the market in 2015. After my review of the platform, I’m very interested in following this development and learning how new student-centric systems like Motivis help us to think differently.
What do you think about Competency Based learning and the underlying technology that supports it? What other tools have you explored? Is this unbundling of time from the educational equation a good idea or bad? Why? What do you think the major impacts will be?