CBL, CBE, CPL, PLA, R2T4… it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the swirl of acronyms and unfamiliar terms around competency based education. What is the difference between “competency based learning (CBL)” and “competency based education (CBE),” and why does it matter whether we focus on “learning” or “education”? Should the phrase “credit for prior learning (CPL)” be used interchangeably with “prior learning assessment (PLA),” and why are these practices important to CBE? Is R2T4 (return to Title IV) only a concern for financial aid officers?

These and many other questions are addressed in a new lexicon developed by the American Council on Education and Blackboard as part of our joint research advancing competency based education. This document is a first step in what we hope will provide a helpful structure for future discussions about competency based education, especially for those new to the conversation. The document is arranged by topics to facilitate exploration and discussion: Overview, Competencies and Learning Outcomes, Learning Processes, Assessment Processes, Evidence of Learning, Credentials, Badges, Instructional and Support Roles, Student Support, Regulations and Accreditation, and Validation.

This is a living document that will evolve as new terms come into use or as their meanings shift over time. It’s offered under a Creative Commons license, and we encourage you to reuse and remix it as part of your own discussions on CBE. My research colleagues and I welcome your feedback: Cathy Sandeen, Vice President, Education Attainment and Innovation, American Council on Education; Deborah Seymour, Assistant Vice President, Education Attainment and Innovation, American Council on Education; and Karen Yoshino, Principal Strategist, Blackboard.

The lexicon is just one part of our collaborative work with the American Council on Education. Check back here to learn more about why CBE and badges are important, approaches from diverse institutions already implementing competency based education, and recommendations for addressing barriers to adoption. Enable your institution to take an informed approach to competency based education and tailor your own innovations to address your institutional and program goals.

Click here to download the definitions

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