As institutions consider starting competency-based education (CBE) programs, it can be overwhelming to think about all the institutional changes and modifications needed to adapt to a CBE model. Putting on my former administrator hat, I feel your pain. Whether it is pressure from the top to get in the CBE game or as a means to enhance program enrollments, this type of shift can cause paralysis by analysis with rethinking enrollment, financial aid, faculty role, start and end times, and the list goes on. For a good review of institutional factors to consider when implementing CBE, please read my colleague Van Davis’s recent post titled 5 strategies for implementing a competency-based education program. So the question looms, where to begin with CBE?
This may sound pretty obvious, but there’s a caveat. One might think, why not just develop some courses or modules to get CBE off the ground? This seems like a low stakes approach with not too difficult rework of institutional policy and practice. However, developing individual courses/modules with the intention of students moving between CBE courses/modules and traditional face to face courses (or other delivery modes) will be a disservice to students. Students will be confused moving between the different modalities. Our experience shows that it takes at least two CBE course/module experiences to become familiar with the modality, and develop a rhythm and cadence for self-guided learning. Obviously, we need CBE courses/modules, but standalone CBE courses/modules in and of themselves are not the ideal place to start. Your students would benefit much more by developing a program that has an end point goal.
Develop a “program” where students can progress to a tangible goal
This would be a win-win for your students and your institution. Developing a CBE certificate or diploma or some type of shorter program is a good starting point. It is worthwhile to think about a program being phased in as well. For example, start with one or two courses/modules that lead to a certificate and build off that, staying a semester or two ahead in course/module development of your initial students. In time, a degree can be built and institutional policy and process requirements worked out. Consider this a pilot program so the institution can evaluate where change management will be needed going forward with a larger scale CBE program throughout the institution. This approach is not as high stakes as moving forward with a full-fledged degree program, yet still gives students something tangible upon completion.