“What does a CBE course look like?” We are often asked this question when talking to prospective clients planning to start competency-based education (CBE) programs. Although a well-designed CBE course or module shares several of the same design elements as a well-designed online course, there are still several unique elements. Let’s take a look under the hood at 6 key elements to keep in mind when developing a CBE course.

#1. Include a welcome section and course map

First you should see a welcome section, introducing the learner to the CBE course. This section should provide a course map, an overview of the assessment process, and include details about how this course may differ from the learner’s prior educational experience. It also provides the learner with an explanation and guidelines for managing work in a self-paced environment as well as how CBE assessments differ from traditional methods.

#2. Provide an order to program competencies and the learner’s pathway

You should then see a start here section, orienting the student to the competencies and sub-competencies (or topics to be assessed) for the course and perhaps for the program. Whether displayed here or elsewhere, the learner should see a logic or order to program competencies reflecting a progression toward higher level skills and knowledge. The orientation page will also explain the learner’s pathway and definitions for mastery. A handbook about the CBE program might be located here as well as textbooks and required materials.

#3. Detail communications protocol and assistance resources

Next you should see a communications section describing email protocols and tools, together with any groups or processes for communicating with others in the program. You should also see an assistance section detailing the learner’s academic resources (instructors, coaches, mentors, etc), names and contact information. This section will also contain how to get technical assistance.

#4. Provide a standard delivery model across CBE courses

So far, it sounds like a traditional e-learning course, and it is. Where CBE courses begin to differ is in the design and delivery of the curriculum. Hopefully, you will also see that across CBE courses there is a standard delivery model or layout so that learners develop a familiarity of where to find things in the course throughout any CBE course in the institution. Creativity and uniqueness of course formats should be limited in CBE programs to maintain a consistency of student experience. This standard format will have been developed collectively by program faculty, instructional designers, and executive sponsors. It has ideally been crafted to elicit the learner’s construction of knowledge in an environment that’s ready when the learner is also ready.

#5. Make sure there is alignment among competencies, sub-competencies, content, and assessments

Now, let’s drill down into CBE course delivery. What you should see for each learning unit, lesson, or module, are the competencies and sub-competencies the learner will master in the unit. You will also note that content is chunked and aligned to the competencies. This alignment between competencies and content is more specific by design than in a standard course. In addition to chunked content, you will see no-or low-stakes assessments that provide frequent feedback on the learner’s readiness to tackle the summative assessment. Alignment among competencies, sub-competencies, content, formative, and summative assessments distinguishes CBE courses from traditional courses. What you cannot see from viewing the course is the physical alignment among competencies, sub-competencies, test items and rubric rows in the LMS. This alignment allows assessment results to become visible to learners and instructors. It is a second important distinction from traditional courses.

#6. Ensure students have visibility of progress

Finally, you will notice that courses contain mechanisms, such as Blackboard’s Goal Performance Dashboard, for learners to track their progress and levels of achievement against competencies. This visibility of progress is essential for students in self-paced CBE programs.

This blog series is designed to help demystify CBE to a broad educational audience. In previous posts we’ve tackled the role of androgogy in CBE, the institutional issues that will need to be addressed in order to launch a successful CBE program, and an example of how an institution might begin to create and launch a CBE program. In future posts we’ll take a deeper dive on faculty development, assessment, and the regulatory issues that impact CBE. In the mean time, you can find a curated collection of CBE resources like promising practices and case studies at Blackboard’s new CBE Resource Hub. And stay tuned for the launch of our new readiness tool that will help institutions determine their readiness for successfully launching a quality CBE program.

Survey Brief: higher ed institutions on their journey to CBE


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