We sat down with Theresa Horner, the senior vice president of product and content for Sagence™ to learn more about competency-based education (CBE), its popularity and what Sagence is learning from the schools using their CBE platform. Sagence has been working with leading colleges in the competency-based learning movement since 2014. Sagence, previously part of the digital textbook company Flat World Knowledge, was formed to focus exclusively on providing leading-edge competency-based education technology and services to colleges and universities
As the needs of students, educators, and society evolved, the company set out to meet new and emerging needs by creating a sophisticated cloud-based learning platform; working with innovative colleges and universities to develop and deliver student-focused, affordable CBE programs.
What is Competency-based education?
Whether you call it competency-based education, competency-based learning or outcomes-based learning, this model provides a self-directed environment that allows students to demonstrate mastery of a subject matter, mastery of specific skills and demonstration of capabilities. What constitutes “mastery” varies by school and what they want their students to learn, but it starts with the end in mind. “What do I expect the student to demonstrate to me that they’ve mastered?” From there, faculty can build curriculum where the student can prove mastery through modular assessments along the way, culminating in a final assessment.
Why do you think CBE is so popular right now?
Students and schools are looking at CBE for several reasons. First, student debt is a critical issue. So much of the student loan debt comes from students who never finish their degree programs.
Traditional coursework has a structured amount of time. Some will succeed. Some will fail. With CBE, it’s more flexible. Students can quickly move through information they already know and spend more time on areas that are new to them.
Also, CBE provides more streamlined roles of the faculty, coaches, graders and administrators, so they can focus precisely when any student needs help, and on the students who need the most help.
Finally, another reason is that employers are seeking the demonstrable skills CBE can provide. Companies, schools and industry organizations can come to together to agree on learning objectives that meet the needs of that industry and a CBE program can deliver students who meet those requirements.
CBE is agile. Schools can quickly iterate to better meet the needs of students now and as their industry changes.
What are some key considerations a school should think about when evaluating a competency-based program?
Schools that have the most success with CBE tend to have certain characteristics.
- From the faculty to the administration, they have a culture that is willing to adapt and change.
- They have put resources into instructional design. Transitioning from a traditional course design to modular learning objects requires a different way of thinking about activities, assessments, and course materials.
- They attract and enroll students that are more self-motivated and want flexible experiences.
- They are willing to and see the advantages of integrating existing information systems with a purpose built CBE platform.
- There is a level of ambition at the school. They see what students need, how the industry is changing and are willing to be a leader in their field.
How does content work in CBE?
Existing repositories of modular content fit well into competency-based curriculum and can provide a lot of resources to draw from. It’s helpful to have a core set of materials right at your fingertips with supplemental material to help with scope. A good CBE platform, ours for example, will render the content directly in the platform to reduce distraction and to allow for better analytics. This material can be authored by the instructor, come from the school’s existing repositories including library resources, or come from outside sources — like open education resources.
How does Sagence help schools launch a competency-based program?
We have and can demystify competency-based education. Through our existing programs and partners we have developed expertise in CBE from curriculum building to student motivation.
Using our authoring platform, faculty can start creating competency-based curriculum on day one.
Our platform is designed around the student, not the course. Students can see at a glance what skills they have mastered and what competencies they still have to complete. CBE allows faculty to up their game because they have a platform to help them focus on those students that need the most support.
The platform also helps schools define the roles that are critical to CBE success: the faculty, who is tied to the course; the coach, who is has multiple student relationships; the grader, who is evaluating against specific rubrics for the competencies.
Everything is tagged on the backend for analytics so as students go through the material, faculty and instructional designers will learn where content in the curriculum is being effective in conveying the appropriate principles. They also learn where they might or need to make changes in the curriculum to meet the different competencies and learning paths. CBE allows faculty to up their game because they have a platform to help them focus on those students that need the most support.
Because CBE requires a different way of thinking about success in higher education, we also provide instructional design support steeped in three years of work with CBEN member schools among others. These and other experts on our staff help schools be successful as they move forward with a CBE program.
We’re already seeing students who have completed degrees through our partners. We also see students who are working through degree programs and have collectively completed thousands of competencies.