Competency-based education (CBE) is gradually being adopted by higher education institutions because of its many benefits such as: 

  • Preparing students for real-world situations
  • Creating an equitable learning environment
  • Objectively measuring what students have mastered and can apply
  • Providing students with flexibility and self-paced learning
  • Improving student engagement in online courses

While there are many benefits, implementing competency-based education in online classes can be a daunting task. The good news is that there are practical strategies in this article to show you how to reap the benefits of CBE and ways to break down the implementation process.

How do you implement competency-based education in online courses?

Before anything else, just remember that implementing competency-based education takes time, reevaluation, and ongoing adjustments. 

“Most institutions are sticking a toe in the water. They’re doing CBE-esque stuff rather than full programs. It takes the totality to really realize the benefits,” said Charla Long, Executive Director of the Competency-Based Education Network.

That said, here are 9 ways to implement CBE in online classes:

1. Get buy-in from all stakeholders

From instructors and instructional designers to department chairs and online directors, getting buy-in from everyone involved in the implementation process is crucial for success and ongoing sustainability and development.

2. Prepare for resistance and encourage advocates

With any change, especially change that affects a person’s day-to-day job, you’ll likely experience those who welcome it and those who resist it. Prepare to address both. 

With those who welcome change, encourage them to be advocates and help others. They can be an early adopter and a great resource for ideas and feedback to improve competency-based teaching and learning efforts in the future.

For those who resist change, it’s important to show them a well-thought-out plan of action and how CBE will benefit themselves, their students, and the quality of their online classes. 

3. Lay out the benefits of CBE and establish goals

Make a list of the ways competency-based learning can benefit the institution and online classes. From there create short-term and long-term goals and learning outcomes.

4. Pick a starting point and leverage expertise

If any faculty have experience with competency-based teaching, ask them to join any implementation and training efforts. Their expertise can help speed up implementation and avoid pitfalls. To help effectively manage initial implementation efforts, pick a small number of instructors and online classes to begin with. Depending on their level of experience with implementing competency-based education, they may be a good resource to help other faculty plan and develop content and curriculum for their online courses.

5. Determine what learning technologies currently exist and others that are needed to implement CBE

Based on your CBE program plan, consider what learning technologies are currently available and what others are needed for successful implementation and continued usability. Make sure that each technology accomplishes what you need and that they can integrate for a cohesive online learning experience. 

For example, does the LMS have the ability to offer multiple question and answer formats? Does it have collaboration tools such as messages and forums? Does it directly integrate with online proctoring software? How are the online exams and assignments protected from potential academic dishonesty?

6. Plan and create course curriculum and content 

This step may take some time, but instructors can be creative and develop their online courses. Based on the CBE plan, which includes the overall goals, build the course curriculum accordingly and develop supporting content. 

To save time, consider existing course content and resources to repurpose for competency-based programs. This includes exam questions, coursework, and learning resources. While some resources may only need to be slightly tweaked, other content may need to be entirely revamped. 

7. Get started

Now that all the foundational work is complete, start implementing the competency-based programs in the online courses. With thoughtful planning that leverages expertise, instructors can successfully implement and avoid many common mistakes.

8. Evaluate success and make adjustments

With any new process, it’s important to evaluate success and make adjustments based on performance. Gather feedback from each instructor and faculty involved in the process and look for commonalities and opportunities to improve.

9. Incrementally scale CBE efforts to additional online classes

After initial learnings and adjustments, look to scale competency-based teaching efforts little by little. If the first round of implementation goes smoothly, incrementally expand it to a few more instructors and courses. 

Tips for How to use online authentic assessments

How to use competency-based education in online classes

Apply real-world situations

Competency-based education focuses on applying skills and knowledge to real-world scenarios. With that in mind, allow students to use tools, software, and resources that they would typically have available in the real world. For example, accountants, for example, use calculators and accounting software in their work, so it’s important to allow those resources in competency-based assessments. 

Use collaboration tools to encourage student participation and discussions

Using various online learning tools such as forums, chat, and messages provide students with the ability to connect with other students to discuss what they’ve learned, ask questions, and collaborate with others in the online class. If students are hesitant to participate, instructors can ask specific questions to spark interest and drive thoughtful discussions.

Most modern LMSs can include a variety of response types in a forum such as embedding videos, audio messages, and images as well as hyperlinking to additional resources that can supplement their response and help others in the course.

Offer extra resources to reinforce learning and mastery

Provide students with additional learning resources for specific course topics that provide more information and context to help reinforce information from the remote course.

The learning resources can be specifically created by the instructor or found outside of the online course such as: 

  • Videos
  • Websites and blogs
  • Podcasts and other audio recordings
  • Relevant television shows and movies
  • Social media groups to join
  • Webinars about specific topics

Regardless of the type, learning resources should be readily available to students to review at their own pace to help improve learning.

Provide formative assessments and low-stakes exams

Formative assessments and low-stakes exams provide instructors with a better understanding of how students are progressing towards the learning objectives of the online course and about their overall learning experience. These assessments should be used as a way to get more information from students rather than grading the response.

The assessment question and answer format can range from written responses and self-assessments to surveys and polls. Another way to help remove pressure from these assessments is to regularly provide them and allow unlimited attempts and time limits. Regularly providing low-stakes exams, such as a practice test, can also help students get comfortable with the technology used in the remote course such as the LMS, remote proctoring software, and video conferencing.

Use competency-based assessments

Competency-based assessments involve more than taking a multiple-choice exam based on memorization – they focus on students applying what they’ve mastered on an ongoing basis. They’re a way for students to prove that they’re competent in the skills, knowledge, and application needed to complete real-world tasks.

CBE assessment tips: 

  • Set expectations: Before the assessment, provide students with explicit test rules, instructions, and what’s required of the student to reduce ambiguity and confusion. 
  • Define success criteria: Assessment success and grading are determined by clear, objective, and consistent success criteria. 

By providing students with test rules, instructions, and objective success criteria, students will have a better understanding of what’s expected of them and what they can expect from the exam. 

How Honorlock’s online proctoring services can help improve competency-based education in online classes

From online exams and gamification to forum responses and group projects, competency-based learning gives students a variety of ways to show what they know and Honorlock’s online proctoring services can help support those efforts and ensure academic integrity.

Remote proctor various types of exams

Honorlock’s remote proctoring software allows instructors to use different online testing formats and third-party exam tools for competency-based exams and formative assessments while still ensuring that integrity is upheld. It helps to ensure that students are demonstrating mastery of your course materials in a fair and equitable testing environment that levels the playing field.

Better insight into student performance

Honorlock ‘s online proctoring software can provide detailed reports and recordings that give insight into student behavior during their online exams. 

Provide scheduling flexibility and convenience

Just as CBE provides students with flexibility in how they learn, Honorlock’s online proctoring services provide students with the convenience of taking their online exams at a time that works for them – 24/7/365.

Support is just a click away at anytime

Students can get 24/7/365 support during their proctored online exams to help ensure their success.

Confidence is key when implementing and using CBE in online learning

Implementing competency-based education in online classes is an initiative that’s worth the time and effort. It allows students to learn at their own pace and inspires confidence that they can apply what they’ve mastered to the real world. It also provides faculty with the ability to better engage students and confidence that students have mastered online course content. 

By proctoring online exams with Honorlock, you’ll also have confidence that academic integrity and reputation are protected and that your students have an equitable test environment to showcase what they’ve mastered.

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