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Competency-Based Learning

Recently the U.S. Department of Education waived certain rules for federal aid programs, encouraging post-secondary institutions to experiment with competency-based learning assessment. The basic concept of competency-based learning overturns the tradition notion of a time-based degree, i.e., the commonplace that a B.A. requires a defined number of credit hours.

While the accrediting and governmental agencies iron out the details, a growing number of institutions and foundations are blazing the trail toward degrees and certifications that are awarded on a direct assessment of what a student knows not how much time a student has spent in the classroom.

For many institutions competency-based learning is a new offering for a new kind of student. It can make earning a degree possible for people who already have a full-time life and are anxious to move up the professional ladder or finish something they started when they were younger.

What has many experts in the field skittish about competency-based learning is the assessment piece. And this is where a lot of the work in the category is occurring. With the right information about what students have accomplished outside the traditional classroom – and rigorous standards for assessing those accomplishments – institutions can quiet the criticism that they've become diploma mills. Look for data-driven solutions that allow faculty to guide and assess students who are proceeding through a program at their own pace and on their own paths.

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