Types of CBE Models in the US: 31 Flavors & Counting — a Collective Call to Action

It’s an exciting time to be in the competency-based education (CBE) community! Many dedicated administrators, faculty, and staff are exploring unique approaches to program design, instruction, student support, and all the other aspects that shape learners’ experiences, all aimed at serving learners better. Although some CBE components are common — for instance, organizing curricula around well-designed competencies — program leaders and faculty have long been creative with and open to program designs that make the most sense for their learners and institutional contexts.

Differences in CBE program design are valuable, but they can present challenges when program leaders try to share across programs. For instance, have you ever found yourself at CBExchange spending 15 minutes trying to figure out your tablemate’s “flavor” of CBE (e.g., whether they’re course-based or direct assessment, what their faculty model looks like, the structure of their competency architecture) before you could address your original question about faculty compensation? Continuous improvement conversations also can be challenging: How do we benchmark against peers when programs have different numbers of competencies or different roles for faculty?

Researchers struggle, too, to communicate CBE outcomes generally and outcomes of different program designs in particular. What models work, and for whom? Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) members said an understanding of how program models vary — to support practitioners and researchers — is the most important research priority in the CompetencyXChange agenda released last fall.

We can solve this together and advance the field, but we need your help. The Postsecondary CBE research team at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), along with C-BEN and an excellent advisory group of program leaders, developed a Postsecondary CBE Program Models Mapping survey. With support and input from advisors, AIR identified many key dimensions where CBE programs vary, as well as the different design choices evident along those dimensions. Now, AIR wants to test this with the community to support refinement; here’s how:

  • AIR and C-BEN will send the survey to a lead CBE liaison at your institution.
  • We ask that the lead liaison share the link with the right program leader(s); then we ask that the program leader take 20–30 minutes to complete the program model mapping.
  • AIR will analyze the responses, including those in the “Other, please describe” sections. We’ll refine the content and share a more user-friendly tool version for public use before the next CBExchange. We will not release identifiable data about each institution’s program models with institution names associated; that part does not become public.
  • Finally, we hope program leaders, faculty, and staff use the tool when sharing or discussing CBE programs across institutions; this includes sharing promising practices and practices or structures that best serve your student population. We want the field to use this tool to facilitate better and more useful research, enabling researchers to study model components or types of CBE and produce better evidence about what works and for whom.
  • We at AIR are thrilled about this effort to advance the field together.

    If you have any questions, please reach out to postseccbe@air.org.

About the Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN)

C-BEN is a network of institutions, employers, and experts who believe competencies can unlock the future of learning — making education and training more flexible, responsive, and valuable. We support stakeholders across the spectrum of competency-based learning, from institutions and employers who want to embed competencies into their existing programs to those looking to design full competency-based degree programs from the ground up. For more information, visit C-BEN.org

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