I attended a webinar yesterday; A Northeast Region View of Competency-Based Learning: Definitions, Policies and Implementation, where there were some great discussions happening around competency-based education (CBE) in the chat window. Just as the webinar was coming to a close, a comment was made, “CBE is not technical reform.” And like a needle scratching across a record, the webinar ended with that token of misinformation that holds the potential to further slow the success of CBE.

CBE may not be technical reform but, CBE certainly needs technology to push to a place where it can succeed. This is where all the stakeholders can have insight: teachers, advisors, parents, and students. And, this is where students can actively engage in their education—not your education, not my education—their education.

 

Perspectives on CBE technology

Everyone comes to the metaphorical CBE table with their own perspectives and experience. But, (and this is what I’ve said to anyone in education policy that will listen) CBE needs an agile, adaptable platform that allows stakeholders to monitor progress. Depending on the knowledgebase and experience of the audience, it is either met with nods of agreement, or with old-school stonewalling and blockade.

As a high school educator, I can attest to the inability to monitor 120 individual student progressions per semester without technical support. Additionally, as a practitioner, I also know that any supporting technology needs to be intuitive and agile to support the flexible, anywhere-anyplace-anytime learning. This is essential to CBE success, and the student learning outcomes education needs to demonstrate in order to prove that it is not a broken system.

 

CBE is not new

In doing some recent unrelated research, I found that competency as a means of evaluation is an idea that has conceptually been around for a really long time. So long, in fact that I discovered an article about evaluating students based on competencies that predates me (and I’m a mid-lifer)! This discovery was so staggering to me, as an educator who, for the last 10 years, has heard so much about this “new paradigm shift” to competencies. The truth is, in education, we’ve been attempting to evaluate based on competencies for over 40 years.

When you look across the landscape of 40 years of research there are certainly improvements, but they are slow—likely because of legacy thinking and bureaucracy. What is a teacher to do with so much research and so many experts?

Every day, there’s a new article to contradict something written the day before. And somehow, doing what is best for our students gets lost in the endless research. As an educator, I know that this constant barrage of tried and failed initiatives can lower the morale of our most valuable stakeholders, causing analysis paralysis. And, even the best leaders and educators can become mired in this.

 

Teachers need to be agile

The most important thing we can do in education is understand our students, learn from the research, and apply what fits. We can’t afford to be trapped by a limited view that prevents us from doing what is right simply because it’s what has always been done.

As teachers, we need to act, be agile, be adaptable (yes, we can be adaptable, not just software). Experiment, instruct, analyze, adjust. Repeat.

CBE cannot exist without personalized education. The idea that students can learn anytime, anywhere enables CBE success. Without this adaptability and flexibility, there is only traditional education masquerading as something that is competency based. In the same way, without an adaptive platform, teachers will not be able to address the needs of each individual student as they work toward demonstrating proficiency.

I know there is some fear that technology is replacing teachers. That’s merely a red herring. The fact of the matter is that technology—like the technology Motivis Learning is creating—is another tool in the toolbox. A toolbox that should be used to enhance teaching, free teachers from repetitive administrative burden, enable them to try new things and well, teach. Our goal is to create better student interactions, not replace them. Relationships are the key to student success, and we need great teachers to facilitate and mentor students as they engage in their education.

Educators, like all professionals must adapt and evolve to reflect changes in technology and pedagogy. We are more than just teachers. We are advisors, counselors, friends, mentors and in some cases, a parent. We adapt and evolve based on the conditions of our environment, the needs of our students and the latest data that supports student success. We need to take that same adaptive mentality and apply it to the way students learn. Each student is an individual with constantly evolving psychological and emotional needs.

CBE allows educators to turn up the volume on personalized and individualized education in a holistic, student-centered approach. Ensuring that this is truly their education.

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