Competency-Based Education

New Free Guide Offers Expert Advice for Achieving Competency-Based Ed

A new report from two organizations that focus on converting schools and districts to the use of blended learning and the competency model lays out a roadmap to help school leaders begin the transformation. "Maximizing Competency Education and Blended Learning: Insights from Experts" from CompetencyWorks and the International Association of K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL), culls advice from 23 experts who attended a workshop specifically to discuss "how to accelerate the transformation of districts and schools to personalized, competency-based, blended learning models."

The competency model is a structural reform that designs learning environments around students demonstrating mastery. The report's primary authors compare the model to driver's ed, in which students pass benchmarks through their training — "successfully turning in traffic, maintaining a safe distance between cars and parallel parking. Students learn to read and understand traffic signs and demonstrate their ability to signal, check for open lanes and make turns." When they've practiced and achieved those benchmarks, they prove mastery through a written test and a "performance-based assessment," the driving test. "You can learn in different ways, but the expectations are the same for all learners, and you must be able to demonstrate mastery through a performance task to earn a license," the report noted.

The new guide offers advice on how to approach the transformation to personalization; how to distinguish between personalized learning, competency education and blended learning as well as how to integrate them; and how to make the most of learning through the blended approach.

The report acknowledged that implementing new practices and policies will take "anywhere from five to 10 years." However, it noted, technical assistance providers — which employ the same experts that provided insights to the report's authors — can accelerate the processes, to help them "take root and spread."

The report concludes with five broad recommendations:

  • Improve professional development, to help teachers prepare to work in classrooms that are personalized, use blended learning and promote "student agency," the ability for students to take ownership of their own education;
  • Upgrade resources to be more comprehensive. That includes planning visits to see how other schools are implementing the competency mode and developing "mechanisms" for sharing information across fields;
  • Develop supportive policies that encourage innovation, such as in how a school designs performance tasks and assessments, while allowing the district level to share best practices from across all of its schools;
  • Encourage a "technology ecosystem" that can support the competency-based classroom; and
  • Engage the community — parents, teachers, students and administrators — early in the process to develop the "vision" for the transformation and to ensure buy-in for the changes.


"Technology has changed how we think about the future of education. By focusing on the research on how students learn, teachers are rethinking and redesigning instructional models to personalize instruction for students," said Susan Patrick, report co-author and head of iNACOL. "In these new personalized approaches, technology is not the driver, but blended learning enables increased access to high-quality content and personalization at scale in ways never before possible."

The free guide is available for download on the CompetencyWorks site.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.