Competency-based education (CBE) offers learners a new choice and a new opportunity to participate in education. The Blackboard Learn and Blackboard Open LMS platforms provide a variety of tools and resources for institutions and organizations that wish to successfully deploy CBE programs.
Implementing a competency-based education (CBE) program often requires major institutional, organizational, curricular, and operational changes. While some institutions have had tremendous success and have been able to scale their programs with high student satisfaction scores, others have had a somewhat modest success or ended up taking longer than expected to launch their first program.
“Even in these last cases, we have seen that the implementation of a CBE program really improved institutions by bringing the different members of the faculty together to think about the approaches that they’re taking in teaching and learning, and it has had a profound impact on the improvement of even traditional programs,” says Wade Weichel, Product Manager for Blackboard Learn.
There are many factors involved in deploying a successful CBE program: Understanding the value that the program will create for the community, collaborating between all the stakeholders, leveraging available resources at the institution or organization, and choosing the right technology to support the interactions between instructors and learners.
Both Blackboard Open LMS and Blackboard Learn have been investing in useful tools and features designed to make CBE a reality. See next how these platforms can help generate value and facilitate the CBE programs implementation.
Pathways to success
To Pablo Borbón, Product Manager for Blackboard Open LMS, a successful CBE program implementation usually involves these five components:
1. Understanding and communicating: the importance of CBE for the organization, and the value that it will create. e.g. how it is going to prepare better learners, potentially save some costs, etc. This helps to get everybody onboard to support the initiative.
2. Identifying the competencies to address, the elements to create, and the materials to support the learning progress.
3. Designing the elements, materials and processes to support the program.
4. Leveraging on technology as an enabler for the CBE program.
5. Reviewing the performance and progress of the initiative and adjust as needed.
To Wade Weichel, the key for developing a successful CBE program is to have a plan and for all the people involved to come together at the very beginning. “It is also important to meet early with the technologists, the IT team, and to think about leveraging the resources that the institution already have.”
The roles of each player in CBE
For a CBE program to succeed, there are specific attributes for each role involved in the process. “Instructors and learners have the main role because they are the ones that really take ownership of the CBE initiative in terms of learning,” says Pablo Borbón.
To Borbón, instructors should provide the materials, offer feedback, and facilitate learning through courses, activities, and contents. Weichel also points out that educators need to be more flexible to support students who are in different places at different times. “The role of the educator can shift in terms of coaching individuals or smaller groups of students who are working on developing a particular competency, and assisting those students enhancing that mastery,” he says.
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Learners should be able to identify their own gaps and needs so they can be successful with what they are trying to achieve. “We’ve seen that CBE is best suited for learners who are older, or more self-directed, or have some workplace experience, because their expectations for their learning experience are slightly different, whereas a more traditional student would perhaps desire more structure,” says Weichel.
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Organizations or institutions
Regarding the organizations or institutions, according to Borbón, they are responsible for getting the project in place, identifying the right model, its importance and its impact, studying the expectations, communicating with all of the stakeholders, managing changes, and establishing the best practices to adopt.
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Supervisors and administrators
Supervisors act like facilitators in terms of providing feedback to all the instructors and learners, providing the right resources for them to be successful and reviewing how the learners are progressing. “Whereas administrators should be able to translate the needs of the institution regarding the CBE program into something that is doable in terms of technology, then properly configure the platform and prepare all that needs to be done in order to successfully achieve the plan of the strategy,” states Borbón.
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Lastly, it is essential to promote collaboration amongst all these roles. “A CBE program really does touch every single function within an institution,” according to Weichel. With several CBE programs there is an important connection to the local and regional employer community. “In many cases, we have seen good success where the employers help design the competency model. Employers are quite pleased with the programs because of the results — it’s not just a grade point average; it’s a map of strengths of an individual that the employer is looking to potentially hire.”
Resources by Blackboard Open LMS
“The most important reason for using Blackboard Open LMS as a CBE platform is that it simplifies and accelerates what institutions and organizations can do in the initiative,” says Borbón. This open source platform allows a great deal of flexibility in how the program can be implemented, and enables organizations and institutions to fit or tailor the initiative and the platform to what they need.
“Blackboard Open LMS presents a set of integrated features and tools that allow institutions and organizations to have information, and review and assess what is happening in terms of the competencies that are being addressed. This allows them to understand what needs to be created in terms of learning content and what will require additional attention from supervisors or instructors,” says Borbón.
The competency frameworks are a way for an organization to create a set of competencies that they want to structure in the platform. “For example, competencies that their students or employees need to develop as part of their performance or their training programs. They can set these competencies there and create frameworks that can have different relationships between each of the competencies. These competencies can be linked later in courses and even at activity or resource level from within a course.” explains Borbón.
Another interesting feature available in Blackboard Open LMS enables the creation of learning plans. “It’s a way of organizing a set of competencies that a specific audience needs to build up. For example, a training program for all of the medicine students with competencies that they should be really proficient at,” says Borbón. The learning plans can also be personalized.
Blackboard Open LMS gives the options to create both structured and autonomous learning plans. In the last case, it is possible to provide a full portfolio of courses available for the student to choose from. “Autonomous learning plans create ownership in terms of the learner being the one in charge for how he or she develops the competencies and this is not limited only to the courses, activities or resources present in the platform as learners can also upload evidences from previous learning and ask those to be reviewed and rated to complete a competency. This generates great opportunities for adult learners.” highlights Borbón.
Features available in Blackboard Learn
Using Blackboard Learn as a platform for CBE offers many advantages, according to Weichel. “There is a maturity in the product and its extensibility in the choice that provides numerous integrations with other sorts of solutions and content providers, and give the curriculum designer the option to develop the best possible CBE program.”
In order to manage the curriculum model and make alignments, there is a feature called Goal Manager. “The institution can define the structure for the competency model and include a hierarchy. They can be aligned to the criteria for evaluation, and the curriculum designer can manage those alignments over time when there is a curriculum change,” explains Weichel.
The ability to understand students’ performance and mastery for individual competencies and the combination of sub-competencies to higher-level competencies is vital to a CBE program. “Blackboard Learn supports that through a feature we call the Goal Performance Dashboard. Students can see their performance on each of the competencies being measured with an individual course or module,” explains Wade. Additionally, there is an aggregation of the higher-level competencies, so students can see those across the program as a whole, as well as coaches and advisors, so they can support students in their learning.
There are ways for the program to identify learning milestones that students have mastered and present those as displayed badges or achievement levels, so the students can track their progress. There are also tools for educators to identify students that are at-risk and those who are far behind or are not engaging regularly, so that they can intervene.
“We’re really excited by the promise that CBE holds about impacting and improving the experience for learners and helping them understand what they have learned through their educational process and be able to articulate that as they go out into the workplace,” summarizes Weichel. “Institutions are using the lessons learned with CBE to improve all of the programs that they deliver. We think that’s really exciting and incredible.”
Rather than offering just one way to partake in a program, CBE expands the choices available for learners and assures that the students are engaged in an approach that is the best match for them. It is up to the institutions to develop a consistent, supporting program, and to make the necessary changes to truly transform the way learning happens.
On left, Pablo Borbón: Product Manager for Blackboard Open LMS at Blackboard Inc.
On right, Wade Weichel: Product Manager for Blackboard Learn at Blackboard Inc.
Photos by Daniel Diusaba (Pablo Borbón), AFP Joshua Lott (Wade Weichel).