Linda Suskie

 A Common Sense Appr​oach to Assessment in Higher Education


What is a competency-based degree?

Posted on October 19, 2013 at 7:45 AM

The idea of competency-based education has been around for generations. Here's what a course would look like if it were competency-based.

1. Your course would have a clear list of what students must know and be able to do in order to pass the course--in other words, learning objectives.

2. Every course lesson and activity is designed to help students achieve those learning objectives.

3. Everything you grade students on is based on how well students have achieved those learning objectives. Things unrelated to those objectives, such as attendance, class participation, or submitting assignments on time don't count toward grades unless things like time management are part of the course's learning objectives.

4. Students must get a passing grade on every course learning objective in order to pass the course. In other words, if you are teaching writing and correct grammar is one of your learning objectives, they must get a passing grade on grammar; an A for a persuasive argument can't average out with an F for grammar to yield a C.

In theory, competency-based degrees could consist of courses designed this way, but in practice they usually take these ideas a step farther. If every course in your program is designed according to these principles, students would earn a degree in your program by completing and passing every assignment in every course. Competency-based degrees consist of all those assignments without chunking them into courses; students do not earn credits or grades for courses passed. Students might also have the option of working through the assignments at their own pace.

Obviously competency-based degrees are not for everyone. But the idea of competency-based education--evaluating or grading students based on whether or not they have achieved important learning outcomes, and not letting an A on one key outcome balance an F on another--is simply good educational practice and something that any faculty member can apply.

Categories: Curriculum & teaching