cbe and cbl

5 critical considerations for CBE and CBL implementation

Expert details the differences between CBE and CBL and why these differences matter will matter in your school or college.


3. Then Consider Educational Structure

When you’ve defined a CBL foundation, then make decisions about the educational structure you’ll use to deliver it at your school or institution. How will learners access the competency-aligned learning activities, resources, and assessments? Are there courses, modules, self-serve lessons? Are there instructional components led by teachers and faculty, and/or coaches and mentors to guide and support the learning process? Peer learning? Can learners choose their own activities and resources? Are classes or similar academic units required, or can competency mastery be demonstrated through stand-alone assessments, workplace-embedded performance, and/or documentation of prior experiences, training, and education?


5. You’ll Probably Need CBL and CBE

CBE could combine any of these approaches, but innovation is often constrained by deeply entrenched academic structures, cultural norms, financial bureaucracy, and even the traditional expectations of students, parents and degree-seekers. Understandably, difficult changes in educational business processes make it slow going to get to the benefits of CBE, and in fact these difficulties are fertile hunting ground for anyone who wants to shoot down CBE innovations.

For example, what if you set out to redesign the curriculum, change educator loads and roles, award credit for prior learning, and offer flexibility in term/time structures? How long will it take to make these changes? Other challenging examples from the C-BEN CBE Design Planner include “Progress to graduation is determined by the learner’s development and demonstration of selected competencies” and “new or adjusted financial models.” These are important innovations, but they are likely to take painful years to implement.

Here’s where CBL can help. Even small CBL changes can have an immediate impact on learner motivation and achievement by helping learners understand the value of competencies. The CBE Design Planner provides an extensive range of resources for implementing full CBE programs, but it also explains CBL approaches that are not dependent on CBE business process changes. Straightforward CBL “wins” that can be realized with little complexity include “Learner agency and choice,” and “Competencies are specialized (field specific) and/or cross- cutting (i.e., problem solving, critical thinking).”


5. Visualizing the Benefits of CBL

To visualize these wins, let’s riff on a scenario that’s set up in Communicating the Value of Competencies:

Faculty in the English Department at (fictitious) Mountainside College wanted better ways of understanding what students were learning in different English courses. They wanted learning outcomes that were applicable across the department and also meaningful in courses the students took outside the department. They decided that they would phase in the option to adopt AAC&U LEAP VALUE rubrics in their courses. Most faculty adopted the rubrics for “Critical Thinking,” “Written Communication,” and “Reading,” and many others also adopted “Inquiry and Analysis,” “Creative Thinking,” “Teamwork,” and “Information Literacy.” By using LEAP, they avoided the difficulties of writing their own competency sets, and they borrowed lessons learned from colleagues at other institutions who were already using the rubrics.

The first win was transparency. Students in the courses had a clear understanding of how they would be evaluated on specific criteria such as “Content development” and “Context and purpose for writing.” Faculty understood how to evaluate different types of projects consistently, so they were more comfortable giving students choices. Students also saw the consistency across different English department courses since faculty were using the same rubric. The English department gained transparency outside the department because other faculty knew what to expect from students who had achieved competencies in their courses.

Another win was portability across courses and departments. More and more faculty trusted that students who had been in entry-level English courses were coming into their upper-level courses with specific competencies mastered. This gave them more time to focus on the competencies in their own courses and not remediation.

Mountainside’s career services office recognized the relevance of these competencies not only in courses, but also careers. They created sets of badges for the competencies and provided a process for the registrar’s office to verify them. They held workshops to help students learn how to describe their own competencies and include them in their resumes and cover letters. Students soon began using the badges in their online professional profiles and including evidence of learning, such as writing samples, in their portfolios. They benefited from a clear understanding of the value of the competencies for helping them tell their story to employers.

In this scenario, no one slaved for years over disruptive CBE business process changes. No one fought to the death in faculty senate meetings. No one struggled to attain a multi-million-dollar innovation budget. Which is not to say that larger, more complex CBE pursuits are not important (and in fact they could be critical to the future of higher education institutions).

The key point of this scenario is that learners benefit. They benefit from understanding the value of their learning achievements and how to communicate their competencies. And when changes like this proliferate, even small changes, education provides more value among ecosystems of stakeholders.

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