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eLearning Update: Competency-Based Pathways

A new paper, released by the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, or iNACOL, argues that instead of allowing students to progress through the education system based on seat time, we should foster a competency- or proficiency-based learning environment where students move forward once they have mastered each concept or standard.

The report, written by Susan Patrick, the president and chief executive officer of iNACOL, and Chris Sturgis, the founder of MetisNet, which consults philanthropies, starts with a three-part definition of what competency-based pathways are:

  • Students advance upon mastery of learning objectives.
  • Courses are broken down into learning objectives that are shared with students. The learning objectives have real-world applications, which engage students in their learning.
  • Students receive immediate feedback from formative assessments that are aligned with learning objectives.

The report also outlines the keys to successful implementation of a competency-based education system, such as a strong state policy framework coupled with state-led pilots; increased teacher satisfaction; an emphasis on continuous improvement; and early and frequent dialogues with the community about this educational shift.

"The fundamental K-12 education policy of funding students solely on seat-time—this model is outdated, expensive and doesn't help students who need extra time to master concepts or students that are ready to accelerate," said Patrick, in a press release.

The paper also points out the importance of having a protected education environment in which to pilot innovations such as competency-based pathways. This type of system has taken hold in a handful of places, such as the Chugach Alaska School District and the Florida Virtual School, where innovation has been encouraged and protected.

Although online learning is not specifically addressed in the report, there are substantial implications for competency-based pathways in e-learning. Allowing students to progress at their own pace with an online course based on mastery of the content versus time spent on learning objectives is one of the most touted advantages of online learning by virtual learning advocates.

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