3 CBL Tools Teachers & Students Need

Competency-based learning is a powerful approach, but it requires a robust support toolkit.
"CBL shifts teachers away from their traditional role as large group managers and toward a coaching/consulting position. This means communication between teachers and individual students is more important than ever under the new model."

Competency-based learning (CBL) is a classroom approach that ensures each and every student gains the skills and knowledge necessary for success in college and career. CBL achieves this by individualizing the learning experience for each student and moving the teacher into a coaching/consulting role rather than requiring them to “teach the class” all day. This approach empowers students to learn at their own pace, develop problem-solving strategies that work for them and feel a measurable sense of accomplishment at school.

However, competency-based learning also presents new challenges to teachers, administrators and students. The system requires a high degree of communication between teachers and students as well as a rigorously maintained documentation trail that shows exactly what each learner knows and is able to do at a given moment. While this may seem like a lot of “new work,” relative to the way school has been done for the last half-century, online learning management tools exist to assuage these challenges and make CBL work for teachers and students.

Here are three examples of online learning management system (LMS) tools that are absolutely essential to a successful CBL rollout:

Goal-Setting Tools

Since competency-based learning creates a more personalized path to learning for each student, it’s crucial that each learner has a set of clearly articulated goals and objectives to anchor their experiences, keep their focus clear and help them see the endpoints they’re working toward. Online learning management systems can support this work by providing teachers and students with archived goal-setting tools.

Using an LMS toolkit, teachers and students can work collaboratively to identify overarching, “big idea” learning and skill targets and break them into individual steps, competencies or projects. This makes the education process transparently purposeful and creates a workflow in which learners can easily identify where they are in their academic journey and what’s next at any moment. Also, curating these goals in the digital space means that they can’t be inadvertently lost, destroyed or forgotten about, eliminating some of the old problems of the pre-tech classroom.

Resource Library

Any classroom contains students with a wide range of needs, abilities, strengths and interests. Competency-based learning leverages these differences to ensure that each student gets an education that makes sense for them. However, this also means that teachers can’t simply provide each student in the class with the same textbook like we used to do in the old days. To truly make CBL work, teachers and students must work together to create a unique collection of texts, videos and other learning aids that speak to each learner’s style, approach and way of thinking.

Without a learning management toolkit, this work can feel overwhelming. The process of finding diverse resources, vetting them, delivering them to students and ensuring those students use them meaningfully simply isn’t possible using conventional classroom methods. However, using digital tools, teachers can create an individualized space for each learner that functions as an online bookshelf. Students can access these resources at any time from any place, maximizing convenience and encouraging learning to take place in more contexts than ever before. As with student goals, a learning management system guarantees these carefully gathered resources will never be lost, forgotten or unavailable.

Communication & Feedback Interface

CBL shifts teachers away from their traditional role as large group managers and toward a coaching/consulting position. This means communication between teachers and individual students is more important than ever under the new model. Instructors must have an open, two-way dialogue with each and every learner and can no longer wait for assessments to be completed before providing feedback. Due to the social complexities of adolescence, students have often found it difficult to be part of these crucial conversations. Digital learning tools remove this obstacle, however, and invite students to take an active role in a dialogue about learning.

Through an LMS, teachers and students can converse about feedback, question, needs and opportunities for support through an online interface. This creates additional time and space for learning and removes some of the social and behavioral insecurities that have prevented students from having open dialogue with teachers for years. The archived, permanent nature of these communications allows students to access messages or comments from teachers at any time, making it impossible to forget or ignore valuable feedback. Communicating in this high-accountability manner also builds crucial pre-professional skills for students while encouraging teachers to take a hard look at their own communication skills.

Competency-based learning may present some new challenges to the classroom, but tools exist to provide support that enables and enhances high-level learning for every student. If your school or district is embracing CBL, be sure you’ve armed yourselves with the best possible toolkit.