"By presenting each learner with the next logical step in their development and scaffolding it in a way that makes learning seem achievable, teachers can ensure all students are capable of making progress in an environment of support and positivity."
Experienced teachers know that a learner’s feelings of self-efficacy are just as important to the education process as engaging with new material and exploring opportunities for practice. That’s because students are psychologically most primed to succeed when they feel success is achievable using the toolkit of skills and strategies they’ve built through experience. On the other hand, when students feel they lack the skills or knowledge to succeed in an academic setting, the response is generally disengagement, which is the ultimate obstacle to learning.
Competency-based learning (CBL) is an approach that seeks to provide students with a skill-building framework that gradually scaffolds upwards from foundational material to advanced knowledge and skills. That means students learn in a way that ensures they’re always ready for what comes next and don’t move on until they have mastered the material needed to tackle the next step or layer of content. In this way, CBL builds feelings of self-efficacy and preparation in learners, empowering them with the knowledge of exactly what skills they have and what they should be reasonably able to challenge themselves with next.
Incremental Skill Development
The competency-based mindset is highly beneficial for both teachers and learners, as it forces all stakeholders to reexamine both the learning process and classroom practices with an eye toward concrete takeaways: What should all students be able to do at the completion of this unit or class? Which fundamental skills are absolutely necessary to future success? How are complex, advanced skills constructed out of those fundamental pieces? This deconstructed, analysis-driven approach aligns with best practices used across many different industries in the 21st century and ensures learning is transparent, purposeful and achievable.
In a CBL classroom, teachers can begin the year using a variety of assessments, including reports and grades from previous teachers, student-led reflections and self-assessments and whatever baseline tests feel appropriate to gauge both what skills students already have and their general feelings of self-efficacy with regard to whether they feel academically ready to start learning more skills or constructing those existing skills in new, more complex ways. These assessments will probably reveal that learners are at a variety of different places in terms of skill development and self-efficacy, but that’s okay in a competency-based environment!
After those initial assessments are complete, teachers will have a much fuller understanding of both the class as a whole and each student individually, which simplifies both large-group planning and personalized intervention creation. By presenting each learner with the next logical step in their development and scaffolding it in a way that makes learning seem achievable, teachers can ensure all students are capable of making progress in an environment of support and positivity.
Robust Documentation of Success
Competency-based learning also helps learners grasp their own abilities by providing step-by-step, skill-by-skill documentation of what they have already achieved, learned and mastered. By housing those records in an LMS or other long-term digital storage system, educators can provide students with a living record of their educational journey that’s always accessible. Learners can reference this material to check or confirm if they have tackled a certain kind of problem or situation in the past and see what skills and knowledge they used to succeed. On the other hand, when it’s time to tackle something novel or challenging, learners can reference their CBL records to see what existing skills or knowledge they might be able to use to make sense of this new, more complex situation.
By organizing learning into an incremental procedure and documenting progress vigorously, CBL offers teachers and students the ultimate toolkit to remove the word “can’t” from the classroom and remove it with a confident, resounding “can.”