June 28, 2016
The Nellie Mae Education Foundation (Nellie Mae), in partnership with the American Institutes for Research (AIR), has recently released a comprehensive analysis of competency-based education (CBE), an instructional approach that emphasizes what students learn and master rather than time spent in a classroom. The study, titled "Looking Under the Hood of Competency-Based Education," examines the relationship between various competency-based practices and increased student learning capacity. Additionally, the study highlights the varying degrees of CBE practices in schools that have an existing reputation for implementation."Schools across the country are increasingly seeking ways to provide a competency-based education for students, yet many educators are not sure of where to begin or how they can implement this approach to learning," said Eve Goldberg, Director of Research at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. "The framework developed by AIR of learning skills, behaviors, and dispositions and the findings on specific practices can help educators strengthen their practices and gives them the tools to continuously improve their practice. We hope educators interested in making this shift will benefit from this analysis.""Looking Under the Hood" analyzes a variety of competency-based practices to examine how schools implement CBE and determine how it relates to students' learning capacities. Some notable findings include:Learning in contexts outside the classroom (for example, internships) positively relates to increasing students' learning capacitiesThe option for students to learn at a comfortable pace (for example, extra time to finish a topic or unit and the opportunity to retake an exam or re-do a final project) has a positive association with self-efficacy and increasing students' motivation to learnThe option for students to receive both instruction and assessment in a variety of formats, including collaborative group projects, helped students' intrinsic motivationEstablishing clear learning targets was positively related to increasing students' learning capacitiesOverall, the study finds that many students' experiences with CBE-aligned practices were positively associated with changes in learning capacities in several areas, most notably in students' intrinsic motivation for classroom work."Competency-based education varies tremendously from school to school and even across classrooms, so it can be hard to determine if it is working," said Erin Haynes, Senior Researcher at the American Institutes for Research. "This study examined specific CBE-aligned practices, giving us a more finely-honed view of how such practices are related to students' capacity to learn. We hope this research will help inform future efforts to implement competency-based methods across districts, schools and classrooms."