Fain, P. (2013) Rise of customized learning, Inside Higher Education, March 5
Contact North (2013) Western Governors’ University, The Gamechangers in Online Learning Series, Sudbury ON: Contact North
Competency-based learning allows students to study at their own pace and often allows them to build on previous learning and experience to jump ahead in a program, so long as they can demonstrate through an exam their already existing level of competency. This works very well for adult learners.
Contact North has a full description of how Western Governors’ University works. WGU is perhaps the leading institution in competency-based learning. The Inside Higher Education article discusses WGU’s expansion into Washington State, Texas, Tennessee and Missouri, and also describes some other institutions also moving into competency-based learning.
The one disadvantage of competency-based learning is that students tend to study in isolation from other students (although supported by an instructor), so it tends to be not so appropriate for more qualitative and critical-thinking based subject areas. The advantage is that students can start almost immediately on enrollment, and work at their own pace, sometimes finishing much more quickly than in a paced, 13 week semester..
The big challenge is to align competency-based learning with the North American Carnegie system of credit hours. Institutions such as WGU have to jump through hoops to equate their ‘competencies’ to credit hours in order for students to be eligible for US Federal loans. However, all part-time students are at a disadvantage in qualifying for government loans or grants, whether competency-based or cohort.