5 Tips for Building a Successful CBE Program

July 21, 2021
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Competency-based education (CBE) programs are becoming increasingly popular in higher education because they enable institutions to offer students more tailored experiences that can adhere to busy schedules and lives. CBE programs promote student success by allowing learners to progress at their own pace by demonstrating their mastery of a subject. So, what can institutions do to launch a successful CBE initiative?

For sure, institutions won’t be able to launch a CBE program overnight, as these academic strategies are much different and more diverse than conventional educational approaches; decision-makers need to plan out a CBE program in advance to avoid pitfalls.

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Let’s take a look at a few best practices that institutions should consider when building out their CBE program.

1. Tie Academics to the Professional World

When planning and kicking off a CBE program, institutions should begin by identifying the outcomes they want students to achieve. In other words, institutions should essentially start at the end. After meeting with industry professionals and decision-makers in hiring career fields, institutional leaders can reverse engineer the learning programs to ensure that students complete the programs with the demonstratable skills that hiring managers are looking for. Successful CBE programs will bring together student outcomes, employer goals, and institutional objectives.

2. Design Outcomes Around Demonstratable Skills

The traditional higher education academic program incorporates pre-defined, standardized metrics and is built upon past experiences. CBE programs must take on a different approach which circumnavigates conventional outcomes and tactics and instead focuses on skills development and demonstrability.

Conventional learning programs generally consisted of a predetermined series of courses to be taken over a specific period of time to earn an arbitrary grade. In a CBE environment, however, outcomes must be showcased via how well students can demonstrate their knowledge and expertise in a certain area. CBE programs should enable students to acquire, develop, and master the skills they need to capitalize succeed in today’s business world.

3. Encourage Self-Regulation and Accountability

Learner engagement is critical for a CBE initiative to be successful. Unlike other learning programs, however, students must not only absorb and retain information, but they also need to demonstrate their mastery and full understanding of a skill. As a result, CBE programs should be built around engagement and encourage student participation.

Student motivation plays a big role in CBE programs, as they are generally self-paced by the learner. As such, faculty need to encourage self-regulation, as students are driven to learn at their own pace and must be able to make it through the program.

Faculty should also instill a sense of accountability for students; learners should know that their success ultimately depends on them. Institutions can prioritize this accountability by empowering students with the tools and resources they need to progress.

4. Build Robust Programs Over Time

Before launching a full-scale competency-based education program, institutions should start small via a pilot program. In doing so, institutions can identify pitfalls to avoid in a larger initiative, perform regular checkups and evaluations, and learn from their mistakes. It’s always better to fail small and evolve than it is to crash and burn, never to recover.

Meanwhile, institutional leaders should understand that a CBE program doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing affair. CBE strategies can be small, large, or mixed systems that cater to very specific or broad student needs.

5. Use Technology Effectively

A successful CBE approach should be tied to an institution’s student information system (SIS) with room for adaptation and growth. By linking a CBE program with an SIS, institutions can define and configure competencies and categories, track and manage student and group progress, and integrate the program with other solutions used across campus.

As learning expectations evolve alongside changing student demographics and trends, institutions need to adapt and adopt more flexible options that promise to deliver long-term benefits for learners. CBE programs can excel in these times when they are properly planned, implemented, and supported. For more information on the benefits of a CBE program and how institutions can effectively launch a strategy, download our ebook, Competency-Based Education: A Gateway to Drive Student Enrollment and Success.

Jenzabar Student



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