Competency-Based Education: What is it and how is it being used in Moodle?

By May 15, 2017Blog

As mentioned in our reflections from OLC Innovate, competency-based education (CBE) and alternative credentialing are on the minds of many educators. While this has been a large component of on-the-job training and classroom activities for many years, there is a renewed focus and desire to apply CBE to the larger picture of training and education.

Competency-based education by nature is highly personal and with highly personalized education comes the challenges of customization and tracking, specifically customizing a learner’s path or plan and then tracking assessments, learner engagement, and progress.

Where to start

The LMS is naturally one of the first places institutions look to provide the customization and tracking that accompanies CBE. We’re thrilled that Moodle took the plunge to begin this work. And we say begin because there is still room for growth and depth, but it’s certainly a good start at a moment that there are a number of proprietary closed-source systems jockeying to take the edge on supporting CBE. From our perspective, one of the challenges with many of these systems is that they only support CBE so for institutions with lean budgets looking to get in the CBE game with a single program, the investment in an additional system(s) can create extra costs and perpetuate institutional silos.

Long-term Moodle users will recall Outcomes in earlier versions as a method of grading, and while they obviously share some similarities this iteration is not the same. The original outcomes were limited mostly to a grading method with limited reporting and visibility across the site. The Competency Framework and Learning Plans introduced in 3.1 take a much broader stroke.

Competency Framework

As the moniker suggests, this was developed as a framework so there is much more flexibility and room to interpret your particular use case for competencies (or concepts, domains, skills, values). As you begin to create a new competency framework, you’ll immediately see the ability to define the terms that make sense within your framework and configure scales to match the way you measure the competencies.

Competencies can be added to create a hierarchy and rules can be applied with flexibility so that outcomes can be marked in different ways. Completion of activities or courses can automatically trigger the default competency rating, send a notification for review, or in the case of hierarchical competencies, trigger completion when all child competencies are met or other completion rules are met. The competency rules make it possible to grant points to each child competency and allow learners to collect sufficient points from different competencies to have a parent competency met.

competency framework hierarchy

View of hierarchical structure in a competency framework.

After establishing the competency frameworks, competencies can be connected to courses across the site or within a category of courses. This begins to create the connection of material across the curriculum, program, or institution. Competencies can be tied to specific activities and resources within the courses, thereby creating a way to view the variety of ways learners can begin gaining knowledge toward specific competencies.

Use Cases

Even if your organization is not developing full competency-based programs, you may identify other areas where the competency framework could be used. A couple of examples to get you thinking about those would be:

  1. Institutions who have created writing across the curriculum or STEAM integration projects could create those program elements as a competency framework. Instructors could then identify competencies that will be covered in their course and map them directly to the assignments where students will focus on those skills. Program managers could then see assignments across the curriculum where writing (or technology or art) is a focus to meet these requirements.
  2. Employee development plans are another place to start. Most organizations have some combination of annual required training plus individualized courses of professional development. Create competency frameworks for these and map them to the training efforts across the Moodle site for a broad view of the training.

Learning Plans

With competency frameworks comes the ability to create learning plans. Learning plans allow for the assembly of competencies creating a map of sorts so learners clearly see where they will begin to learn and demonstrate their knowledge. Learning plan templates can then be assigned to individuals or cohorts of users. Users can see these plans and their personal progress from their profile page or within the Learning Plans block that can be added to the user dashboard.

Learning Plan Block

View of the Learning Plans block on the user dashboard.

Learning plans are the place where the tracking becomes personal. Templates can be applied to the user, but each plan could be further customized by the learner or an academic coach, manager, or other user with the ability to edit learning plans for others.

Learning Plan User Details

View of a learning plan, which gives an overview of competencies and learner progress.

Depending on the underlying assignments, assessments, and courses tied to competencies, learners could work toward achievements of different competencies within different time-frames. While default ratings can be set to trigger based on completion settings of activities and courses, reviewers can do more in-depth evaluation to elevate ratings.

Competency-Based Education in Moodle

While on the topic of reviewers, academic coaches, managers and other roles, it’s worth mentioning this as another major benefit of considering CBE within Moodle’s mature platform. As those who are familiar with Moodle are already aware, an extensive set of capabilities allow for roles to be constructed with varying capabilities. This means as organizations develop their CBE programs to provide student supports and program oversight, the appropriate roles can be configured and assigned within the site, providing the flexibility to use Moodle to support the program you create and not forcing your program to fit a generic model.

As you can see, there is a lot to explore when it comes to competency-based education and one blog post doesn’t even begin to cover the possibilities. However, I hope that this article was able to provide a general understanding of CBE and the goals that can be achieved by integrating this type of education into your learning strategy!

Stay tuned! We will be taking a deeper dive into competency-based education in subsequent blog posts!

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