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

By May 15, 2017 No Comments

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 Learning Management System (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

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

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.

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.

Competencies in a Hierarchical Structure

In working with Competency Frameworks, grasping the competency rules is helpful to gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the hierarchical structure. It’s easy to understand a simple competency setup where competencies are at the same level and completion of that competency from a course triggers the completion of the competency within a learning plan.

But most of what people have in mind is more complex than that. We want to see progress toward the competencies either in building to proficiency in a single competency or acquiring multiple skills or competencies toward a broader level. Competency rules let you add some of that complexity into the equation.

We’ll use the following competency framework to illustrate, and our example will not involve manual reviews.

cbe hierarchy

In this trimmed down example, we have a Main competency with two sub competencies that each have two foundational competencies or skills. We’ll set up rules so that the foundational competencies are automatically rated foundational, and completion of both foundational competencies automatically triggers a Basic rating for the Sub competency. We will also establish rules so that completion of the two Sub competencies triggers completion of the Main competency with an Advanced rating.

How Competency Scales Matter

A scale determines how proficiency is marked for a competency, and the first step to building out competency frameworks is to select or build the appropriate scale. Keep in mind that at least for now, completion of activities triggers competencies.

In the case of the default competency scale the levels are complete/not complete. If completion of a course or activity automatically marks the competency as complete the learner will never see the not complete rating unless there is a manual review or override.

Most competency frameworks benefit from custom scales that align with your existing nomenclature or the way you want these reflected to the learners. Some examples of those are:

  • Not yet competent, Competent
  • Working on, Demonstrates underlying goals
  • NE (not evidence), NY (not yet), D (developing), P (proficient)
  • Unsatisfactory, Inconsistent, Effective, Highly Effective, Exceptional
  • Foundational, Basic, Advanced

When you add a competency to the framework, you have the option to select your scale, and then it needs to be configured to mark as you expect. There are two options you want to define—the default rating and the ratings that trigger proficiency.

The item selected as the “Default” is the rating given when completion of an activity or course automatically marks a competency. The items selected as “Proficient” are the ratings that trigger a yes/no letting the learner know if their current level is an indicator of proficiency.

When adding a new competency, options are available to inherit the scale and settings from the framework or set it to something different. You could select a whole other scale, but in our example, we’ve used the same scale and adjusted the default and proficiency settings for the Main, Sub, and Foundational competencies.

In the screenshot below from our example for the sub-competencies we’ve selected “Basic” as the default scale value, while marking Foundational, Basic, and Advanced as levels for proficiency.

cbe level scale

Competency Rules

If a competency has sub-competencies, you can configure the completion rule for the competency. If not specified, no rules are applied so the competencies are triggered the same as other competencies by completion of the course and activities that are linked. The default rule used in our example is “Completed when all sub-competencies are complete.”

cbe competency rules

In this case for the Sub competencies we have not linked courses or activities to this competency, but instead will use mastery of the foundational (or child) competencies to trigger the Basic level of mastery. Likewise, we used Basic mastery of the Sub competencies to mark Advanced mastery of the Main competency once the Sub competencies are rated.

The screenshot below is for a learner who has completed Foundation 1, 3, and 4 competencies. Since 3 and 4 are both marked complete with a Foundational rating Sub2 is automatically marked with a Basic rating. Sub1 is not yet rated or marked proficient since Foundation 2 is not yet rated. Once the learner has a rating for Foundation 2, Sub1 will be marked Basic and Main will be marked Advanced.

cbe learning plan competencies

In a similar example, you could have a set of child competencies where the default might be ‘working on’ then once they collect all the child competencies the parent competency default is ‘complete’ or ‘demonstrates underlying goals.’

The other main competency rule option is to use points-based criteria. In the example shown below, there is a parent competency with five child competencies. On the parent competency, we’ve defined a competency rule to mark it as complete when the learner has completed four points worth. All five of these child competencies use the three-level scale we discussed earlier and trigger a Foundational rating. Apart from that, we’re able to give each competency a distinct point value within the competency rule.

cbe competency rules

You’ll notice for the five competencies, two are low value and only worth 1 point each, two are mid value and worth 2 points each, and one is a higher value and worth 4 points. In this example, maybe Option 5 is a day-long course with a known effectiveness covering lots of material about the parent competency. Options 3 and 4 might be courses with several exercises and assessments but are less intensive, and Options 1 and 2 might be just an assessment. Requiring 4 points allows the learner to mix and match so they could fulfill this competency by:

  • attending the day long course
  • completing Option 3 and 4
  • completing Options 1 and 2 plus one of 3 or 4

This is just one example of how the points-based rule could be applied to automatically mark completion.

Options other than completing the competency

For the examples presented here, we’ve considered only options to automatically mark completion. It’s not always the case this is the best or only option.

In working with competencies and developing frameworks and learning plans, also consider times when it may be more appropriate to simply attach evidence or recommend a competency. When a completion rule triggers a recommendation, the evidence will be added to the competency, and the system will request a review of this competency by a person with the appropriate role.

Learn More

You can also watch check out eThink’s presentation at the 2017 U.S. Moodle™ Moot on Forging a Path with Competency Based Education by our Vice President of Services, Courtney Bentley, and Director of Support Services, Claire Machia!

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