What is a Competency-Based Education?

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  • Written By: C. Webb
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2019
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A competency-based education is an education that is goal driven. In a competency-based education, tangibly defined goals are clearly established going into the course, and once the student can demonstrate the skill or goal, credit is given. Competency-based education programs are generally seen in college curriculums but can also be used in lower grade levels and in the workplace.

Though competency based goals have specifically defined parameters, there is some flexibility as to what will be deemed competent. For example, if the desired skill is to be able to read blueprints, the benchmark for competency might be to read them with 90 percent accuracy or 100 percent accuracy. Once the benchmark is established, the student must hit the mark before moving on to the next competency goal.

Competencies are not confined to charts, graphs, and data. A political science student may be required to demonstrate competency in analyzing a political speech. A marketing student could be required to demonstrate the ability to analyze an advertisement by identifying the target market, the strong and weak points of the ad, and in what markets the ad should run. Competencies or learning objectives are subject specific.


Traditional learning usually provides a semester curriculum, and at the end of the semester, the student takes a test to show what has been memorized or learned. Competency-based learning provides benchmarks along the way to demonstrate not so much what has been memorized, but actual, usable skills that are marketable in daily life. Instead of allowing partial learning to pass, such as the case with letter grade education, the student must demonstrate a competency in the skill with a 100 percent performance ability.

Students move at their own pace in competency-based education programs. The outcome goals are defined at the beginning of the class. Once the student can demonstrate all competencies outlined in that curriculum, the student moves onto to the next course. This allows students to take their time in areas that are difficult for them, while moving quickly through areas that are easy for them.

Students seeking a competency-based education should be self-disciplined enough to work toward attainment of their goals. Teachers who work in competency-based programs should be organized, as students will progress at different rates throughout the course. Campuses can use such programs to define degree requirements. Companies can use the program to define advancement requirements.


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