Online Learning

Self-paced learning: What to expect from a CBE program

In the digitally-saturated world we now live in, advancing your education has become more accessible than ever. Gone are the days when driving to and from classes at a brick and mortar college was the only option for busy, working adults like you. Competency-based education (CBE) is even starting to make typical online programs seem like a thing of the past.


Competency-based learning models enable students to experience the same outcomes we expect from traditional programs — transformative learning, personal growth and expanded career potential — with the added convenience of an online program that’s customizable and self-paced. And there are several types of busy adults who might thrive in a competency-based learning model.


But before you commit to enrolling in a CBE program, it can be helpful to get a better grasp on what you can expect as a student. We spoke with two of University of Massachusetts Global’s own CBE experts to learn more about how self-paced learning models work.

How does self-paced, competency-based learning work? 5 elements to consider

Competency-based learning models were created to help free busy students from the restrictions common among time-based systems that award credits based on a set number of hours. CBE, on the other hand, takes into account that some students may master certain subjects faster than others. Those same students could find they need some extra time to grasp a different subject. Self-paced learning programs allow students to speed up or slow down as needed.


Consider the following five aspects of University of Massachusetts Global’s self-paced, CBE programs to learn more about the benefits you could reap from this type of innovative learning model.

1. Self-paced programs are flexible

Dr. Monica Shukla-Belmontes, assistant professor of business administration and associate dean of Corporate Pathways and competency-based education at University of Massachusetts Global, notes that self-paced programs can make balancing responsibilities more manageable. “Traditionally, full-time working adults have to go to classes after their workday and then squeeze in time for homework after the fact,” she explains.


Dr. Margaret Moodian, tutorial assistant professor of humanities and social sciences at UMass Global, says the flexible format of CBE is great for working adults. “Schoolwork isn’t due at one time each week — students complete their projects when it is convenient for them, at any time or any place.” Dr. Moodian elaborates students can work around family obligations or a busy season at their job.

2. Competency-based learning is customizable

CBE learning models divide degree programs into a number of different competencies that students are expected to master. The beauty of CBE programs is that students have a hand in determining which competencies they want to tackle when, and how quickly they choose to do so. Dr. Shukla-Belmontes explains that each UMass Global CBE student works closely with an academic coach who maintains a full list of all the competencies required to complete their program.


“Each term, students are given a bundle of competencies, which they can work through as fast as they want,” she outlines. “Once they complete one bundle, they’ll be rolled out into the next bundle of competencies.”

3. You can reap the benefits of subscription-based tuition

The convenience of moving through your degree program at your own pace is hard to ignore. But how does that work when it comes to tuition costs? Most CBE programs use a subscription tuition model. University of Massachusetts Global students pay tuition for every 24 weeks spent in the program.


“Within those 24 weeks, your academic coach will provide you with your bundles of competencies and help you set goals for yourself,” Dr. Shukla-Belmontes says. “Students will work through as many competencies as they can — the faster students work through the content, the more affordable their degree will be.” All of the textbooks and class materials required for UMass Global’s CBE programs are built right into the platform, minimizing any extra fees related to materials.


Subscription tuition isn’t just beneficial for the ways it empowers students to move through their programs at a faster-than-normal pace. “Students should also note that the subscription tuition model allows them to take their time with certain courses that may pose more of a challenge for them,” Dr. Shukla-Belmontes adds.


This can help students avoid the harsh reality of having to take a course (and pay for it) twice due to an unsatisfactory grade. Instead, they’re afforded the flexibility to slow things down to a pace that allows them to truly absorb the material.

4. Prior work experience can give you an advantage

Self-paced, CBE programs also take prior and current work experiences into account. “When students have prior work experience, they can quickly progress through competencies that they are already knowledgeable about and take more time on the ones that are more difficult for them,” Dr. Moodian says. This is more beneficial than a time-based learning model, she adds, because it requires students to progress through them at a pre-set pace, regardless of whether they’ve mastered the material.


Dr. Shukla-Belmontes explains that while students can’t “test out” of certain competencies, their prior experience will help them demonstrate their mastery of the material sooner. “Students can, however, transfer credits in to waive certain competencies,” she clarifies.


CBE programs may even allow students to apply their coursework to real-life work scenarios. One of Dr. Moodian’s students was given the opportunity to present his analysis and recommendations from an assignment in his competency-based program to his colleagues, who then committed to implementing his suggestions within the organization.


“It was empowering for him and gave him visibility at work,” Dr. Moodian says.

5. There’s a support system available to students

One fear some have when it comes to an online, self-paced program is that students may be left to their own devices to figure things out. Quality CBE programs take extra measures to ensure there’s ample support made available to students. Dr. Shukla-Belmontes explains how this works at University of Massachusetts Global.


“You have the coaches there for academic and moral support, and faculty act as the content support,” she offers. “If students are stuck on a question or project, they can reach out to their faculty member at any time and expect a response within 72 hours.”


Dr. Moodian explains that students can arrange to meet with faculty members in their online offices whenever needed. “Students have told me it is oftentimes the relationships with faculty and academic coaches that make this program so special.”


The UMass Global University team has also worked hard to establish a thriving community among its CBE student base. Dr. Shukla-Belmontes says there are regular community meetings and a student newsletter put together by academic coaches.

Find success with self-paced learning

You’re now armed with more information about how a self-paced, CBE program could actually work. As you contemplate the educational requirements that can help you rise to your professional goals, perhaps you envision yourself finding success with a competency-based learning model.


If so, head over to the MyPath information page to learn more about the opportunities that could help unlock the next phase of your career.





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