5 Types of people who thrive in a competency-based learning model
Education isn’t one-size-fits-all anymore. We live in a fast-paced, on-demand, customized world—so shouldn’t your education be the same?
Enter competency-based learning. It’s shaking up education as we know it, and for the better. The outcomes for students remain the same—transformative learning, personal growth and expanded career potential. But the delivery differs dramatically, making it more accessible to people like you who are itching to improve themselves through education.
If you’re curious about competency-based learning and what it means for you, keep reading to learn more about some of its big benefits and the types of people who most thrive in this learning model.
First, what is competency-based learning?
You may have taken college courses in the past that were built on time-based systems. You earned credits based on a set number of hours, so even if you mastered the subject fairly quickly, you were still stuck waiting for the end of that particular lesson. On the other hand, if you needed more time, you were forced to move on before you were ready, putting you at risk of falling even further behind.
Competency-based learning is different, and for some students it holds several advantages over traditional, time-based learning methods. Students can demonstrate their mastery of what they already know to move on faster or spend more time learning new concepts.
“You can decide how fast and how hard to go, allowing you to avoid frustration and the feeling of failure,” explains curriculum designer and author Adam Cole. He adds it can keep you from getting stuck in a zone where you never truly grow.
Competency-based learning also offers some serious flexibility for students—not just when they learn, but how they learn.
“Individuals can learn in a way that works best for them,” says Mary Stephens, former college professor and CEO of PrepForward. “Individuals can follow their own learning style, identify their strengths, and focus on their weaknesses.”
Keep reading to learn more about several types of people who tend to flourish in competency-based learning models.
The 5 types who thrive in competency-based learning environments
This is hardly an exhaustive list of those who do well with competency-based learning, but it can help you find out if it’s something that might work for you.
1. The productive parent
If you’re a parent trying to build a better life for you and your family, competency-based learning may be a wise choice for fitting school into your schedule. Whether your children are very young or in school, competency-based learning can easily accommodate your busy schedule.
“Self-paced courses help working parents, because even with the best intentions, parents have to flex with their children,” explains Elizabeth Malson, president of Amslee Institute, which offers competency-based childcare certifications and learning for nannies. She offers the example of a parent who needs to pause their coursework to care for a sick child. “The work will still need to be competed, but the student won't get penalized for not being prepared on a specific topic by a specific date,” Malson says.
Whether you’re fitting your studies in after bedtime or squeezing them in before soccer practice, you’ll have the opportunity to work ahead so you’re prepared when things pop up.
2. The career climber
If you’re trying to take your career to the next level, competency-based learning may be a perfect fit. Your self-motivation will carry you far as you push yourself to progress at your own pace. And you’ll be able to directly apply your career experience to your studies, demonstrating what you’ve already mastered to move more quickly through your courses. On the flip side, your schoolwork may have immediate benefits in your current position.
“CBE courses emphasize learning through real-world application, rather than theory. Students in these programs may find their classroom projects can actually be put to use at work,” explains Hadassah Yang, Associate Vice Chancellor of Institutional Research and Planning at UMass Global University. “For example, a student working in the supply chain field was able to create a manual to use at work in their operations management competency.”
And because you’re a working student, the flexibility of competency-based courses will help you fit school into your life without having to put your career on hold.
“Choosing to go to school while you're working allows you to gain more work experience while learning new skills that can help you advance in your career,” says Camille Canuto of Smartsims Business Simulations. She recently went back to school, completing a competency-based program while working. “You will need to learn how to manage your time well and learn to prioritize your tasks,” Canuto says. “This is a great to skill to hone as it will help you excel in your workplace—and it's a great addition to your resume.”
3. The military maverick
Whether you’re a veteran or active duty member of the military, competency-based courses may best serve your academic needs. You aren’t just motivated—you have an unparalleled amount of discipline. This will take you far in competency-based programs, where you need to keep yourself accountable on your progress.
“Those serving in our military may have times of deployment or short-term missions or training,” Malson offers. These can interfere with a traditional course structure as the student may not be able to participate for several weeks. “A self-paced program allows students the option to work ahead or catch up as needed to maintain their [military service] as their first priority.”
If you’re a veteran, you could benefit from competency-based education that recognizes the skills you’ve developed while serving your country. You’ll be able to move more quickly through areas you’ve already mastered in your experience and focus on learning new material to achieve your end goal sooner.
4. The midlife career changer
Like the career climber, you’re likely pretty busy with a jam-packed schedule. If you’re thinking of going back to school to pursue a new profession, you’ll need a program that’s flexible enough for you to keep up with the demands of your current position. Competency-based learning might just be the ideal fit for you.
However, you may be hesitant about going back to school. Perhaps it’s been a while since you were a student. You may never have taken a class online, let alone a competency-based course. But don’t be intimidated. As a midlife career changer, you have more wisdom and life experience that you can leverage in your learning. And you can spend more time brushing up on the subjects you feel rusty on. You may end up finding that competency-based learning suits your learning style.
“With self-paced learning, students who learn faster can move forward with the modules on their own time, while students who learn at a slower pace can take their time to understand a particular topic at their own pace,” Canuto explains.
5. The nightshift worker
Maybe you work nights. Or perhaps your work schedule is entirely unpredictable. In that case, fitting a traditional school program into your schedule can be even trickier. Malson says competency-based learning could be ideal for those who need to work ahead or catch up due to their unusual work schedules.
“This is especially true for nurses, emergency dispatchers, rideshare drivers and all others who have non-traditional work hours,” she says. Malson also mentions students can take advantage of a flexible schedule to study when they’re most able to engage.
If your schedule is unpredictable, competency-based learning programs will allow you to avoid the hassle of scheduling work around classes and vice versa. For example, if you’re a nurse and if you don’t have a set schedule, you can log in during the morning to work on your coursework before your shift, explains Yang. You can pursue your dream career whenever it’s most convenient for you.
Evolutionary education for learners like you
If you’re thinking of going back to school, investigate your options. You have choices, and you may find that competency-based learning could be the best fit for you to achieve your personal and professional goals.
The old school is giving way to the new school, and education is becoming more accessible to more people because of it. Join the higher education revolution and start exploring your options. You just might find that going back to school is more realistic than you originally thought.
Looking for a place to start? Check out the UMass Global MyPath competency-based learning programs crafted for working professionals in today’s nontraditional world.
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