Competency-Based Education: Comprehensive Guide

Updated On

12 Feb 2023
Competency Based Education

Curious about smart education?

Wondering how it differs from traditional methods and what advantages and hurdles it brings to the table?

These questions are top of mind for teachers, learners, and policymakers as we navigate the demands of the 21st century.

Smart education is a comprehensive approach that uses technology, data, and innovation to elevate the quality and efficacy of education.

It's about preparing tailored, adaptable learning experiences that provide for diverse learners' needs. It also aims to foster collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking—skills vital for the future.

An important part of smart education is Competency-Based Education (CBE).

This method shifts the focus from the time spent on learning to what learners can do with what they have learned. CBE evaluates learners based on their ability to display specific competencies or learning outcomes relevant to their chosen fields.

CBE empowers learners to grow at their own pace, receive continuous feedback, and apply their knowledge in real situations.

In this blog, we'll explore the Competency-based education concept, its advantages, and challenges. We'll provide examples and best practices for implementing CBE across various contexts.

Additionally, we'll explore how learning management systems (LMS) support CBE by facilitating the creation, organization, and delivery of online learning materials.

What is Competency-Based Education?

Let's start with understanding the concept of competency-based education (CBE). Competency-based education evaluates learning based on a student's ability to demonstrate understanding.

Instead of moving through the learning material solely based on time spent, teachers stop and ensure that students have truly grasped the material before moving forward.

Competency-based Education is also known as Outcome-based education (OBE).

CBE and OBE are based on the ideology that learning isn't just about the hours spent learning in a classroom. It's about showcasing learned knowledge through actual skills and accomplishments, going beyond the limits of grades.

This method recognizes the diverse learning styles and needs of individuals, emphasizing the importance of tailored support for optimal learning outcomes.

Although CBE isn't a new concept, it has gained increased attention in recent years. Several factors have contributed to its rising popularity. Some of these include

  • The ever-evolving society demands continuous learning to stay competitive.
  • Advancements in technology have made education more accessible and affordable.
  • Recognition of the value of informal and prior learning experiences is on the rise.
  • The desire for personalized learning experiences tailored to individual needs is growing.
  • Employers are placing greater emphasis on practical skills than traditional academic credentials.

Benefits of Competency-Based Education

Competency Based Education

Competency-based education (CBE) has a lot to offer to both learners and educators.

1. Learner-centered:

CBE places the learner in control, allowing them to set their own goals, pace, and direction. This gives learners the power to take ownership of their education, fostering responsibility and self-reflection.

2. Personalized:

One of the hallmarks of CBE is its ability to personalize the learning experience to each individual's needs, preferences, and interests.

By providing various options, resources, and support systems, CBE ensures that learners receive a customized approach to their education.

3. Flexible:

CBE provides flexibility in both time and location, allowing learners to access educational materials and engage in learning activities at their convenience.

This adaptability enables learners to balance their studies with other commitments, making education more accessible.

4. Adaptive:

CBE adjusts the learning content and pace to match the abilities and progress of each learner. Continuous feedback and guidance help learners improve their performance and overcome challenges effectively.

5. Relevant:

CBE aligns learning outcomes with real-world expectations and standards. This ensures that learners develop skills and competencies that are directly applicable to their chosen field or career path.

This practical approach enables learners to apply their knowledge in meaningful contexts.

6. Transparent:

CBE promotes transparency by clearly defining learning objectives and assessment criteria for both learners and educators. This clarity allows learners to track their progress and understand the expectations, leading to greater accountability and motivation.

7. Effective:

CBE focuses on essential aspects of learning, enhancing its quality and efficiency. By engaging learners in active learning experiences and promoting deep understanding, CBE improves retention and facilitates the transfer of knowledge.

Challenges of Competency-Based Education

While competency-based education (CBE) brings numerous benefits, it also comes with its fair share of challenges and limitations. Here are some of the main hurdles:


Crafting a CBE program requires meticulous planning and design. From defining learning outcomes to creating relevant content, activities, and assessments, it's essential to ensure everything aligns seamlessly across different levels and domains.


Implementing CBE involves a significant shift in the roles and responsibilities of both learners and educators. It calls for strong collaboration and communication among various stakeholders to navigate this transition effectively.


Assessing learners' competencies and achievements in a CBE framework demands reliable and valid evaluation methods. It also requires a diverse and strict assessment approach that evaluates not just knowledge and skills but also attitudes and practical application.


Achieving widespread recognition for learners' competencies and credentials in a CBE system is another challenge.

It requires establishing a credible framework for assessing and validating competencies, as well as creating a common understanding of what these qualifications entail across different contexts.

Now you understand what competency-based education is along with its benefits and challenges. Let’s take a look at

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How Competency-Based Education Works

Competency-based education (CBE) can take shape in various contexts, whether it's formal classroom settings, informal learning environments, or online platforms.

Despite the diversity of settings, there are some key elements and principles that remain consistent across the CBE approach:

Competency architecture:

This sets the stage by outlining the specific competencies or learning outcomes learners are expected to achieve.

These competencies are often organized into different levels (like a program, course, or unit) and domains (such as cognitive, affective, or psychomotor).

Think of it as a roadmap that's specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

Competency assessment:

Here's where we measure how well learners demonstrate those competencies.

Assessment methods vary—from tests and quizzes to projects, portfolios, or simulations—each using criteria like rubrics, checklists, or scales.

The goal? Provide learners with feedback and guidance that's directly aligned with their competencies.

Competency progression:

As learners master competencies, they progress through their learning journey. This progression can follow different models, like linear, modular, or spiral, and strategies such as scaffolding or differentiation, tailored to meet individual needs.

Flexibility and adaptability are key to ensuring learners can navigate their path at their own pace.

Competency recognition:

Once learners achieve competencies, it's time to acknowledge and reward their accomplishments.

This recognition can come in various forms, like badges, certificates, or degrees, adhering to different standards—national, regional, or international.

Transparency and credibility are crucial, ensuring learners and other stakeholders recognize the value of these achievements.

Competency-Based Education Examples: Diverse Models and Approaches

Competency-based education (CBE) is incredibly versatile, fitting into various disciplines, educational levels, and modes of learning. Here are some real-world examples of CBE in action:

Western Governors University:

An online university offering competency-based degree programs in business, education, health, and technology. Students have the flexibility to enroll at any time, progress at their own pace, and pay a flat fee per term.

Assessments are based on tasks and projects, with personalized support and mentoring. The university leverages a Learning Management System (LMS) to deliver online materials and align learning outcomes with real-world standards.


It is an online learning platform providing competency-based programs for students from pre-K to grade 5 in math and reading. The platform adjusts content and difficulty based on individual student levels and pace, offering feedback and rewards.

Progress and performance are tracked and reported to parents and teachers. Similarly, SplashLearn utilizes an LMS for content delivery and alignment with real-world standards.

University of the People:

Another online university offers tuition-free competency-based degree programs in business, computer science, education, and health. Admission is open to all who meet the requirements.

Competency evaluation includes peer-reviewed assignments and proctored exams, supported by academic and career assistance. The university relies on an LMS for content management and alignment with industry standards.

KLEF Deemed to be University:

A university in India offers competency-based education in engineering, management, law, and pharmacy.

The university defines outcomes and assesses competencies through various methods, providing feedback and guidance to students.

Like the others, KLEF utilizes an LMS to manage and deliver online materials while ensuring alignment with industry standards.

Assessment Aspects of Competency-Based Education

Assessment plays a pivotal role in competency-based education (CBE), serving not only as a measure of learners' achievement but also as a catalyst for their learning journey. Here's what assessment looks like in CBE:

Competency Based Education

1. Positive:

Assessment in CBE is more than just a test—it's an opportunity for growth. It empowers learners to take charge of their learning, recognizing and rewarding their efforts along the way.

By fostering a growth mindset and a culture of continuous improvement, assessment becomes a positive force for learning.

2. Meaningful:

Assessment in CBE is all about relevance. It's designed to align with real-world expectations and standards in learners' chosen fields.

Plus, it offers feedback and guidance that's not only timely but also actionable, helping learners stay on track.

3. Flexible:

In CBE, assessment adapts to learners' needs. Whether it's written, oral, or practical, assessment methods accommodate different learning styles and preferences.

Learners have the freedom to choose when and where to be assessed, as long as they meet requirements and deadlines.

4. Diverse:

CBE embraces variety. Assessment methods range from traditional tests and quizzes to hands-on projects and portfolios, ensuring that all aspects of competencies are captured.

Different criteria, like rubrics or checklists, help maintain the reliability and validity of assessment results.

Assessment in CBE falls into two categories: formative and summative.

Formative assessment happens throughout the learning process, offering ongoing feedback and support.

Summative assessment, on the other hand, occurs at the end of the journey, providing a comprehensive evaluation of learners' competencies.

Both types are crucial and work hand in hand, aligned with learning outcomes and competency architecture.


Competency-based education (CBE) prioritizes outcomes over time spent in the classroom. Despite challenges, CBE offers benefits for learners and educators.

Supported by learning management systems (LMS) and adaptable across disciplines and educational modes, CBE holds promise for transforming education.

Competency-based education fosters essential competencies for learners' growth and helps educators personalize learning experiences. Yet, it requires collaboration and ongoing effort from stakeholders, guided by feedback.

Poonam Nathani Author :

Poonam Nathani,

Academic Consultant

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