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Adult Learner > Strategies > Competency-based Learning & Assessment

Competency-based Learning & Assessment


Competency-based learning is self-paced, focused on mastery, and centered around demonstrating learning outcomes and skills rather than where or how they were attained. The emphasis is on what is learned regardless of how long it takes. A main principle is that it seeks to understand and remove bias, which can thus help mitigate negative effects of Stereotype Threat, Adverse Experiences, and Socioeconomic Status. In the workplace, competency-based learning is centered around mastering job-related competencies (skills) that are demonstrated, often through applied projects. Key elements include progression through demonstration of mastery, personalization, flexible assessment, and development of specific skills and dispositions.

Use It In Your Learning Environment

Competency-based learning programs typically include asynchronous, self-paced activities and allow learners to have repeated attempts as part of the learning process toward developing mastery. Adult learners are supported with greater flexibility in balancing their learning tasks and personal responsibilities. Implementation varies substantially and results in differential effects with adult learners based on their Background Knowledge, previous educational experiences, Self-Regulation, and Learner Mindset. For adult learners, high levels of success have been found by pairing competency-based learning with peer coaching/mentoring, ensuring instructor accessibility, providing additional support for goal-setting and monitoring, and/or providing a peer discussion board.

Learners who benefit most from competency-based learning are independent, self-driven learners who have a growth mindset. Since competency-based learning is outcomes-based, the design and implementation of assessments is critical. Assessment design must be clear, accurate, consistent and a measurable means of demonstrating the given skills, which means mapping of the skills to the assessment.

Additional Resources

Additional examples, research, and professional development. These resources are possible representations of this strategy, not endorsements.