Competency-Based Education, Part 1: Introduction

“Historically, education has been delivered through a systems-focus approach, with the priority put on content acquisition and standardized test scores.”

Curriculum March 10, 2022

According to Rauschenberger, Schulte, and Van Eerden, competency-based education is an educational model where students learn at their own pace, online learning is not tied to the credit hour or academic time frame, and the focus is on developing secure and reliable learning resources and assessments, available anywhere and anytime. In this 6-part series, we will explore competency-based education (CBE) and its potential for providing equity, transparency, student motivation, creativity, and an environment of ‘learning together.’ We will consider several aspects of CBE including its definitions, rationale, implementation strategies, assessment, evaluation, student reflection, mastery, progression, and the benefits to students, teachers, and parents. 

The American Association of Colleges of Nursing notes that CBE emerged in the 1960s and 1970s from teacher education programs as a way to improve teacher preparation and accountability. In the 2000s, CBE became more clearly defined by academic and industry knowledge experts. 

It seems what was good for teacher development is also great for student learning. Although it was originally developed for use by adults, principles of CBE can be applied to all levels of education if implemented in age-appropriate ways. However, this approach to education is often seen as impractical or falls outside of state or province education requirements. Except in a few parts of the world, the school year is still completed within an eight to ten-month timeframe and students are expected to progress to a new grade each year.

Levine (2021) notes that education has historically been delivered through a systems-focus approach, with the priority put on content acquisition and standardized test scores. Content becomes the focus, as teachers try to fit all of the textbook chapters into one academic year. When some of the content never gets covered, teachers wonder whether their students have learned enough to progress successfully or whether they have gaps in their learning that will cause problems moving forward. There is a worry that instead of mastery, students may advance from grade to grade with increasing losses of portions of many subjects. Equity is lost in the name of keeping students moving forward, and students may not learn the value of mastery at all. Seat time can easily become the default priority in a systems-based approach. In part 2 of this series, we will look at how CBE changes that focus and assures that students are able to progress successfully.  

This is article is the first part of a series of six articles. Watch for part 2 next week!


Sharon Aka

Sharon, PhD, is a consultant full time, currently working for 4 organizations: Adjunct Faculty at Andrews University in the graduate leadership department, Adjunct faculty at Notre Dame of Maryland University - leading their School of Nursing Competency-based Curriculum Revisioning, a researcher and author with the NAD Center for Research and Evaluation, and works half time for the General Conference as a contractor with the Virtual Exhibition Team and the Adventist COLLECTIVE. Sharon worked as the Associate Director of the Adventist Learning Community & Associate Director for the North American Division Office of Education. Sharon is a Registered Nurse by trade, with 16 years experience as Surgical Nurse and Nurse Educator at The Scarborough Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. She also has 11 years experience as a Professor of Nursing and Professional Development Specialist for faculty at Humber Institute of Technology & Advanced Learning in Toronto, Ontario.


  • | March 11, 2022 at 8:23 am

    Sharon. As always, tight and well-reasoned. Clear writing and an impactful message. Thanks for your writing ministry, along with your other gifts.

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