Competency-Based Education Part 3: Considerations and Implementation

“Adaptation of the current curriculum is not the goal; rather it is to re-engineer education around equity, achievement, improvement, and customization”

North American March 24, 2022

The CBE approach encourages teachers to co-create, integrate across subjects, use the strengths of each teacher, and team teach, so planning implementation with the full team is essential. The first step of transitioning to a CBE model is a curriculum analysis. Review curriculum learning outcomes and content with your team. Discuss and identify gaps. Next, set up goals, standards, time frames, processes, and potential funding sources. Create a guiding document to keep everyone on track. Network with stakeholders and provide education. Select specialist teams to develop threads to integrate across courses to create a continuum of increasing knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Create digital portfolios or other progression tools for students to track their competencies. 

Determine together where concepts should be introduced, emphasized, and be required expectations. This helps level or scale competencies over time. Then describe what the competencies look like, how competencies are measured, and how students recognize them (AACN, 2021). 

When creating curriculum threads, consider competency introduction, placement and follow through within the curriculum. This process is interactive and takes time, so patience is key. Adaptation of the current curriculum is not the goal; rather it is to re-engineer education around equity, achievement, improvement, and customization (AACN, 2021; Digital Learning Now, 2015). Scaffolding of CBE can happen vertically within a cluster of topics or within the same level. Scaffolding can also be done horizontally across a continuum of time, competencies, and progression criteria. 

There are four overarching questions about curriculum content when starting this process: what is taught, how is it taught, when is it taught, and how is it evaluated (Harden, 2001). Next, another four questions: Is the content complete, is strengthening needed, are there gaps, and is the material repetitive enough to allow deep learning without being redundant (Linton, Knecht, Dabney, & Koonmen, 2019). 

Bloom’s taxonomy can help guide CBE proficiencies and leveling and provide experiential knowledge development (AACN, 2021; Benner, 1984). One way to utilize Bloom’s taxonomy is in writing outcomes. Using the six Bloom’s taxonomy levels of remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, one can complete a simple formula to create high level, scalable CBE outcomes (Teacher, Teaching, 2020). The formula is: One Bloom’s Verb + Content/Concept + Context(s). For example, a learning outcome could be “integrate + advocacy strategies + with multiple populations for the improvement of equitable health outcomes.” This competency-based student learning outcome uses Bloom’s critical thinking level and requires students to show demonstrable and observable critical reasoning.

You can start small with the complete transformation to CBE as the ultimate goal. Find one topic or subject that can be moved to a competency-based approach. Give students time to get used to the CBE approach; it will feel very different and may make them uncomfortable until they grasp their active role in learning. Tether competencies across multiple units within the same topic to deepen learning. Tether competencies across topics to encourage concept integration as students utilize content from multiple sources and to show students the connections between topics.

This is article is the third part of a series of six articles. Watch for part 4 next week!

Read part 1

Read part 2


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.

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