Competency-Based Education Part 4: Design and Differentiation

“When considering the elements of design, student empowerment, measurability, and transferability to multiple contexts should drive learning outcomes.”

North American March 31, 2022

Once you have identified your competency threads and planned your implementation strategies with your team, the next step is to consider design and differentiation. 


The design of CBE should be done within the framework of a high access environment. This means that there should be a strong integration of online and adaptive technologies to provide students with frequent, meaningful learning opportunities and feedback (DLN, 2015). 

The basic components of curriculum, such as learning objective, learning experiences that maximize effect, and the evaluative process, are all present in CBE (Tyler Rationale, 1949). What is different is the addition of revision or agility factors to the evaluative process as students progress from novice to mastery (Pinar, Reynold, Slattery, & Taubman, 1995). The alignment of program outcomes with national standards and Adventist education standards also remains, driving curriculum outcomes. However, the language may change somewhat from a concept or topic focus to a competency focus. When considering the elements of design, student empowerment, measurability, and transferability to multiple contexts should drive learning outcomes (Bailey et al, 2015). Students should have a clear understanding of the competencies they are striving for and should frequently use competencies to guide self-directed learning and reflection.  


Differentiated learning is based on knowing your students. The focus on participation and progress is central rather than attendance or seat time (DLN, 2015). With differentiation, students receive frequent, individual support based on their unique learning needs (Bailey et al, 2015). In a traditional classroom, with a topic focus, this may seem like a daunting task. However, in the CBE classroom, a differentiated approach is built into the processing model, with students given the ability to actively control their own discovery. This takes the onus away from the teacher of trying to create differentiated teaching strategies and empowers the student through discovery within the competency framework while being supported by learning coaches to maximize student ownership of their own learning (DLN, 2015). Learning coaches can also positively support teachers and parents.  One of the other keys to successful CBE implementation is creating an environment rich with responsive learning opportunities within the larger context. This is the utilization of a highly agile system that allows for flexible entry and exit to courses or units of study, that fosters different progression paces for individual students, and allows students to demonstrate partial mastery and advancement according to understanding and demonstration of specific competencies, rather than requiring level mastery of all subjects at the same time for advancement (DLN, 2015). Perhaps this component creates the most potential barriers for teachers and school systems. Ideally, students have access to learning experiences over a wide expanse of time instead of only within a given timeframe. Digital competency tracking tools or student portfolios can help foster and monitor longitudinal competency acquisition for both teachers and students and make this agile approach more operational.

This is article is the fourth part of a series of six articles. Watch for part 5 next week!

Read part 1

Read part 2

Read part 3


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.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *