March 29, 2016  

What is competency-based education?

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - As the first baccalaureate program of its kind in the nation, Purdue Polytechnic Institute’s transdisciplinary studies in technology degree offers a unique approach to competency-based education (CBE). While the CBE concept has existed for decades, it remains misunderstood by some. Here is a synopsis of CBE and Purdue’s program:

What is competency-based education?

  • Competency-based education is an approach in higher education that focuses on learning as the constant rather than time - what students can do with what they know. It began in the 1960s as a way to link learning outcomes to real-world applications.
  • Students are empowered by being provided with direct and measurable learning objectives, which emphasize creation, application, integration and transfer of knowledge. They receive rapid, differentiated support. Assessments are meaningful, positive learning experiences.
  • The U.S. Department of Education has identified three approaches to competency-based programs: a course/credit-based approach, a direct assessment approach and a hybrid approach. Purdue’s program, Transdisciplinary Studies in Technology (TST), incorporates a hybrid approach.

Purdue’s approach to CBE

  • Based on research, Purdue Polytechnic Institute’s TST program is the first to offer the combination of individualized plans of study (combining technical disciplines with humanities and business), close faculty mentoring of students and a competency-based approach at a university with high research activities.
  • There are other institutions that offer CBE. Alverno College, for example, has been institutionally committed to abilities-based learning for some time, but its majors are traditional, such as biology, nursing and history. Many other CBE programs tend to be online and/or for non-traditional or adult learners.
  • Each faculty member serves as a mentor - a “guide on the side” rather than a “sage on the stage.” For students, faculty mentors augment academic advisers.
  • Highly individualized plans of study allow students to create personalized blends of technical disciplines from Purdue Polytechnic with humanities, social science and business.
  • Studio/seminar learning environments comprise 35 percent of the plan of study.
  • An electronic portfolio showcases mastered competencies.

What does this mean for students?

  • Students will be able to individualize their learning through personalized plans of study, which blend Purdue Polytechnic’s technology-focused disciplines (computing and graphics, construction management, engineering technologies, leadership and innovation, and/or aviation technologies) with other fields, such as humanities and business.
  • Faculty mentors will guide students through their educational journeys.
  • Competency-based components and e-portfolios of completed projects will showcase to employers what students can do with what they know.

What does this mean for employers?

  • Employers overwhelmingly report they need graduates with not only technical competence but also skills for a thinking economy: complex problem solving, effective communication, critical thinking and ethical judgment. The TST program is designed to meet those needs. The program also strengthens students’ ability to adapt and thrive in entirely new situations. These traits are essential to achieving lifelong success in the 21st century.

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