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Aurora Institute

Eliot Levine Shares News on the Definition of Competency-Based Education in the Latest Innovation Spotlight Podcast

Education Domain Blog

Author(s): DeQuendre Bertrand

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Lead Change and Innovation, Commit to Equity, Rethink Instruction, Create Balanced Systems of Assessments, Activate Student Agency


It’s been eight years since the field developed its working definition of competency-based education. This week, the Aurora Institute will unveil an updated definition. Our Research Director, Eliot Levine, who also manages the CompetencyWorks initiative, sat down to talk with Matthew Shea and Courtney Belolan about why the update was needed.  Their conversation is the latest episode of our Innovation Spotlight podcast series.

“We have the privilege of working with many leaders in the field, who have deep insights from coming at this work from many different angles,” Levine said.

“We all agreed that we needed to expand and improve on the definition to reflect new developments in the field, and new knowledge that had been developed over the past 10 years or so doing the work and also important challenges that the field still needs to address.”

Competency-based education, as defined by the field’s leading experts in 2011, now has seven elements. The original working definition had five components. The additions express the field’s greater understanding of the essential nature of student agency in building student motivation, engagement, lifelong learning skills, and depth of knowledge.>

The revised 2019 definition of competency-based education is:

  1. Students are empowered daily to make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge, and how they will demonstrate their learning.
  2. Assessment is a meaningful, positive, and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant, and actionable evidence.
  3. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.
  4. Students progress based on evidence of mastery, not seat time.
  5. Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing.
  6. Strategies to ensure equity for all students are embedded in the culture, structure, and pedagogy of schools and education systems.
  7. Rigorous, common expectations for learning (knowledge, skills, and dispositions) are explicit, transparent, measurable, and transferable.

“We think it’s really important to define what we’re talking about clearly because these are complicated topics, and how we put them into practice has major implications for students’ lives,” Levine said.

Levine shared that other features in the upcoming report include a set of “belief statements,” as well as answers to some frequently asked questions and responses to some common misconceptions about competency-based education. The belief statements expound on the definition and offer context to the new definition. For example, the first belief statement is, “Competency-based education is a replacement of the systems, structures, and pedagogies of the traditional system.” This is to make clear that our aim as a field is K-12 systems transformation, rather than “tinkering at the margins.”

The FAQs explain our thinking around educational equity, assessments, pacing, pathways, evidence, transferable knowledge, and the intersection of personalized learning and competency-based education.

In addition, said Levine, “There’s a section that hyperlinks to about 30 different resources that readers can go to, to dig deeper into any of the issues raised in the report.”

Listen to the full podcast here, and watch the Education Domain blog for more conversations in the Innovation Spotlight series.