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Aurora Institute

10 Elements Towards Eliminating the Batch-Print System

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Tom Vander Ark

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, How to Get Started

Competency-based learning (or standards-based or performance-based if you will) is based on two important ideas:

  1. Students should meet learning expectations—passing kids along with a weak foundation means they will never achieve higher level knowledge and skills and will be excluded from the idea economy.
  2.  Students should show what they know—it’s not about turning work in, earning point, or showing up to class, they should demonstrate in several ways that they have mastered important knowledge, skills, and abilities.

For most people that sounds logical and for twenty years we’ve been saying “it’s about learning not time” and “learning is fixed and time is variable.” Only it’s not—it’s all about time and the structures we’ve ensconced with policies, budgets, and contracts. 

Since Horace borrowed the idea from the Prussians we’ve been batch-processing kids based on birthdays through a print curriculum.  This batch-print system was moderately efficient until we tried to retrofit it to work for all kids. It just created a mess of tacked on services and a crazy patchwork quilt of courses.  As educational demands of society increased, it became obvious that the batch-print system is a disaster for at least two thirds of our kids.

The shift to personal digital learning offers a better alternative.  Specifically, a system based on demonstrated competence and powered by personalized learning technology holds the potential to double the number of students prepared for college and careers in this decade.

However, competency-based systems are fundamentally different than batch-print.  Following are ten elements of a competency-based system:

  1. Intellectual mission that focuses resources and behaviors on productive habits of mind and preparation for participation in college, careers, and civic life.
  2. Standards that express in some detail what students should know and be able to do.
  3. Progress monitoring, historically thought of as grading, and achievement recognition systems, historically thought of as class rank.
  4. Grouping and scheduling systems—when, why and how groups are used when learning not age cohorts is the dominant organizing principle.
  5. Reporting to the outside world that still thinks in courses, credits, and grades.
  6. Content that supports self-directed and customized learning.
  7. Tools that facilitate standards-based challenges, collaboration, and scheduling.
  8. Teacher support, preparation and development for a dynamic environment with differentiated (i.e., different levels) and distributed (i.e., different locations) staffing.
  9. Evaluation systems that helps to determine student learning and how experiences and adults are contributing.
  10. Community connections and supports for student success.

__________About the Author__________

Tom Vander Ark is author of Getting Smart: How Digital Learning is Changing the World and founder of Tom is also CEO of Open Education Solutions and a partner in Learn Capital, a venture capital firm investing in learning content, platforms, and services with the goal of transforming educational engagement, access, and effectiveness.