Skip to content
Aurora Institute

Five Ways Learner Profiles Can Promote Competency-Based Education

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): Bonnie Lathram

Issue(s): Issues in Practice, Lead Change and Innovation

Powering PersonalizationThis post originally appeared at Getting Smart on October 16, 2015.

Imagine a parent and student have access to and control of information about the student and could choose when and how to share that information with other stakeholders. Imagine that it is not only available 24 hours a day but stays with the family regardless of school transfer. An expanded learner profile could make this vision a reality by building on the current “official transcript” with an expanded electronic student record highlighting learner strengths, needs, interests, preferences and more. A learner profile could simultaneously drive personalization and safeguard privacy.

A student’s data backpack could be populated by a common set of data elements for all students and the components of each student’s learner profile could be further customized based on student needs, family decisions and data requirements.

Learner profiles have the potential to power personalized learning through better data that can inform learning in new and meaningful ways as well as facilitate a transition to a competency-based education system. Competency-based environments encourage ownership over learning and allow students to have flexibility in how they learn, how they demonstrate learning and advancing at a flexible pace and according to their own needs. For students with high mobility, competency-based education allows students to pick up right where they leave off. Learner profiles can play an important role in supporting competency-based learning.

Here are 5 ways learner profiles promote competency-based learning

1.Learner profiles encourage student ownership.

Chris Sturgis, co-founder of Competency Works, said, “Learner profiles should support student ownership of learning.” If a student can update his or her learner profile with information, including a collection of personal best work, the student can share his or her own work and even permit and control sharing capabilities.

Assessment of learning. Learner profiles can be used as part of a mechanism educators use to ensure mastery before moving to the next level. Expeditionary Learning schools require a year end Passages presentations, “an opportunity for students to reflect on their learning and their readiness to move on to the next phase of their education.”

A portfolio as part of a comprehensive profile provides an a structure for organizing a collection of personal bests linked to learning goals. A digital portfolio facilitates easy sharing with multiple stakeholder groups–parents, community members, prospective employers, and colleges.

Assessment for learning. In this scenario, the learner profile is used for formative assessment as well as summative assessment. The student uses the learner profile not only as a place to house information or as simply a location for the school system or teacher to place important data (including courses, evaluations, and transcript information) but also a place where students reflect meaningfully on their work through writing and journaling, upload and own the creation of documents and tools that are then housed within the profile.

2. Learner profiles encourage anytime, anywhere learning.

The learner profile can be a structure that houses a variety of data, including data that goes beyond what might be found in a data backpack or an official transcript. The learner profile could contain data and measurement from a variety of providers (e.g. ST Math or DreamBox Learning) that are accessible by parents, therapists, community-based organizations, after-school programs or tutors, safeguarding for privacy and with sharing settings controlled by parents.

3. Learner profiles encourage personalization.

Karla Phillips, Director of Competency-Based Learning at the Foundation for Excellence in Education said, “When I think about the role new technological tools can play in competency-based education (CBE), I think about instructional technologies such as Khan Academy or instructional apps but I also think about a school or district’s LMS/SIS system that the schools develop or choose and how these should go hand in hand with the data backpack and the learner profile. For example, I would love my daughter’s teacher to know she did this great project in kindergarten. A learner profile, maybe in the form of a parent app, would be a way for parents and teachers to connect and pass information along to my child’s future educators.”

Right now, most data portability systems can transfer the hard data to an educator, but in a personalized instruction system, Karla said, “Data has to be more than just numbers and test scores; it has to be personal. I would like my daughter’s teacher to know what experiences have made the biggest difference in my child’s life as well as what we as parents do at home to support her learning.”

4. Learner profiles allow for portability across systems.

Much like what we are seeing take shape in Utah with their data backpack legislation, we know that data backpacks enhance portability across systems. If a student transfers, their student records, transcripts and other data move with them. If a student moves, his or her informations moves with them, and teachers and other providers can learn about the student’s strengths, needs, interests and other pertinent information, thus providing the best and most personalized access to high quality learning. As a student thinks about applying to post secondary institutions or applying for a job, the information in a learner profile could be gleaned and mined for use in a college and/or career application scenario.

5. Learner profiles facilitate demonstration of college and career readiness.

Higher education institutions are rethinking the college admissions process. Some members of the Common Application group are moving towards a collection of personal bests as another option for those who seek to apply for colleges. The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Access includes 80 public and private higher ed institutions. The new coalition has included a high school portfolio as an option to apply for college which is described below:

The high school student’s portfolio: This would be offered to all high school students, free, and they would be encouraged to add to it, starting in ninth grade, examples of their best work, short essays on what they most proud of, descriptions of their extracurricular activities and so forth. Students could opt to share or not share all or part of their portfolios, but college admissions leaders would provide regular prompts, appropriate for grades nine and up, and questions students should ask about how they are preparing for college.

Students in portfolio-based and competency-based schools will enjoy this option for college admissions. Portfolio-based platforms such as Buzz by Agilix, Project Foundry, Pathbrite, eduClipper (and don’t forget Google docs) have components that allow for students to have an eportfolio. Learner Profiles can take this a step further by allowing for a collection that includes a portfolio and the transcript, as well as other data points and even project-based learning work.

Karla also noted that simultaneously higher education is beginning to think differently about the traditional diploma. There are organizations such as Lumina Foundation who are thinking about how higher education is communicating what a student knows and is able to do as a result of their college education. The learner profile could be a tool for college and career applications and as a knowledge sharing tool and personal bests.

The K-12 system could use learner profiles as both a structural support to achieving competency-based learning and as a tool for students and their learning.

See also:

Bonnie Lathram is a project manager at Getting Smart. Follow her on Twitter at @belathram.