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Aurora Institute

The Importance of Competency-Based Learning in a Personalized Learning Environment

CompetencyWorks Blog

Author(s): James Rickabaugh

Issue(s): State Policy, Create Enabling Conditions for Competency-Based Education

Screen Shot 2013-07-10 at 3.48.46 PMThe past few years have seen the growth of two important and highly potential movements: competency-based learning and personalized learning. Many innovators are bringing the learning of students into clear focus by aligning student work and learning to clear, worthy, and rigorous competencies. Students in these learning environments now know what they are asked to and are trying to learn, how it will be assessed, and what value the new learning will bring to their lives and future learning. For these students, the days are gone when the best indication of what they know was fuzzily embedded in credits earned and grades assigned or buried somewhere in the latest unit test.

Meanwhile, several initiatives committed to proving the power and scalability of personalized learning have surfaced across the country from Maine to Wisconsin to Colorado. Many of these initiatives are showing impressive results on traditional assessments, while educators are working with learners to build lifelong learning capacity and skills well beyond what standardized tests can hope to measure. They are also showing the way to scaling the work without depending on outside funding or adding to local expenditures.

The Institute @ CESA #1, located in Southeastern Wisconsin, was founded in 2010 with a mission to establish personalized learning as the prevailing approach to educating youth. We believe that personalizing the educational experience for all students holds the greatest leverage to transform the current educational design and build capacity for dramatic improvement in the performance of the educational system. The Institute is currently working with 27 districts across southern Wisconsin and we have developed a change strategy to guide them as they implement personalized learning environments in their classrooms and schools. This strategy is based on change in three areas and in three phases: learning and teaching, relationships and roles, and structures and policies.

Our definition of personalized learning goes far beyond differentiated instruction, a 1:1 laptop initiative, or adaptive learning systems. A true personalized learning system provides opportunities to maximize the potential of all students based on their needs, abilities, and preferences. The three core components of such a system are comprehensive learner profiles, customized learning paths, and proficiency (or competency) based progress. Competency-based learning is a key piece of the puzzle; however, in order to tap its full potential, educators must do more than give students clear competencies and support to meet them. While learning targets may be clear and rigorous, unless students are given voice and choice in their learning, opportunities for personalized, real time feedback as they progress, access to a personalized learning path, and opportunity to build toward real independence as a learner, they will not build key capacities to survive and thrive in the rapidly changing work and life world where they will spend most of their adult lives.

Personalized learning holds great potential to change the learning experience of students by tapping learner engagement, promoting ownership for learning and building independence. By connecting these capacities to flexible progressions and clear goals anchored in challenging, relevant world-class competencies, a personalized learning system holds great promise. An environment such as this can dramatically change the trajectory of learning for virtually all students and offer a transformative, scalable model for building the education system we need to meet the needs of our society and economy.

The vision of the Institute @ CESA #1 is to get learning right the first time, every time for all students. As part of CCSSO’s Innovation Lab Network, the Institute is focusing on personalized learning to realize this vision, utilizing a regional action network approach. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

James Rickabaugh is the Senior Advisor of the Institute @ CESA #1, an education innovation lab located within the Cooperative Educational Education Agency that serves 45 school districts in Southeastern Wisconsin. James has more than thirty years of experience in educational leadership and education related organizations. He has been honored as Superintendent of the Year in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.