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Converting traditional formats to CBE

Today I’m going to share with you a simplified format for converting a traditional online (and possibly f2f) course to a competency based model. What I’d like you to notice is that the development focus is on assessment, not content. What I’d like you to keep in mind is that feedback, assessments and adaptive learning scenarios do not have to be computer mediated; they can be provided by instructors.

I’d like to begin by sharing with you and image I created that explains the basic premise of a competency based course. That is that progress is not linear, and that students do not progress to the final assessment until they are successful in the formative assessments (which they can repeat as often as needed).

Diagram of CBE shows articulate competencies to content to practice to assessment and then a loop either back to content  practice or out to final assessment


Well thought out feedback is essential, as is the timeliness of the feedback, so that students know where they stand and can take action to remedy weaknesses. These formative assessments should provide a more comprehensive feedback than “correct” or “incorrect”. In fact, they need to be prescriptive. The LMS can be set up to automatically lead students, based on their formative assessment, to remediation or to the final assessment (if they are ready). Or, this can be done through council with an instructor, who goes over the results with the student and provides a recommended path to success. Or, it can be a combination of the two.

Now, let’s look at the steps a designer and subject matter expert should consider when converting an existing course to competency based. Please note: this is not meant to be a development roadmap, but rather a guideline for considerations. It is not meant to be highly detailed.

Step 1: assess current course objectives to insure they are stated in terms of competencies—what students must demonstrate in terms of the application of knowledge and skills to complex tasks.

Step 2: sort course objectives/competencies into progressive milestones or module steps that will lead to the final assessment

Step 3*: assign current assessments and activities to applicable milestones where appropriate.

Step 4*: determine whether any of the current assessments and activities are more suited for practice and self-assessments than for a summative evaluation of competency? For those that are, change the points allocated, if necessary, to reflect the formative nature of the assessment, and insure proper formative feedback is provided

Step 5*: identify and build summative competency-based assessment(s) including rubric(s)

Step 6: identify and build (where necessary) practices and self-assessments insuring students are given the opportunity to practice all outcomes and receive feedback that clearly tells student if he/she is ready to progress to the summative evaluation of competency, and if not what steps the students need to take in order to meet the acceptable level of competency.

Step 7: Build in additional content for remedial purposes.

Step 8: review all instructive course materials, mapping to Milestones, practices and assessments. Identify any gaps or unnecessary redundancies.

Step 9: Review all rubrics for point matching to levels and areas of competency achieved

*Steps 3, 4, and 5 are not is a specific order, should be looped until all the developers of the course are satisfied with the construction and point allocation for each assessment

What is important to notice is that a CBE course will require more content, will require practices, and will require thoughtfully constructed assessments and point systems. What you do not want to do is to provide a path for a student to pass a course without having met the necessary competencies.

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