Competency-based learning (CBL) includes structured and unstructured opportunities for learning and the assessment of learning—both self-created and those designed by employers, educational institutions, and training providers—that are aligned to workplace-relevant competencies. Examples include modules offered by institutions of higher education; prior learning assessments; military credit; other work-based learning, apprenticeships, and returnships; industry certifications; and government licensures.
Competency-based education (CBE) provides structured learning opportunities that are designed by postsecondary institutions and lead to recognized educational credentials. They are created by backward design from a disciplinary perspective on what a credential holder should know and be able to do and are assessed authentically. Examples include Direct Assessment programs and non-Direct Assessment CBE programs. Taken together, CBL and CBE have the potential to provide access to economic opportunity, through a postsecondary credential, for more learners.
Despite CBE’s growing popularity in postsecondary education, additional research still is needed to address unanswered questions and ultimately inform the actions taken by policymakers, practitioners, and students.