Our Work

National Research Collaborative on Postsecondary Competency-Based Education and Learning

The National Research Collaborative on Postsecondary Competency-Based Education and Learning (NRC) is a community of researchers dedicated to building evidence in support of postsecondary competency-based education and learning (CBE/L), through three key strategies:

Collaboration icon
Collaboratively developing a research agenda for CBE/L, focusing on core questions about enrollment, efficacy, efficiency, and implementation.
Engaging icon
Engaging researchers and practitioners in building evidence related to CBE/L, seeding the field with a broader range of experts on the topic, and building capacity for ongoing research.
Translating icon
Translating findings and data for critical audiences whose actions may affect the field of CBE/L.

NRC Researchers

NRC Research partners collaborate to support rigorous, multi-institution research. The NRC offers a communal space for researchers to engage with each other and share ideas around topics of interest. The NRC also supports publication and amplification of research findings or products by its collaborators and partners.

Interested in becoming a research partner? Visit our Work With Us page.

NRC Partner Projects

NRC research partners are conducting research projects aligned with the NRC research agenda, to support the development of the evidence base for competency-based education and learning.

Self-Direction and CBE Student Success

Overview: CBE programs are often considered to be “learner centered” and self-directed, but, beyond the experiences of coaches and faculty mentors and single-program cases, we have little knowledge about what qualities or skills make students more likely to be successful in CBE programs.

Key research questions include:

  1. How does self-direction transfer from personal and professional lives to the learning environment?
  2. Is there a link between self-direction and progression or completion?
  3. How can programs and faculty use information about students’ self-direction to inform interventions or provide individualized support for students in CBE programs?

Approach: This study involves administering a survey that assesses self-direction, particularly in adult learners, to a cohort of incoming students in CBE programs, and connecting the results of that survey with student progression outcomes (and completion, where possible). Focal outcomes include completion of the first unit of content, completion of a second unit of content, and program completion (where possible). Where possible, we will re-administer the survey after program completion to better understand how participation in CBE programs affects self-direction. We will also consider differences in outcomes across different program types and learner characteristics.

Research Team

Jessica Mason, AIR
Naomi Boyer, Polk State College
Michelle Navarre Cleary, DePaul University
Julie Telkamp, Brandman University

National Survey of Postsecondary Competency-Based Education

To understand the current scale of postsecondary CBE/L and track its growth across time, AIR and Eduventures are conducting a National Survey of Postsecondary Competency-Based Education (NSPCBE). The NSPCBE is an annual, Web-based survey of postsecondary institutions in the United States that is geared toward identifying the state of the CBE/L field, including institutions that are interested in adopting CBE/L and those already on the adoption pathway. The survey will be administered in three consecutive years (2018–2020) to provide important information about the early development of the field to policymakers and practitioners. Survey questions include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • How many postsecondary CBE/L programs are there in the United States?
  • What different CBE/L program models are being used in the United States?
  • How many students are enrolled in CBE/L programs in the United States?
  • How many students have received a CBE/L credential in the United States?
  • What are the accelerators and barriers to adopting a CBE/L program?

CBE/L enjoys popularity among some policymakers and advocates for its potential to address challenges related to access, quality, success, and cost in postsecondary education. But the field lacks a robust understanding of the extent of CBE/L adoption nationwide―comprehensive and reliable data on how many postsecondary CBE/L programs exist, at what kinds of institutions, and with what characteristics are not represented in existing research.

Postsecondary Competency-Based Education Student Outcomes Research and Capacity Building

In partnership with CBE/L program leaders at seven institutions, AIR is leading a two-part student outcomes research project that has two aims: build evidence about student outcomes in CBE/L and provide tools to program leaders and researchers to support local evaluation and continuous improvement efforts. This project began in late 2015 and will be completed by the end of 2018.

Participating institutions include:

  • Brandman University
  • Capella University
  • DePaul University
  • Kentucky Community & Technical College System
  • Polk State College
  • Salt Lake Community College
  • Texas A&M University - Commerce