Competency-based education glossary

November 6, 2017

As you research and consider an online degree program at Capella University, you might be seeing the phrase “competency-based education”.

If you’re left wondering what it means, don’t worry.

To help you understand what it’s all about, here’s a handy list of the most common terms related to competency-based education, and how Capella defines them:

Competencies and outcomes

Competencies: Bundles of knowledge, skills, and abilities that combine theory and practice. Competencies are observable and measurable and emphasize what students can do as a result of their learning.

Examples of competencies include:

  • Analyzing data
  • Communicating effectively
  • Thinking critically to solve a problem

Competency-based education: An educational model in which learning is measured by how well a student demonstrates competencies (e.g., in assignments that show his or her knowledge in action).

Competency-based education programs generally have very clear objectives for student learning, stress what students can do with the knowledge and skills they acquire, and have assessments that provide measurable evidence of competency.

Students make academic progress as they master the competencies in the courses of their degree or certificate program. Competencies build toward learning outcomes that potentially align with the skills, talents, and knowledge that employers look for in their employees.

Capella’s curriculum has been entirely competency-based since 2002. FlexPath, launched in 2013, is a way of delivering competency-based education in a direct assessment model (i.e., without credits and “seat time”). See direct assessment definition below.

Learning outcomes: The knowledge, skills, abilities, and professional attributes a student demonstrates upon completing a degree program or certificate.

Measuring learning

Assessment: An activity or assignment used to measure how well a student demonstrates competencies. Assessments in Capella’s competency-based programs require students to apply their knowledge, skills, and abilities to real-world situations in projects like case studies, proposals, data analyses, or presentations.

Assessments model work that would be expected on the job and are aligned with what employers need.

Credit-based: Many higher education models are based on the credit hour. In this model, credits are earned for satisfactorily completing all assignments and course-participation requirements.

Direct assessment: An approach to competency-based education that measures learning by the demonstration of competencies only. FlexPath is Capella’s direct assessment approach to competency-based education.

Learning is evaluated only through assessments of real-world knowledge and skills. In other words, students’ success in a FlexPath program depends only on their competency demonstrations on assessments and not time spent participating in discussions or completion of reading assignments or other weekly assignments.

There are no required class discussions, specified reading assignments, or quizzes, and students complete their work at their own pace.

The FlexPath movement

Explore how these students live, and learn with Flexpath

Meet our students »

Competency Map: Capella’s one-of-a-kind, personalized dashboard that lets students track their progress on each competency throughout their courses. Students, faculty, and academic advisors can use this dashboard as the student progresses through the program. It can also be shared with potential employers to demonstrate areas of strength.

The pace of learning

Self-paced Learning: A learning model in which students progress through their academic program at their own pace, instead of completing structured interactions with specific due dates.

Degree programs in our FlexPath model are self-paced; however, students are expected to engage with learning resources, work on assessments, or interact with faculty members or support staff on a weekly basis.

Students must sufficiently demonstrate the competencies in all assessments in each course before they can move on to the next course.

Asynchronous: This means not happening at the same time. Almost all Capella courses are asynchronous because there’s no set time when a class meets. Students and faculty complete their work in the courseroom at different times during the week.

NOTE: FlexPath is both asynchronous and self-paced because there are no set meeting times and no weekly deadlines for assignments.

Learn more about Capella’s competency-based learning approach and two learning formats — GuidedPath and FlexPath.

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