When it comes to teaching and learning strategies, there is always room for improvement. So, whether you are a student, teacher, or school leader, being well-informed about various educational approaches, techniques, and strategies is essential to success. 

Nowadays, it is widely accepted that individuals are predisposed to different learning styles and techniques. Thus, you need an approach, such as competency-based education, that aims to help students advance at their own pace. It is often best to go for a method that allows students to reach their goals and increase their probability of mastering a subject and inherent skills without ranking or comparison, especially using only one set of criteria.

So, what is competency-based education? How is it different from the traditional approach? And, most importantly, who benefits from it? Read on and find answers to all these questions and much more.

What Is Competency-Based Education?

As its name suggests, a simple definition of competency-based education indicates that the term refers to an educational approach primarily focused on the student’s competence and level of understanding regarding a specific subject. Instead of focusing on grades or curriculum schedules, the attention is turned specifically to the student’s competence in the subject matter. 

The learning processes used in such an approach to education are centered around the student’s demonstration of their progression through the curriculum at their own pace and depth, as well as reaching the learning outcomes set by the teacher and the student themself.

Competency-based education began as a linguistic trend in the 1960s in the United States of America, influenced by Chomsky’s idea of generative grammar. According to Chomsky, there was a difference between competence and knowledge, as well as the application of language and its use. With time, the idea of a competency-based approach spread beyond a single trend and reached various spheres of life, including education, specifically how classroom teaching and assessment were conducted.

The Main Principles Of Competency-Based Education


To create a competency-based education culture, you must focus on its main principles: equity, transparency, defined competencies, and specific assessment methods.


Firstly, competency-based education programs ensure that each student is presented with opportunities and resources that are not the same but will help each student reach the same destination as the others. Such programs are excellent examples of inclusive education as all students are supported and taught based on their strengths and weaknesses in order to have the same chances of success as the others.


A core value that should be instilled in all programs is transparency. All teachers, students, and anyone involved in the educational process should be well-informed about the learning objectives, assessment methods, as well as tools and techniques used. Competency-based education teachers need to help students understand their end goal and all the work required to get there.

Defined competencies

As students and teachers decide on the learning objectives for each student, they should define the competencies needed for advancement. So, to complete a competency-based education program, students should have a practical understanding of the subject, including critical concepts related to it, the ability to apply the knowledge gained to solve problems, and mastery of relevant skills in that field.

Specific assessment methods

Because competency-based education is heavily focused on providing students with unique learning experiences that fit their personality and style, teachers often need to use various assessment methods in order to determine where each student is in the learning process. 

Once they have an idea of the level of understanding the student has reached, they can identify the key areas where the student needs to improve and adjust their teaching to help with the process. Some of the most widely used assessment methods include formative assessment, authentic assessment, and digital content assessment.

How Does Competency-Based Education Work?

Competency-based education programs are incredibly flexible, allowing students to work and progress at their own pace. Furthermore, because of how they work, such programs enable students to have a better life-work balance, allowing them to prioritize other aspects of their life when needed. The students’ work determines the period required to complete the program—some might take it slow and spend more time learning skills, whereas others can quickly go through it and advance their professional life.

Competency-based education programs are more concerned with demonstrating to students what they can do instead of what they should be doing. Programs that follow such an approach are designed to guide people to learn new and valuable skills to add to their skillset and take on the job market.

How Does Competency-Based Education Differ From Traditional Education?


Though they share a similar objective of helping students learn, progress, and prepare for the job market through practical and theoretical knowledge and skills, traditional education and the more modern competency-based education approach are quite different. To better differentiate between the two, we’ll compare and contrast the two in three main categories:

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Traditional education programs have a pre-planned schedule and curriculum for all students. So, whether the students have fully understood the material or not, there is only a specific amount of time they can work on an area of the subject before they move on to something else. Based on this approach, traditional classrooms have one teacher who designs and delivers the curriculum with little personalization.

On the other hand, competency-based education is centered around flexibility, giving students the support they need to move quickly or slowly through the program until they master the subject and skills related to it. Therefore, they usually use a team of educators that collaboratively work with the students and community partners to create a unique learning plan for every individual.

Learning outcomes

Another area where traditional programs differ from competency-based ones is their learning outcomes. Because competency-based learning focuses on understanding and demonstrating knowledge through applying skills, their learning outcomes are related to action, skills, and the ability to display them. At the same time, traditional education programs are embedded with learning outcomes focused on memorization. Therefore, students and teachers of such programs are primarily concerned with obtaining and providing the knowledge needed to pass examinations.


In traditional education programs, grades are norm-referenced, based on test scores, including quarters and final exams, assignments, and behavior. In comparison, competency-based education scores are more personalized, as the grades help reflect each student’s performance, competencies, and mastery level. If students do not earn course credit, they do not have to re-learn the entire course but only the competencies they have not mastered yet.

Who Benefits From Competency-Based Education?

There is not only one specific group of students that benefits from such an approach to education. Instead, the flexibility offered helps all types of learners, regardless of their knowledge backgrounds or literacy levels.

Because bias is removed and significant importance is placed on achieving equity, all students are offered the resources and opportunities to obtain skills and succeed as professionals in their field of interest. Furthermore, students can have complete confidence in themselves to perform their tasks well, as they will have mastered all the competencies required to do so.

The Bottom Line

It is a widely accepted truth that certain people face more significant challenges than others. Therefore, it is crucial to find methods, tools, and techniques that help level the field and give all students the necessary skills to succeed. Competency-based education and its focus on individuals is one of the best approaches. It enables students to progress based on their capabilities to master a subject and the skills related to it at their own pace. Pursue a competency-based education, and you can carve your unique pathway toward success.