New Designs for School
New Designs for School

We’ve all had the experience of truly purposeful, authentic learning and know how valuable it is. Educators are taking the best of what we know about learning, student support, effective instruction, and interpersonal skill-building to completely reimagine schools so that students experience that kind of purposeful learning all day, every day.

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Competency-based education (CBE) is a transformative educational approach for classrooms and systems that is emerging across the country.  It has its deepest roots—and greatest success—in the state of New Hampshire, as its legislature and state department of education have worked to significantly change how education occurs in the state.  CBE also has strong roots in Iowa and Kentucky; it is growing in numerous other states through the work of the CCSSO’s Innovation Learning Network (ILN) and several organizations, such as iNACOL and KnowledgeWorks.

At its core, competency-based education can be defined by five major shifts in how an educational system operates:

  1. Learner agency
  2. Learner experience (commonly known as curriculum)
  3. Learner facilitation/support (teacher instruction)
  4. Learner evidence (assessment)
  5. Learner environment (both the culture and the physical space).

Please note that I intentionally reworded some common educational terms, such as using learner experience instead of curriculum.  The reason is that a CBE system is built on the learner.  It is not just learner-centered; it is learner-driven.  A CBE system is built to fully support the passion, purpose and needs of each and every learner.  The learner works to reach his or her potential in all aspects of life, college, and career readiness.  Therefore, I have chosen to rebrand some common educational terms to make sure the “learner” is always at the forefront of the work we need to do.

If you are interested in adopting CBE in your school or district, these are the five shifts you will need to make in order to truly transform your educational system. You cannot change your educational system merely by changing the terms you use to describe it. There are a myriad of details that need to be addressed in overhauling a system.  These shifts provide a conceptual framework to address those details.

Learner agency focuses on making sure the student has a voice and choice in his/her educational journey.  They are involved in setting their goals, setting their learning objectives, setting their assessment levels and setting the pace of their progress.

Learner experience means that a curriculum is not just the content standards given to the students; it is also the context that a student brings to the content.

Learner facilitation and support flips the model of teacher as sage on the stage and cements the role of guide on the side.

Learner evidence revamps the entire notion of assessment of learning to assessment for learning.

And learner environment refocuses the culture to ensure that students have a significant presence in the ownership and direction of their learning.

This framework is designed to focus on the learner foremost, and to build an educational system that supports the learner completely. It was developed based on my experiences implementing competency-based education in my school district, as well as several publications from iNACOL and KnowledgeWorks.  I curated the information and attempted to conceptualize it into a framework that can be easily understood by educators and community stakeholders so there can be action taken instead of confusion and inertia.

You can use this general overview of the five shifts to begin formulating a framework for transformation in your school or district. In future blog posts, I will address each shift in greater detail.

Jason Ellingson

Educational Consultant & Coach, Jason Ellingson, LLC

Jason Ellingson is an educational consultant and coach with Jason Ellingson, LLC, dedicated to helping people build their capacity. As a former superintendent, curriculum director, principal and teacher, he worked daily to ensure that learning occurred for his students and colleagues. He has worked state-wide, nationally, and internationally to share his experiences to help people and organizations grow into who/what they desire to be.