This report is the final in a series that explores the potential of competency-based education (CBE) to increase college and career success for underprepared learners. In this report, the authors examine each of the four issues: flexible pacing, online delivery models, assessment, and competencies to propose ways to mitigate the problems they can pose, specifically within CBE approaches to corequisite developmental education.

The key research question for expanding and strengthening CBE is "what specific design elements are needed to realize the potential of CBE for the nation's underprepared college students?" This report addresses the differences between CBE models and traditional college experiences. It identifies the following CBE models as more effective interventions to "boost economic advancement for...people, who for a variety of reasons enroll in college with below-college skills in reading, writing, or math. CBE models differ... in several key ways:"

  • Flexible pacing, which enables learners to progress at their own speed;
  • Customization, which allows learners to focus on the topics most relevant to their goals; and
  • Students advancement to the next level as soon as they demonstrate they have mastered the material.

"[The authors] approach for this series is to combine the strengths of CBE with strategies proven to improve outcomes for underprepared learners (or more specifically, students who enroll in developmental education courses). [The authors] advocate the design of CBE programs that integrate a relatively new model of developmental education that has strong evidence of success."

Major Findings & Recommendations

The paper concludes by acknowledging and addressing the four biggest concerns identified from the authors' research and are listed with challenges and solutions below:

Challenge: Flexibility can accelerate progress for some students or stall progress for others.
Solutions: Decide on an appropriate degree of flexible pacing. Use pace charts to set a minimum speed limit. Shorten the duration of self-paced sessions. Help students determine their own pacing.

Challenge: online learning courses are common in CBE models and yet may show weak outcomes for underprepared learners.
Solutions: Choose which subjects or elements should be delivered in person; build quality assurance processes customized to developmental learners; engage online learners proactively; build an evidence base of what works.

Challenges: Frequent assessment can create high-stakes environments that impede the success of underrepresented learners who have a history of test anxiety.
Solutions: Use formative assessments to empower learners; implement self-regulated learning approaches; clearly link assessments to competencies and student outcomes.

Challenge: Competencies form the foundation of CBE and can disadvantage underprepared learners if they do not directly align with future education or employment.
Solutions: CBE leaders can use curriculum frameworks, such as the Degree Qualifications, Profile or Beta-Credentials Frameworks to design their curriculum, and curriculum can be developed using a backward-design process, which considers relevant career pathways.