CBE as a modality: student-centered, application focused and Outcomes-based


Competency-Based Education: Drafting Your Competency

When we are starting to think about how to translate our semester-based courses into competencies for the YourPace program, it is helpful to shift your mindset from ‘faculty designing a course’ to ‘subject-matter expert designing a competency-based curriculum’.  When contracting to design the CBE curriculum that maps to your course, keep the following things in mind:

  • Competency design is Outcomes-based, and to ensure that the YourPace version of your course is equivalent to your online or F2F course–you need to be sure that the Learning Outcomes as listed and measured are the same
  • As a curriculum designer, it is helpful to design as if you will not be teaching the competency–your assessment rubrics, activity language, and content structure must be clear enough for someone who is not you to follow successfully (with minimal guidance).
  • Competency-based learning is, by its very nature, skills and application-based, so assessing your Learning Outcomes for easy-to-understand and measurable language is a must.  Never be afraid to reach out to your Instructional Designer to ask about your Outcome language.
  • Being Outcomes-based, CBE design is focused on Outcomes first, which means that we start at the end–the finished product…and then we determine what content, practice and experiences students will need to successfully complete that final assessment.

Note, that this page is designed to help you with your curriculum development process–for more in-depth help with building your pre-designed competency in the Learning Management System (Strut, in this case), please see the Building Your Competency page.


Let’s look at the steps in designing your competency:

How is CBE design and delivery different than Online Teaching?

Designing for online course delivery is structured much like our traditional face-to-face, 15-week semester.  Where we differentiate with online design, is how we present content in different ways (which recognize the difference in how students learn in a class compared to online), as well as designing purposeful ways for students to interact with us as instructors, as well as each other (an important element that differentiates our online courses from the correspondence courses of old!).  Even though there are some delivery and design differences, the online course is usually still following the same general content and assessment structure (and sometimes the same assignments).

CBE-design throws seat-time out of the mastery equation and requires the student to demonstrate competence in a Learning Outcome before they can move forward to the next (and increasingly more sophisticated) competencies and Outcomes.  Also consider that in the YourPace program, the students are non-traditional (adult) learners, with some college background, so the act simply of retrofitting a course designed for traditional-aged, campus-based freshman will fall short–adult learners, according to Knowle’s leading androgogical theory, benefit from a focus on relevant application of skillsets and on direct and logical correlation between learning activities and what they are expected to produce.

That is not to say that you have to abandon your courses and start from scratch as you take on your YourPace competency-design assignment–in fact, there has to be equivalency between your traditionally delivered course and your competency–and you will likely be able to recycle some of your existing content and/or materials into your new competency structure if you choose to.


Steps to a successful planning process

The YourPace staff, informed by instructor feedback and sound instructional design knowledge has developed a very useful timeline, based on a 15-week building period, to help you stay on track with your building, every step of the way.  It is helpful to think about your planning process as a number of steps you can go through to meet your goals and deadlines.  Let’s look at some of the major steps that you will walk through in your initial design process:

  1. Make contact with your Instructional Designer to review your Learning Outcomes
  2. Design your Final (summative) Assessment & Rubric
  3. Map your Outcomes and the basic structure of concepts your competency will need
  4. Curate, write, choose and collect content & add/link to your competency map
  5. Develop Milestone (formative) activities
  6. Identify the tier structure your competency will need & create quiz banks as necessary 
  7. Create your syllabus

Congrats! You are ready to start building in the Learning Management System

1. Assessing your Learning Outcomes

Macro photo of tooth wheel mechanism with LEARNING, CREATIVITY, EDUCATION, SKILL, SYSTEM and KNOWLEDGE words imprinted on metal surface

During your initial meeting with your Instructional Designer (ID), you will likely bring your most current syllabus for the course that your competency maps to.  Together, you will identify Learning Outcomes that need to be present in the competency, as well as look at your current CLOs for measurability–as these LOs will form the basic structure of your competency (not the content, as is the case in many traditionally formatted live and online classes).  Most competencies have between 2 and (not more than) 8 Learning Outcomes. At this point, it would be good to identify any General Education or Program Learning Outcomes that do not map well to your CLOs (for larger discussion)–as well as any CLOs you may have that are dependent on participation or in-class behavior, as these may need need to be re-thought or re-tooled for asynchronous, student-paced delivery.  Engaging in this process may prompt you to craft CLOs that are even stronger than in the class the competency maps back to–that is okay, just be sure to update your course CLOs to reflect your updates.

2. Planning your Final Assessment

Multiple choice exam with Test text in red

Designing in YourPace takes its cue from Backwards design–and that means starting with the end in mind.  The first step you will take in developing your competency will be to determine how students will demonstrate that they can adequately apply the skills, knowledge, and abilities of the competency’s Learning Outcomes.  This final assessment is extremely important and is the *only* graded assessment in the entire competency!  It will also set the tone for what needs to be incorporated into your finished competency (in terms of content and formative Milestones).  Students will be able to see the parameters of the final assessment as soon as they are entered into the competency–though it will be locked until they finish the required formative activities.

Keep in mind that this final assessment can be an accumulative exam, though UMPI prefers, whenever possible, to have a project-based final assessment.  A project-based final assessment could look like one big project or research paper which clearly maps back to ALL Learning Outcomes, or it could be a portfolio collection of smaller assignments that each map back to just one or two Learning Outcomes.  Talk to your ID, to brainstorm final assessment ideas and/or needs.

Download the Project-based Final Assessment Template

3. Mapping Outcomes & Structuring the Learning Expereice

young woman with learning language during online courses using netbook

Now that you have a clear picture of what students are going to produce for you based on your clear and measurable Learning Outcomes, you can start looking at how these pieces will help you structure your curriculum.  Since the LMS (Strut) we utilize for CBE delivery arranges content in an outline-style format, it is very helpful to design in an outline style that mimics that structure (see the “Instructor” video below for a visual reference).

Remember, that as we build a competency, that the text-based linear structure that we may use in traditional classes does not apply to the way that we prepare students to be competent at our Learning Outcomes.  The Learning Outcomes themselves become the skeletal structure of your competency, with the essential topics and concepts which directly support that Outcome presented below that–followed by the content and learning activities that inform those concepts directly, for example:

  • Learning Outcome 1: Students will be able to identify appropriate YourPace and UMPI campus resources to enhance their academic goals and overall educational experience
    • Concept 1: YourPace Student Support
      • Meet your Academic Success Coach!
      • Making friends with your Adviser
    • Concept 2: Mapping Your Progress
      • Understanding your personalized pathway
      • Checking your progress in Strut
    • Concept 3: Essential Campus Resources
      • Where to go for help
      • Essential learning tools you have access to

Note, that in the example above, I am utilizing a 2-tier structure, and I have not yet linked or added content–this is my idea generation (I might have to adjust this to a 3-tier as I develop more content, if it looks like a have exceptionally long or complex content that would be better-served chunked into shorter sub-concepts).

Download the Content Mapping Tool



4. Content in a Competency-based course

Content Curation. Memo stick on a keyboard.

As faculty working with traditional-aged students, we have developed our curriculum and content to not only include materials essential to our course and discipline, but also to help students who are young adults adapt to professional expectations, as well as tools to help them transition to life as a college student (whether that content is around ‘soft-skill’ development or in creating extra-practice modules and re-take/re-dos on assessments).  The CBE-model turns this on its head, because these students are already adults, in the workplace, and who already have some college credit.  This allows us to free up our content devoted to ‘developing students’, and more highly focus on just the materials and learning activities that directly inform the Learning Outcomes, Milestone activities, and final assessment.  In thinking about what content may meet our Outcome needs, we can utilize content that we have used in courses, streaming video, Open Education Resources, images, links to professional journal articles, new original content and more!  As with any online learning design, developing your competency with a variety of different types of content is the key to an engaging learning experience for students.

Designing ‘lean’ does not mean that we are dumbing-down content–or omitting content that is essential for students to know as they build competence in your discipline.  It does, however, require us to re-think that content that is great to know but does not explicitly relate to our Learning Outcomes.

5. Planning Milestone Activities

Takeaways Arrow Signs

Milestone Activities are a key element in the competency design process.  These interactions between each student and their teaching professor are the instructor’s opportunity to determine the student’s development of key competency skills and knowledge–as well as the student’s opportunity to interact in a meaningful and substantive way with their professor.  These formative assessments are not graded–rather, they are a student’s chance to apply what they have learned–and get feedback from the instructor about whether they are on the right track or not. Milestones should allow the instructor to assess the student’s skillset with the Outcome covered, as well as prepare students to succeed with relevant tasks they will need to display for the final assessment.  Every competency should have between 3-5 Milestones.  

Milestone’s interactions can be typed directly into the platform by the student, or you may design a Milestone that requires the student to attach a file, such as a Word DOC, image or audio/video file.  As you are thinking about the appropriate application activities for your competency–keep in mind any technologies that students may have to utilize. For instance, if you need students to use Microsoft Office, you will want to collect and provide information to support students with that tool (CTL can help with that piece if you need assistance).  Also, keep in mind that most Milestone Activities across programs are the equivalent of 300-500 words.  Think of these activities more like Discussion Boards (even if students are attaching files) than Term Papers.

You may have an Outcome level (such as an Introductory Outcome level) that does not need to be assessed with a Milestone–or you may find that two complementary Outcomes can be measured with a single Milestone Activity at the conclusion of both, and that is perfectly appropriate.  You may even need to create several different parts to a Milestone, see the example below:

This milestone activity is split into two separate parts, but you may submit them together, submitted directly in the Milestone discussion box

Part 1: Describe your relationship with educational technology, use the prompts below to guide your response in 300-500 words:

  • How comfortable would you say you are with technology in general?
  • Can you remember one time that you had a disastrous experience with technology in a classroom environment?  
  • Can you recall a time that you have an amazing experience with technology in the classroom?
  • What are your top 3 goals for this competency?

Part 2: Submit your link to your class website–note that the settings on your site must be set to allow for me to view (re-review section 1.4 for more info is needed)

6. Assessing Course Structure and Settings

idea blocks

Now you have greeat, measureable Learning Outcomes, have developed a final assessment that will measure them all, have mapped out the content pieces that will prepare students for successful application of those Outcomes, and drafted Milestone Activities to let you and the students know if they have the skills needs to successfully complete your final assessment activities. Now is a great time to make some key decisions about the structure of your course in the LMS.  These desicions with inform the ID and Project Managment team, so that they can create a course shell that meets your needs.  Here are some of the structure elements that you will need to condier:

  1. What kind of final assessment will you have?
    • An exam-based final?
    • A portfolio/submission-based final?
    • A combination of both?
  2. Will your competency be adaptive in nature?
    • Adaptive competencies allow for greater students flexibility and personalization, as it requires a pre-test before every Outcome-level, and based on the results, the student is directed to Outcome topics and activities that they did not know
    • Adaptive quizzes can contain the following question types: multiple choice, true & false, numeric, drop-down, multiple selestion, text-based and mulitple input
    • If your competency WILL be adaptive, you will need to create your question banks, an UMPI norm is to have 5-15 questions per adaptive quiz.  Be sure that for every question you create, you also create 2 additional sibling questions (measuring the same thing, but phrased differently), so that students can get a variety of potential answers.
    • Adaptive pathways are the industry standard/norm for competency-based programs
  3. How many tiers will your competency be?
    • Will it have 2 tiers? Many competencies which have a lot of multimedia content, or are easy to structure in an Outcome→Topic/Concept→Learning Activity are 2-tiered.
    • Will it have 3 tier? There are some competnecies which, because of the nature of the discipline, may be more text-heavy (or may benefit from breaking Topic/Concepts into smaller Sub-topics), a 3 tier structure can benefit these competencies, because it allows the student to track thier progress through manageable chunks of content.  If you are wondering which choose may be the right choice, reach out to your ID!  

After this step is done, you are ready to to start building in the LMS! (Congratulations!)

7. The YourPace Syllabus

The YourPace Syllabus template is based on the same structure as our UMPI common template.  Continuity in the YourPace template design allows for students to quickly and efficiently navigate to the specific information they need.

Get the YourPace syllabus template now

(Note: to access institutional templates, you will need to be logged in with your @maine.edu credentials)

Planning for Peer-to-Peer Interaction

group project working

Social Learning Theory and Connectivist theory inform our understanding of the value of interacting with peers and the environment (the digital environment, in the case of connectivism) in the learning process.  The challenge with CBE programming–with its rolling admissions and go-at-your-own-pace structure, is that we have to re-think the way that we define peer interaction–indeed, sometimes we even have to re-think what it means to be a peer! 

It would not make sense to have a traditional discussion board, where students post and respond to several peers–at any given time, there could be only one student in a competency or only one who is in the section!  So how DO we create those social learning and engagement opportunities for YourPace students?  Let’s look at a couple of strategies:

  1. Prompt students to connect with a topic or activity (or find a connection in thier ‘world’), and post in the Discussion Board feature as a learning community activity (not as an assessment–these are not graded).  These are a great way for students to make a lasting (meaningful, relevant) impact–even across semesters.
  2. Encourage activities for your Milestones or Final which require the student to reach out into their community for tasks like interviews, case studies, observations and more.  You could have students contribute to a publically accessible forum (such as a performance video and student-created tutorial uploaded to Youtube).


How Assessment Works in the YourPace Program

word cloud comprised of formative assessment terms: decorative

In the YourPace program, you can throw your list of assignments right out the window.  Just kidding–those assignments may be useful if adapting to help you assess student’s ability to apply information from the content in the Milestone Activities and adaptive quizzes.  Some assignments may also be adapted to be useful as a component of the Final Assessment.  You may even be able to reuse some of your tests and/or quiz questions in your adaptive quizzes.  What you really need to throw out the window is how you think about assessment.  YourPace programming is not designed to assess a collection of project/products and quiz grades that will be weighted into a final grade.  The only ‘graded’ summative assessment in your competency will be the Final, and the Final must be comprised of activities and submissions that explicitly measure the Learning Outcomes.  Likewise–all Milestone Activities need to very clearly measure the knowledge of that Outcome it is in, and align explicitly with the tasks that will be required in the final.


Intro to strut

Let’s look a little deeper into how online learning is different than traditional F2F and Online learning, and why we take the design approach that we do:

Strut: The Faculty Experience


Strut: The Student Experience

Tools and strategies we love to use online

If you would like to brainstorm about how to utilize any of these tools and/or strategies, please reach out to schedule an appointment!

OER resources


Don’t let finding content that is open sources get you down!  Reach out to the library, or check out these great OER databases:

Developing multiple-choice questions

Building multiple-choice questions can be tough!  Lets look at these resources:  

Using Kaltura in Strut

Using Kaltura, you can embed interactive quizzes and presentations that you have in your Kaltura My Media–here how:

Rubric language resources

Stuck on Rubric language? Check out these resources:  


Assessing project-based learning:

Here are some resources that dig into how we can think about formally assessing project-based learning (PBL):