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Competency-Based vs Personalized Learning: Dawn of Justice

Using social mediaCompetency-based and personalized learning strategies are both best incorporated when they leverage technology tools which allow teachers to customize their standard curriculum. Classrooms are now equipped with smart boards, Internet access, mobile devices, digital cameras, along with other devices that relate specifically to a particular field of study. These devices, when used correctly, can enhance a student’s academic experience while allowing teachers to cater to the diverse needs of their classroom.

A competency-based learning system focuses on the demonstration of a student’s academic performance. Students are allowed to progress by way of individualized learning programs at a rate that challenges their growth and supports their development. Competency-based learning allows students to master at their own pace and spend extra time as needed in areas they lack certain strengths. In this system, students largely compete against themselves.

Competency-based systems can produce multiple pathways to graduation – depending on the strategy used. The progression of computer-based training allows schools to make better use of technology. One school has even taken their approach to competency-based learning offline with the introduction of individual mentors. The program has rigorous acceptance requirements, including a terminal degree in the field and previous industry experience, but students enrolled participate in hands on projects so they can learn by doing. Regardless of the competency-based learning implementation, the approach provides an opportunity to achieve greater efficiency and increase productivity.

Personalized learning plans differ in that students are exposed to material, projects, and assignments based on their specific learning style. Instructors who rely on this strategy are most effective when they design a personalized plan at the curriculum level.

Personalized learning plans lend themselves well to using choice boards. Choice boards are graphic organizers that allow students to select how they will learn. Boards should contain four-to-nine options. Each option reveals a separate project that students will complete. They can be designed around the ways a teacher has noticed his or her students choose to learn most often, providing videos, readings, and hands-on options.

Boy touching a smartphoneMobile devices and access to software and online tools also allow instructors to take advantage of the personalization that will make students most productive. Learning is active and interactive using these tools, and students are likely to be more engaged rather than distracted by the constant call of mobile technology.

Both approaches mark a transition from a school of thought that favors seat time to a structure that encourages flexibility, allowing students to progress either according to their demonstrated level of mastery or according to a learning choice that is most effective. Competency-based and personalized learning strategies require more planning upfront. Student goals and abilities must be adequately assessed to apply the most effective strategies. There will also be an additional investment in equipment required as the proper technology tools are also generally needed to implement either strategies. However, enhanced student engagement and progress is the trade-off to be realized by a transition to either a competency-based or personalized learning system.


hilary smithTexas native, Hilary Smith now braves Chicago winters since she attended Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. After graduating, Hillary began a career as a freelance writer focusing on the telecommunications industry. She embraces her inner nerd by staying abreast of the latest technology trends.

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Hillary Smith

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