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What Is Competency Based Education (CBE)?

Traditionally, student progress in higher education is measured in credit hours. Students take a defined number of classes and earn a degree when they successfully pass them all. While this education system has been the industry standard for years, it introduces a multitude of inefficiencies. All students spend the same amount of time in each class whether they need to or not. You can pass assessments without knowing some of the information on them, creating knowledge gaps as students enter the workforce. There is often a disconnect between school and the practical skills students need for their future jobs.  


Competency-based education, or CBE, provides an alternative educational system emphasizing competencies and outcomes, not the number of hours students spend in a classroom. In a competency-based education program, students learn at their own pace with frequent feedback from their instructors. They do not advance until they master all of the skills and concepts associated with their courses, rendering terminology such as “sophomore” moot. It is a fantastic system for educational institutions with diverse student bodies and career-oriented learners.


Competency-based education is most frequently implemented online, meaning your university will need a great software partner to deliver it. Echo360 is that partner. Our Echosystem is a series of educational software solutions predicated on our e3 philosophy of equity, evidence, and engagement to achieve superior student engagement and learning outcomes. Continue reading to find out more about competency-based education and how our products, including Knowbly, EchoEngage, PointSolutions, EchoVideo, and EchoExam support learning.  

What is competency-based education?

While the demand for competency-based education is increasing, many university instructors are still asking, “What is competency based education?” Put simply, competency-based education is akin to mastery-based learning or proficiency-based learning. Approximately 82% of American educational institutions have already implemented competency-based learning in some capacity, with more interest expected in the near future.  

There are two distinct terms you need to know about: the competency and the outcome. A competency is defined as a general statement highlighting the desired skills, knowledge, and behaviors of a student who has completed a course or program. An outcome is a very specific statement describing what a student will be able to do in a measurable way. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they really shouldn’t be. 


It may be best to illustrate the difference with an example. An English program might have a competency named “Critical and Creative Thinking.” This competency tells students and prospective employers that graduates will be able to apply critical thinking skills to solve problems, but isn’t specific enough to measure directly. Instead, the program would attach several outcomes to the competency such as: 


  • Incorporating feedback to revise creative solutions
  • Recognizing the differences between fact and opinion
  • Asking relevant, probing questions
  • Reading critically
  • Drawing connections between educational disciplines
  • Applying liberal arts learning to everyday life


Program assessments would measure each of these six areas. Unlike the pursuit of a traditional bachelor’s degree or professional certificate, students need to master all six learning outcomes to achieve competency and graduate. Put another way, a student can’t have such strong critical reading skills they could pass the course without the ability to ask probing questions. That’s a radical change when most universities only require a score of about 70% to graduate. 

What benefits does CBE offer students?

Considering the resources required to launch a competency-based education program and the paradigm shift involved, students need to get a lot out of it. Fortunately, research suggests that students of all ability levels benefit immensely from these programs. Here are a few specific examples: 

Competency-based education allows students to learn at their preferred pace

Competency-based instruction focuses on knowledge and skills, not how long learners spend in a classroom. Therefore, advanced students can save time and money by breezing through content they already understand. If a student has previous higher education experience or has gained practical knowledge in the workplace, choosing a competency-based program can also be a fantastic way to get credit for what they already know. 


At the same time, students with learning differences aren’t pressured to learn as quickly as their peers. Instead, they can take as much time as they need to demonstrate mastery of each competency in the program. Their instructors will also help them as much as needed.  

Students can set their own learning goals

Students learn best when they have agency in education, and competency-based education facilitates that. Teachers need to be transparent about what’s expected from their students, enabling learners to set their own learning goals and work toward them however they wish. 


Constant instructor feedback can make it easier for a student to identify their unique areas of opportunity, meaning that they won’t need to wait for formal assessments to see how they’re doing. Additionally, instructors can intervene proactively if they have evidence learners need more support than they are currently receiving.  

Competency-based education is practical

Many students feel a disconnect between what they’ve studied in school and what works on the job. Similarly, employers often feel that schools aren’t teaching the skills they’re looking for. Competency-based education programs emphasize specific competencies and guarantee a graduate’s mastery of them, often eliminating this disconnect by equipping learners with the skills needed to succeed. 


Furthermore, the clear relationship between what’s studied at school and what’s needed on the job can ease a student’s transition between the two. They will also have more self-confidence on their first day of work since they’ll know they’re ready. Some even argue that a paradigm shift is necessary for the technological emphasis of the future of work.  

Competency-based education promotes equity

One of the hallmarks of competency-based education is individualized instruction. Self-paced assignments can be designed around specific learning styles to help students get more out of them, and all feedback is tailored to a learner’s individual needs. Should a student require extra support, it will always be available to them. 


This type of education also makes many programs of study more accessible. If an individual isn’t the best student but is interested in a field such as science education, technology management, or business administration, that career path becomes possible. If they had to maintain a “B” average in the traditional way, it might not be.  

How does Echo360 support competency-based education?

Now that you understand what competency-based education is and how it can benefit students, you’re probably eager to start applying it yourself. The first step is finding flexible tools to help you implement your system, and we’ll gladly compare the Echosystem to anything else on the market. Here are just a few examples of how our products support teaching and learning. 

Knowbly supports outcome-driven learning

Knowbly is a suite of intuitive course creation tools bringing learning to life to inspire students. Flexible, easy-to-use templates make it easy to produce course materials incorporating interactive videos, hotspots, images, audio recordings, and more, giving a student the freedom to choose how they want to learn. Annotations, bookmarks, and five different question types let students know how they’re performing in real-time, so they can celebrate their progress while addressing any weaknesses. Instructors can monitor student performance as well and provide appropriate feedback. 


The included content library also streamlines course management, allowing instructors to easily access information such as what is contained in each course and how many students are enrolled. Content can also be tagged with keywords to make it easier to find. Customized learning is one of the biggest advantages of competency-based education, and Knowbly is a great way to do so.  

EchoEngage is intuitive for students and teachers

EchoEngage is the learning engagement platform built for everyone, everywhere. Assignments can be distributed to individuals, groups, or entire organizations to ensure all students have the materials they need to pursue their learning goals. Two-way communication features such as threaded message boards and live chat functionality allow instructors to provide regular feedback while students ask any questions they might have, facilitating personalized support you might not always expect from online education. 


If your courses include inline quizzes, EchoEngage allows you to show the correct answer after a student responds or allow students to take the test again until competency is demonstrated. You can even lock content behind these quizzes to ensure that students never get ahead of themselves. EchoEngage offers the functionality of a complex solution with an intuitive design.

PointSolutions supports competency-based education through real-time polling

Students often have questions while working on a self-paced assignment that are forgotten before they next communicate with their instructor. PointSolutions facilitates real-time polling to increase. Instructors can embed poll questions into any form of media to make self-paced assignments on everything from health care to information technology more engaging. Students can send confusion alerts to their instructors whenever they don’t understand something, and instructors receive valuable data like audience engagement scores that can tell them when to intervene. 


Interpreting raw data can be a headache, but not with PointSolutions. You can visualize student responses in real time, ensuring that the information you’re presenting is really reaching your students. Instructors and admins can also export the results into their learning management system (LMS) of choice for easier analysis. PointSolutions makes it easier than ever before to get into the heads of your learners and help them reach for their goals. 

EchoVideo is more than a video management platform

Assessments typically involve students writing essays or answering multiple-choice questions, but these formats don’t always align with workforce expectations. EchoVideo allows students to record themselves delivering oral presentations on safety protocols or demonstrating a core competency, giving instructors another option to evaluate their performance. 


EchoVideo also supports learning by allowing students to spend as much or as little time on each topic as they please. Standard features like pause, rewind, and fast-forward allow students to progress at their pace. Notes can even be tied to specific video timestamps to ensure they can be reviewed in the proper context. We like to say that EchoVideo unleashes the true educational potential of video.  

EchoExam ensures equity in assessments

Formal assessments still have a role to play in competency-based education, and EchoExam helps instructors give every learner an equal opportunity to succeed. You can generate up to 26 different versions of a test with a single click, ensuring that all students receive an exam of equal difficulty without assigning the same test to every test-taker. 


EchoExam saves admin time as well with an extensive question bank sourced from over 15,600 textbook titles and 90+ publishers. You can create a multitude of study guides exams, pre-tests, worksheets, and other assignments with so many questions at your disposal. Many items can even be toggled between question types to adjust the difficulty quickly. We won’t say that EchoExam makes writing tests fun, but we will say the process becomes much more bearable!  

Nothing’s more accessible than the Echosystem

Competency-based education should allow learners to choose when and how they study. All of the solutions above are mobile-friendly, so learners can access them on their smartphones, tablets, desktops, and laptops for maximal flexibility. The content looks and runs great on the smaller screens of these devices, so no compromises have to be made. 


At Echo360, our products are designed and developed to meet or exceed WCAG 2.1 (web content accessibility guidelines) standards as well, meaning that content is accessible to people with learning differences or sensory impairments that may compromise their performance in a traditional classroom setting. We are proud to be an industry leader in this regard. 

Revolutionize CBE with Echo360

Competency-based education solves many of the issues associated with a traditional university education. Content is aligned to competency and outcomes, not the number of hours spent in the classroom. Education is more flexible, and the digital format supports one-on-one attention and the greater use of technology to support learners. The result is an educational experience revolving around the specific needs of the learner and what they will need to know after graduation.  

Delivering competency-based education requires the right technology, and Echo360 can help. All of our products were designed by educators to solve problems we have firsthand experience with. Using equity, evidence, and engagement as our guiding principles, we help learners and instructors feel prepared for anything. We also provide outstanding customer support to help you troubleshoot if things should go wrong. Put simply, the Echosystem is precisely what you’ve been searching for. 


Reading about the Echosystem and seeing what it can do are radically different things, so why not request more info today? We would love to show you how competency-based education is elevated with Echo360! 

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Question Types

With over 14 different question types, you can match the assessment to the material at hand. Use traditional test question types such as true/false, multiple-choice, multiple response, numeric response, matching, completion, short answer and essay to review, re-teach and reinforce learning.

Reporting & Analytics

Ensuring that learners understand the information presented and how it can impact their success is key. Assess, track and analyze learner performance. Get results immediately and view valuable reports at the individual level, or for the class or group as a whole. Provide results in real-time, or at a later time as preferred.

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