Competency-Based Education: Everyone's Talking About It; UMHB is Making It Happen

Concurrent Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

We'll take you from theory to action in this informative presentation by UMHB about their Competency-Based Education Program called MyWay.


Chris Valada is an Account Executive at Fidelis Education. He has over 10 years of experience helping educators develop and improve innovative approaches to learning.

Extended Abstract

The goal:
We've found that while competency-based education is a big topic in higher education, many programs haven't actually shared how they are building these programs. We'd like to share how UMHB is building their MyWay Program, technology implementation and early findings.

CBE and Why It's Important:
Competency-Based Education (CBE) is not a new educational concept, however, the way it is impacting the delivery of curriculum and faculty-student interaction has caught the attention of the higher education community in recent years. At its core, a CBE model requires students to demonstrate mastery of identified competencies. The difference between how the higher education community is beginning to apply a CBE model and how traditional education works lies in how time takes a back seat. In UMHB's CBE model, as in others across the country, students build up their knowledge and skills of competencies and demonstrate their mastery at their own, personal pace. We award credit for learning - not time.

Not all students are the same, nor are their life circumstances. Within traditional models, students are expected to conform to set terms, set deadlines and master their learning the same way as their other classmates. Consider this example: What if college algebra is offered at 8am, but some students do their best work at midnight? To provide the best opportunity for these students to succeed, why not allow them to work at midnight? Furthermore, why not allow them to choose the month, week, day and night which works best for them? What if one student in the class prefers to learn through practice while another student needs someone to demonstrate for them? Why not allow each student to choose their learning method? And finally, each student is unique in the relationships they form, how they leverage help and who they reach out to for assistance.

Each of these examples demonstrate barriers to student success that can exist in traditional models. CBE programs, depending upon how they are defined, can overcome these barriers in innovative ways. Moreover, CBE models hold the promise of increasing access and improving affordability.

Introduction to UMHB MyWay:
In the fall of 2014, UMHB committed the resources to develop a full bachelor degree in a CBE format - UMHB MyWay. The first degree in the MyWay program is a Bachelor of Applied Studies in Organizational Leadership. The university did it to expand their mission by reaching a new segment of students they aren't currently reaching and to stretch themselves to see how innovative modes of delivery might positively impact students.

UMHB defined CBE in the following way:
- Built upon competencies
- Personal pace, fully online
- Coach, faculty and mentor support for students
- No textbook costs for students
- Flat rate 6-month subscription fee (complete all you can for no additional cost)

How they made it happen:
UMHB primarily serves traditional college students in a residential setting. That means, courses are offered in semester terms, mostly face-to-face and students are billed on a per-credit-hour basis. None of this works for the UMHB MyWay program. This meant starting from scratch with technology, people and internal processes.

Heads of all campus units provided input on the decision to move forward as most functional offices would be impacted in some way. Campus leaders developed an extensive timeline of required activities, with engaging faculty and identifying a technology platform occurring at the front end of the timeline. They rolled out the idea of a CBE program in a visionary, compelling way, followed by leadership opportunities for faculty to both develop content and lead various aspects of the program's development. A technology team documented technology features and various vendors were vetted, with campus leaders overwhelmingly supporting partnering with Fidelis Education as the Learning Relationship Management (LRM) System. Fidelis is a native CBE product, meaning, in part, the main unit in the system is the student, not a course as is the case with traditional learning management systems. Among other things that make Fidelis an LRM: there is a coach role with access to analytics about students, there is the ability to assign faculty to learning content and as assessment evaluators, learning communities, and students involve mentors and mentees in their learning environment. It's all about the student and managing their learning relationships.

Once campus leaders began a partnership with Fidelis, they constructed a rigorous curriculum design process. This backwards design process begins with competencies, then assessments, then learning content to help students master competencies. The process aimed to merge the curriculum with the Fidelis system through faculty subject matter experts (SMEs) and instructional designers working in partnership with Fidelis developers to define a system meant to facilitate the type of CBE program UMHB envisioned to be an ideal student experience.

Throughout the summer and fall of 2015 and the spring of 2016, curriculum development continued. At the same time, approval from SACSCOC was sought, new academic policies were drafted, new admissions processes, registrar processes, billing processes, branding and marketing were under development.

"Doors open" in August of 2016. The goal is for a pilot group of 50 students to begin the program at that time. Campus leaders believe starting with a pilot group will allow time to smooth out any unforeseen issues, but the long-term hope is that the program grows exponentially. Plans are underway for marketing, including personal visits to area businesses.

UMHB now has new roles on campus aimed at supporting the MyWay program. A completion coach will support students from the time they begin until they graduate. Faculty SMEs will evaluate assessments, moderate learning communities, tutor students as needed and oversee the curriculum. New job descriptions and faculty compensation models were developed to accommodate these changes.

Early Findings:
Don't down-play how difficult this isÖmanage it as a large-scale change initiative.
Don't minimize the importance of the technology system in a program like this.
Don't underestimate the power of the people on your campus to do it.