PLA and CBE: Building a Cohesive Strategy
Concurrent Session 4
The relationship between Prior Learning Assessment and Competency-Based Education is often confusing. Are they the same thing? Should institutions develop one or the other? Is one better? Learn from Sinclair Community College how PLA and CBE intertwine in and out of the classroom, in a cohesive institutional strategy to serve all learners.
Competency-based education is commonly defined as a modality that transitions away from seat time, in favor of a structure that creates flexibility, and a way for students to progress based on mastery of content, regardless of time, or pace of learning. According to the U.S. Department of Education, CBE provides flexibility in the way that credit can be earned or awarded, and provides students with personalized learning opportunities. Based on this definition, Sinclair took an innovative approach to demonstrating mastery, which utilizes prior learning assessment (PLA) inside, and outside of the credit-based CBE classroom.
Before CBE at Sinclair, students were offered two pathways to earning credit: enroll in, and pay for a course that lasts the full duration of the semester that conforms to the pace of the majority, or use a more cost-effective, but higher risk PLA option such as a proficiency exam to “test out” of the course in its entirety. This all or none approach to addressing prior learning was underserving the majority of non-traditional learners, who should have been the most likely to utilize proficiency exams. These are learners who have experience in their field of study, and who desire to expedite their credential completion by earning credit for prior learning. However, these non-traditional learners continued to shy away from proficiency exams, expressing fear that they wouldn’t pass, because although they were familiar with much of the content, they weren’t confident enough in their competency to risk a failed attempt at a proficiency or challenge exam. Furthermore, their fears were justified by the high failure rates associated with most proficiency exams.
The introduction of Unit-based CBE courses at Sinclair hoped to provide an intermediate option for learners with some prior experience in their subject area, but who were not quite proficient enough for an all-or-nothing exam. Unit-based CBE courses offer learners an option to be assessed at the topic level, rather than at the course level, mitigating the risk of failure, and providing an opportunity to demonstrate mastery in chunks, ultimately allowing for acceleration through familiar topics, and concentrated focus on unfamiliar material.
Attendees in this session will learn how Sinclair developed Unit-based CBE courses utilizing topic pre-assessments and post-assessments, providing a completely individualized pathway to mastering course content. Reflection and Q&A will be guided by a Sinclair developed, PLA Strategies handout, focusing on how institutions, departments, instructional designers, faculty, and others, can implement innovative approaches to prior learning assessment in any discipline.