Remember when you got your driver’s license? Remember parallel parking for the licensing instructor? How did you learn how to do that? Some of us learned from Dad; others through drivers’ education courses; and a few lucky ones absorbed it all through manuals. In the end, it didn’t matter which way we learned, as long as we could demonstrate those perfect parking skills on test day.*
The DMV models competency-based education, where student learning matters instead of seat time. Competency-based education allows students to work independently and learn the best way they can, either in the classroom or through practical experience. When students have understood the course material, they can take an assessment or create a portfolio of work to demonstrate mastery.
Western Governors University and Excelsior College are two pioneers of competency-based education, and their courses are offered exclusively online. Students at these institutions work toward degrees at their own pace, completing courses and demonstrating competencies when they are ready. Some, too, receive credit through Prior Learning Assessments (PLAs), or tests that translate students’ work experience into college credit. When students have checked off all of their required competencies, they pick up their degree.
This method of measuring student learning makes more sense for both taxpayers and students, argues Amy Laitinen in her latest report, Cracking the Credit Hour. The idea of the credit hour, or awarding credits based on time in class, is antiquated and simply not accurate. “Two people can spend the same amount of time in the same course and learn very different things,” Laitinen writes. It’s time to award students based on what they know and can do.
For a primer on Laitinen’s report—and more information on competency-based education—please see our FAQs.
*Admittedly, state laws vary, and some do require drivers’ education courses or a specified number of practice driving hours.