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Competency Based Education with Lucas Kavlie

Apr 17, 2023

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Empowering education in a fraction of the time.

Before serving as Governor of Colorado from 1987 to 1999, Roy Romer owned and taught in his own flight school. To Gov. Romer, it didn’t matter how long the students sat in a cockpit with a teacher, as long as their assessments proved that they had the ability to consistently and safely take off and land the plane in a variety of conditions.

Gov. Romer didn’t see the need to re-teach his students who had the competency to land, so why should our students have to sit through classes to learn what they already know? 

That is the question. 

Gov. Romer went on to become a founding governor of WGU. His unique perspective helped lead WGU to the cutting edge of competency-based education–a system in which students pass courses based on their mastery in a subject, not how long they’ve attended a class.

In the traditional credit hour-based model of education, final exams usually take place after 14 credit hours. Those are 14 hours’ worth of classes students are required to spend sitting at a desk, potentially re-learning content that they have already mastered. 

At WGU, we recognize that every student learns differently, and in a different amount of time. Many of our students already have experience and knowledge relevant to their studies. Our model of education, based on competency rather than credit hours, provides students the opportunity to show what they know and their mastery level. A Powerful Signal 

Founded in 1984, the Western Governors Association represents the governors of 19 states and three Pacific territories–from the Dakotas down to Texas and everything to the west. The governors come together to develop and adopt policies addressing the biggest challenges facing the West and the nation: natural resources, human services, economic development, international relations, and state governance.

Once these policies have been agreed upon by the Western governors, it has been the role of Jim and the WGA to establish coalitions of like-minded organizations and to testify before Congress,

“When the governors…come together and present Congress with these recommendations saying that ‘we’ve endorsed these as a bipartisan group of elected leaders, the top elected leaders of our state,’ that is a very, very powerful signal,” Jim said.

Such a powerful signal can get stuff done. During Jim’s tenure with the Association, the governors executed a multi-state agreement on charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, coordinated an attack on regional invasive species, and launched the Reimagining the Rural West initiative to revitalize and develop leadership capacity in rural communities–and those are just a few highlights.

In my humble opinion, one of the most significant achievements of the Western Governors Association has been building WGU–a revolutionary all-online, competency-based educational model–from the proverbial ground up. 

Measure in Competency, Not Credit Hours

Different people have different learning speeds. What may take one person months to master would take weeks for another. One person may need to sit for the equivalent of 14 credit hours to master the new information, but another may be ready to move on after a week. 

Our courses are no easier than other University courses. We’re not designing courses that students can pass through faster. What we’re doing is allowing students to be done when they can prove they’ve mastered the content..

While many universities take a one-and-done approach to testing students on their understanding of material, WGU doesn’t check or assess a student’s knowledge just once. Instead, we’re continually evaluating our students, checking them (and letting them check themselves) on their competency level. 

At WGU, we want to empower students to move at their own pace. Students can slow down or speed up when they need to, reducing their potential for burn-out. It is much harder to complete a course–let alone a whole degree–when students are bored to tears in classes teaching them what they already know.

A Degree in Under Six Months

With competency-based education, students can identify what knowledge they are confident and comfortable with and take the relevant assessment immediately. This way, their degree completion is noticeably accelerated without sacrificing quality. Many students can prove that they’re proficient in one course in a matter of just three to four weeks. 

We’ve even had students–especially at the master’s degree level–complete entire degree programs anywhere from two to six months. This means that our students can get their degree and get into the workforce rather than sitting stationary for the remaining dozen weeks of a traditional course environment.

Competency-based education is a core component upon which WGU was founded, and we have implemented it successfully for more than two decades. We know our students are truly prepared to go out into the workforce and compete at the highest levels. Many colleges and universities have tried to replicate what our model looks like. But switching from the traditional credit-hour model to competency-based education is time, labor, and monetarily intensive. Building a competency-based program is not easy. 

At WGU, we’re not only doing it, but doing it to scale. Don’t expend funds chasing “maybes” with schools who aren’t yet competent in competency-based education. Through our State Affiliate process, WGU is ready, willing, and able to empower your working learners with an education at a fraction of the cost and time of traditional institutions. 

And that, my friends, is my Sage Advice.

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