Published on 2015/10/21

Saying Yes to Competency-Based Education: The Big Picture (Part 1)

The EvoLLLution | Saying Yes to Competency-Based Education: The Big Picture (Part 1)
In order to plan for the future, institutions must thoroughly revise and rethink current practices.

Many years ago a seasoned faculty member said that it was important to acknowledge that when you say yes to something, regardless of the origin of the request, it means you are saying yes to everything that comes after. In 2008, the Kentucky Community and Technical College System (KCTCS) said yes to competency-based education (CBE) as the primary mode of instruction for its online Learn on Demand (LoD) program. In saying yes to CBE, it also means saying yes to a sustainable business plan that allows CBE to thrive.

KCTCS is comprised of sixteen community and technical colleges and over 70 sites. The LoD program was developed as a solution for adults who needed flexibility to pursue postsecondary education. What emerged was a competency-based, modularized, accelerated delivery system with a rolling enrollment schedule grounded in a non-term format. The competency-based model was groundbreaking in Kentucky and as a result, KCTCS set forth to implement the LoD model system-wide. From 2008 until 2014, the model evolved into the high-quality model that is in place today.

Yet, as successful as the model was at meeting the needs of adult as well as traditional students, there were components that needed revisiting. Among those and perhaps the most critical was the business model that supported LoD. Faculty and staff had skillfully converted existing content into manageable, competency-based instruction with quality controls and authentic assessments. But the business model needed to be refined and specifically needed to: a) define expectations for return on investment; b) identify resources after non-recurring funding streams diminished; c) develop specific strategies for financial aid and non-term scheduling;, and d) promote the sharing of programs and resources across all 16 colleges.

In fall 2015, KCTCS President Dr. Jay Box convened a special work group to study and make recommendations for a new business model for online CBE that would ensure the sustainability of the approach. The work group would be comprised of faculty, staff, and administrators across the 16 KCTCS institutions who were nominated by their college presidents.

Planning for a New CBE Business Model: Establishing Goals

To prepare for the new business model, it was important to clarify and reaffirm the path that was currently in place for CBE. This meant a studied, yet expedient, review of current practices and principles in order to establish/re-establish the foundation for the new business model.

The first step was to determine the purpose of the effort and it was simple: to develop a business plan that encompasses all aspects of distance learning for KCTCS. From the purpose statement three team goals were identified as follows:

Goal 1: Develop a common background and shared understanding of KCTCS-delivered online learning over the past five years:

  • Define current status of distance learning provided through KCTCS (Learn on Demand and Learn by Term) in three key areas: instructional underpinnings, student support and wrap around services, and technological infrastructure
  • Review previous reports, data, presentations, peer team feedback and research specifically related to distance learning at KCTCS.

Goal 2: Engage in research related to business models for distance learning:

  • Examine business models from systems or community colleges similar to KCTCS that deliver competency-based programs
  • Develop metrics for measuring business models and efficiencies.

Goal 3: Develop a Distance Learning Business Plan for KCTCS:

  • Include strategies in the plan that specifically address marketing, market and competitive analysis, operations, management, development, financial structure, and sustainability
  • Share draft Distance Learning Business Plan with President Box by January 15th, 2016.

Reaffirming our Value Propositions

The process used to guide this work was derived from Clayton Christiansen’s research, which states that the most appropriate business model requires evaluation and definition of a number of elements around the following:

The value propositions: What is unique about the focus of the online learning initiative, from the students’ perspective?

Resources: What staff, equipment, technology, and facilitates are required to deliver on the value proposition?

Processes: How must all who are involved work together, and how must training, budgeting, and other ancillary processes be managed, in order to deliver on the value proposition efficiently and effectively?

Funding arrangement: What is the acceptable income-to-expense structure?

To reaffirm and refine our current belief system for competency-based education, we developed value propositions and resources to ensure the new, reframed business plan rested on a solid and supported foundation. The value propositions were clustered into three categories: instructional framework, student support services and technological infrastructure. Subcommittees were charged with addressing guiding questions for the value propositions and identifying associated costs that could subsequently inform the business plan. The guiding questions follow:

1. Instructional Framework Guiding Questions

  • How can competency-based education become the pedagogical model for all KCTCS-supported distance programs? What are the guiding principles and expectations for CBE?
  • What quality controls are currently in place and will these continue as they are or be modified to ensure content integrity?
  • Are there specific majors that should be targeted for the KCTCS-supported distance learning program? If so, what are the guidelines for inclusion?
  • Are there specific audiences that are best suited for KCTCS-sponsored distance learning programs? If so, will these audiences become the primary focus and still allow flexibility/access?
  • Is scheduling flexible for business and industry usage? If not, how can it be improved?
  • What levels of faculty development are needed to support the distance learning efforts beyond what has been available in the past?

 2. Student Support Services Guiding Questions

  • Has financial aid been addressed and is it working effectively/efficiently for students?
  • What technical support mechanisms are in place for distance learning and when/how is it available?
  • What are the most effective methods for advising distance students?
  • Is the enrollment/registration process effective and does it facilitate ease of access to distance learning courses/programs?
  • Is career counseling available to students who are unsure of majors and/or their career pathway?
  • How is college readiness determined in a distance-learning environment?
  • What additional support systems are needed for student success? Coaches, mentors, others?

3. Technological Infrastructure Guiding Questions

  • Is the current LMS the best system to support KCTCS distance learning efforts?
  • What “bolt-on” services are available that support distance learning and how are they communicated to students, faculty, and staff?
  • What data analytics are available to provide feedback and direction on how to increase student success, improve delivery, increase efficiencies and inform decision-making?
  • Are there consortium arrangements within and external to the system that leverage current resources and/or extend opportunities?
  • Are there accreditation issues (authentication), access issues (ADA) and federal mandates (SARA) that need to be addressed to ensure compliance?

This is the first installment in a two-part series by Rhonda Tracy discussing how KCTCS is revising its competency-based education model and planning for the future of CBE. Please come back next week for the series conclusion.

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Readers Comments

Dana Todd 2015/10/21 at 9:49 am

Laying out the (many) questions that need to be answered in order to succeed at running programs like this is something everyone can benefit from. The only way to get to a clear answer about the best way to move forward in a sustainably way is to really look critically at the many different areas that contribute to successful programs.

Leo Jones 2015/10/21 at 10:12 am

I suppose trial and error is just how it goes sometimes, even when choosing a business model for a new program. I’d be interested to hear more about how other schools and systems are managing their unconventional programs, and get a better sense of the different approaches that are available.

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