What is different about Competency-Based Education?

Competency-Based Education (CBE) differs in several ways from Outcomes-Based Education (OBE). The former seeks the achievement of learner improvement (regardless of outcome) while the latter seeks course or institutional achievements, such as grades, degree completion, or certification. These alternative forms of education place different emphasis on the role and positioning of assessment. They differ in the determinants of efficient operation. Consequently, they focus on different learning objectives and what is measured to indicate the accomplishment of objectives. Perhaps most essentially, CBE and OBE differ in what is considered a successful education program.

CBE is guided by formative assessments based on valid predictors of job performance. Recognizing their grounding in objective learning outcomes, these assessments are referred to as criterion-referenced tests. Conversely, OBE is usually based on valid classification of learners into groups, e.g., letter grades or certified/non-certified, based on designated score ranges. Because they are comparing a learner with subjective distinctions, they are referred to as norm-referenced tests.

CBE guided formative assessments enable “teaching-to-the-test” to ensure learners can accomplish all the task objectives. Thus, the focus shifts to personalizing the educational experience in order to increase the number of the capable individuals who can perform the work. CBE instruction is driven by embedded assessments within each learning module that are designed to accurately identify and eliminate the obstacles to the development of competency.

On the other hand, OBE guided summative assessments, common in most classrooms today, enable “testing-what-was-taught” to ensure the most qualified individuals are selected through graded differentiation of achievements within a prescribed timeframe. The effect of this selection focus is to reduce the number of the qualified individuals in a competency domain to only those scoring above a “cutoff” on summative credentialing exams. OBE defines success as the number of individuals who obtained minimum proficiency in the time allotted – or student success rates.

Whereas OBE focuses on what was understood, conceived and/or applied in order to recognize achievement, CBE focuses on what was misunderstood, misconceived, or misapplied in order to recognize readiness to learn subsequent material. CBE measures the results of learning where OBE measures the results of instruction. The effect of a focus on instructional outcomes is to reduce the use of instructional programs that fail to produce mastery – the measure of learning success. In CBE, assessment is formative, precedes or drives, and is embedded in instruction; whereas, in OBE, assessment is summative, occurring after learning, and often as an after-thought in instructional design.

CBE seeks to improve efficiency of learning where OBE seeks to improve efficiency of instruction. Outcomes-based instructional design is focused on the material to be taught with assessments designed to measure the learning objective of assimilating the content transmitted. Each learner is scrutinized to determine if they can provide the minimum number of correct answers. The efficiency of information transmission is measured by the number of individuals achieving completion of the course or degree program in the expected amount of time, e.g. 4-6 years for an undergraduate degree. This focus on efficient information transmission minimizes the time and cost investment in limited instructional resources (talent and technology). The trade-off is that not all learners will achieve proficiency of understanding or competence in application in the time provided.

Conversely, the learning objective of CBE is mastery of each concept, action, or judgment required by a competence domain. The mastery threshold determines the optimal content to be fully comprehended and applied. Each instructional module is scrutinized to determine if it possesses the minimal level of correct instruction necessary to eliminate misunderstanding, misconception and misapplication of course material. The efficiency of each individual’s learning curve is measured by the breadth of mastery achieved by the learners in the time provided. The trade-off is that the economic basis of education must shift from seat time (credit hour) to learning time (credentials achieved). In sum, success in OBE is measured by how quickly and how many individuals complete the course while CBE is measured by how quickly and how many requisite capabilities are mastered.

A Competency-Based, Mastery Learning Curriculum

In 2017, the National CyberWatch Center Curriculum Standards Panel architecture and mission was extended to develop course-specific standards panels to advance the models of instructional design used in cybersecurity education. Each standard course panel will develop a competency-based, mastery learning curriculum library. The project (April 22, 2017-April 22, 2018), funded by a grant (#H98230-17-1-0287) from the National Security Agency, applied psychometrically-valid, competency-based instructional design techniques to develop the model domain taxonomy, assessment items, instructional content, and the sequencing plan for that content necessary to overcome constraints to developing mastery of the National CyberWatch Information Security Fundamentals course. The model is intended to provide guidance towards standardization of cybersecurity curricula. Further, the model curricula will facilitate rapid prototyping, development and dissemination of adaptive, accelerated learning systems that can substantially improve cybersecurity workforce capability maturity. The result will not be a course, in the traditional outcomes-based sense. Instead, a library of learning objects will be assembled. These learning modules may be mixed and matched based on learner readiness, institutional goals, and career requirements.

The cumulative process will produce a curricula model for cybersecurity professionals consistent with the requirements of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guidelines for development of recruitment and selection programs. The model will contribute to the development of standards for aptitude testing, instructional design, performance evaluation and electronic performance support systems in both academic and corporate training environments.

Competency is Not a Three Letter Word: A Glossary Supporting Competency-based Instructional Design in Cybersecurity

Competence is a complex, multidimensional construct which must be decomposed to fully understand. In the article, Competency is Not a Three Letter Word A Glossary Supporting Competency-based Instructional Design in Cybersecurity, National CyberWatch authors review the prevalent problems with the term competency, a term that is essential to clarify if we hope to accurately assess the efficacy of competency-based education. The authors also develop a glossary of terms that eliminate recursive definitions to bring clarity to competency-based instructional design. The proposed taxonomies suggest a framework for evaluating and organizing submissions for the new National CyberWatch Center’s Cybersecurity Skills Journal: Practice and Research.

Interested in volunteering for a Panel? Contact us @ info [at] nationalcyberwatch [dot] org