Category: Analysis

Online Learning Means Extended Learning Time

October 4, 2012 by

Today, I made a visit to New Hampshire’s Virtual Learning Academy Charter School (NH VLACS) in Exeter, New Hampshire.

As Richard Ayers from SERESC notes, “VLACS has thoroughly developed a profile for competency education that is far reaching and relevant to 21st Century Learning.”

Students can take all of their courses online at VLACS. They can enroll so they learn online for just one or a few courses at VLACS, take additional courses for acceleration, take courses that aren’t offered at their traditional schools, or recover units for credit through online learning to catch up and stay on track. There are more than 15,000 enrollments in courses with 100 of their own full-time students, thousands of part-time students, and even students over age 18 trying to re-engage in public education.

I was able to spend several hours talking to students, teachers, staff, and even a few of the board members.  The teachers remarked that they “purposefully came to VLACS” to do what they enjoy doing best– focus on teaching and instruction, working with students in a student-centered, competency-based learning environment.  VLACS has 126 instructors and 150 staff. All instructional staff are certified teachers, teaching online with the technology tools that enable high quality, personalized instruction that is designed to be competency-based.

Here are a few highlights of my visit:

Statewide Partnership: VLACS’ main focus is to partner with public schools around New Hampshire to create more opportunities for students, and they said that every high school in the state has engaged with VLACS.  Their mission is to provide high quality educational opportunities to ensure students are prepared for college, careers, and citizenship.


Alberta Breaking Down the Boundaries

September 20, 2012 by

Some of our friends across our northern border are experimenting with seat-time flexibility as well. Jonathan Oglesby from iNACOL just sent an article about Mother Margaret Mary Catholic High School’s experimentation with flexible time. It’s an interesting pilot as it works around the margins of seat-time providing students with weekly opportunities to design their own schedules.

It’s part of Alberta’s High School Flexibility Project aimed at increasing high school completion. They did a nice piece of work in their planning phase where they started to name and describe the different techniques related to credit flexibility. This is just the beginning list of the infinite design choices we have in front of us. Looking at this list, it’s probably time for us to make an easy to use tool to help us think strategically about these design choices as they are bound to grow as the boundaries of the traditional school system loosen up. (Please add others in the comments section so we can get a good list going in order to save time having to start from scratch every time).

Courses and Credits

  • Self-Directed Learning Modules: Portions of, or entire courses, that are made available to students to work through at their own pace.
  • Condensed Classes/Compacting Curriculum: Providing less than 25 hours per credit for classes. Such a practice requires a review of the traditional delivery of courses in order to “compact” the program outcomes into less time.
  • Expanded Classes: Providing more than 25 hours per credit for classes.
  • Credit Recovery: Making allowances for students who have not successfully completed a course to continue their coursework beyond the time scheduled. (more…)

What the Learning Sciences Tell Us About Competency Education

August 8, 2012 by

At a recent meeting sponsored by iNACOL to think deeply about competency and assessment, we talked about what impact the last few decades of learning science should have on doing the best job planning and using competencies for learning.

The good news is the learning science lines up with the idea of personalizing instruction, and the pace of instruction, for individual learners:  they’re likely to be more motivated, and more successful, if they can work and master at different rates, doing different things, to get to the same competencies.

However, not every way you could conceive of making learning personalized is likely to match how learning and expertise actually work.  Let’s look at a few examples of how learning science can guide us: (more…)

The Core Business of Schooling: Competency (Part 1)

July 23, 2012 by

These are very exciting and interesting times for the field of education in general and those who are exploring competency as a core component of more effective approaches to education.  Notice I did not call it a “new” approach.

On the one hand, competency has been around as a concept for as long as human beings have been around.  Our own “competence” in terms of managing and manipulating the world around us is one reason we are a dominant species.  (Give thanks to meteors and the extinction of dinosaurs as another.)  Some would say we are approaching “incompetence” in terms of our survival skills on account of how we manage conflict, over use of natural resources and how we produce mind numbingly bad television shows.  However, we are pretty good at many things and our place in the world is evidence of this. (more…)

The Core Business of Schooling: Competency (Part II)


The Endurance from Wikipedia

If competence is the core business of schooling then why does it seem like a new idea every time it emerges as a topic of reform, debate and consideration?

Part of the answer could be linked to the most important aspect of any venture – its core purpose.  The core purpose of education has long been defined by a contradictory set of principles: one explicit and noble, the other tacit and more base, but seemingly (or at least historically) practical.

The explicit and noble espoused purpose of public education is often paraphrased as being about opportunity and equity – the chance on a level playing field of making more of oneself – the chance to beat the odds of upbringing and class.  Some believe you are given your lot and you have to wait for the next time around to get a better one.  In our society there is a presumption that given certain opportunities people can exceed these pre-determinations and better themselves, their families and thus contribute to the progress of society as whole.  This is a good set of principles and it has served some leading societies well – including a good part of almost every generation of Americans. (more…)

Responding to Each Student’s Needs and Interests

July 16, 2012 by

Cecilia Le, Senior Project Manager, Jobs for the Future

What would an education system look like that responded to each student’s needs and interests – and based their progression on their individual mastery of vital skills and competencies? And what would it take to get there? These were some of the big questions at Jobs for the Future’s (JFF) Students at the Center symposium. A diverse audience of 150 leading practitioners, researchers, policymakers, and funders came together to discuss the findings of nine syntheses of research on student-centered approaches to learning, funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation (NMEF). For two days, we approached education from the perspective of the learner, grappling with how to harness old wisdoms and new technologies to make teaching and learning work for each and every student. We heard more than a few people comment that the Common Core State Standards are providing us a precious but narrow window in which people are paying close attention to what actually happens in the classroom. So how can we capitalize on this moment? (more…)

CBE Student Information Systems, What Do We Want Them To Do?

July 11, 2012 by

Josh GriffithIf you could build a student information system for a Competency Based Learning System what would it be able to do?  I have been thinking a lot about this lately and have been wondering if there is something out there that will do everything we need.  Or does something new need to be built? Below I outline everything that I would like to see in a student information system.

1) Log progress and mastery of standards, benchmarks, and competencies.

I say progress because it would be great to see what standards, benchmarks, and competencies a learner is currently working on as well as how long they have been working on them.  It would be nice to see a percentage bar notifying what percentage of the standards or benchmarks have been completed for a competency or course.  With the inclusion of a percentage bar it would make it much easier to see when a student is struggling because they have stopped making progress.  It would also be nice to have a time stamp indicating when they started working on those specific standards, benchmarks, and/or competencies. (more…)

Personalizing State Policy with Extended Graduation Rate

June 27, 2012 by

One of the key elements of personalization in education is providing flexibility for students who need more time.

Yet, only 12 states have embraced the extended-year graduation rates initiative that provides incentives for districts and schools to serve those students who need more time to graduate. I am wondering what impact this is going to have on districts wanting to apply for RTT—will (more…)

Blended Learning and Competency-Based Education Collide in Colorado

June 26, 2012 by

The Donnell-Kay Foundation (DKF), Colorado Department of Education (CDE), and the Colorado Legacy Foundation (CLF) recently hosted a three-part blended learning series. Each part highlighted one component of blended learning: best practices and barriers to implementation, professional development and collaboration, and national policy and next steps for Colorado.

The third session had direct discussions surrounding competency-based education with speakers Utah State Senator Howard Stephenson, and New Hampshire Deputy Commissioner Paul Leather both presenting the progress in their respective states. You can watch the archived webinars and access presentation materials at the Donnell-Kay Foundation’s website.

It may have been a series on blended learning, but it was clear that a competency-based education system is a goal for Colorado. Educators and (more…)

Five Ideas for Building a System of Support

June 18, 2012 by

Over the last few weeks, I have been conducting interviews with national experts who are working to implement competency-based learning in districts across the country.  We have focused in particular on the topic of supportive services in a competency-based environment.  A few common themes have begun to emerge:

  1. Personalized learning requires a deep understanding of each individual learner.  By definition, this will require an assessment of learning styles, strengths and weaknesses, etc.  Every learner’s plan therefore builds in the support that is needed. (more…)
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