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Proficiency-Based Learning: Goodbye to “Getting By”

Posted in Ed Tech 101 on July 22, 2014 by

What is “proficiency-based learning”?

In general, proficiency refers to a level of expertise or skill. Proficiency-based learning is an educational method in which learners progress on their educational path by mastering skills and concepts. That seems fairly natural, but it’s not actually common practice in most schools today. Traditionally, students will take a course, and upon passing the course, move on. With proficiency-based learning, the student literally can’t progress without demonstrating that she’s gotten everything there is to get out of a course. Proficiency-based learning measures actual learning, rather than time spent.

Synonymous Terms:

  • Competency-based learning, education, instruction
  • Mastery-based learning
  • Outcome-based learning
  • Performance-based learning
  • Standards-based learning

Proficiency-based learning has gotten a lot of support in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. This type of education does what education should always do: teach people. For so many students today, school is about “getting by,” and it’s fairly easy to do that when a passing grade is anything from an A to a D. Those students who get grades on the lowest end of the spectrum might end up graduating high school without basic literacy or math skills. But when a course is designed to ensure that students are acquiring all of the skills and information they’re supposed to, there’s no room for “getting by” anymore.

Despite the benefits of proficiency-based learning, there are some who are afraid of big changes in education. Some of these are parents who fear that if their child doesn’t go through school in a “traditional” way, they won’t be able to go on to a good college and eventually get a good job. Their anxiety is understandable, especially if they have a child who struggles in certain areas and might require extra time on a subject before progressing to the next level, or if they have a high-achieving student who may not shine as brightly when the playing field is leveled. There are also people who argue that making the switch to proficiency-based learning would mean extra (possibly uncompensated) work for teachers: They would need to redesign their coursework and go through the effort of implementing it, which can be difficult.

Knewton technology can make the transition to proficiency-based learning easier. Knewton personalizes course materials for students, making out-of-class work much more effective and engaging. Knewton’s personalized recommendations and predictive analytics ensure that every individual student is working productively towards her educational goals. Students who have achieved proficiency can move on to more challenging assignments, while those who are struggling can get extra help until they master the material at hand.

Learn more about how Knewton creates proficiency-based learning strategies for teachers and students.