Personalized-Competency Based Learning

"If our aim is to prepare students for the real world, we need to give them the real world every day." — Competency-Based Education by Rose L. Colby


In a personalized-competency based learning environment (PCBL) each learner is challenged and supported based on their learning progression. Learners meet the same common learning targets with the flexibility to determine how they demonstrate their learning. With the support of their teacher, learners co-create their experiences. Learners are encouraged to explore their interests and learn based on their strengths. PCBL develops the whole person, supporting each learner’s social, emotional, mental, and physical needs.

What is Competency Based Learning?
  • Students advance upon demonstrated competency.*
  • Competencies include explicit, measurable, transferable learning objectives that empower students.*
  • Assessment is meaningful and a positive learning experience for students.*
  • Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs.*
  • Learning outcomes emphasize competencies that include application and creation of knowledge, along with the development of important skills and dispositions.*

*Adapted from iNACOL's Definition of Competency Based Learning.

Competencies vs. Standards — How are they different? 
Academic standards define the content and skills of discipline. Standards are the hub for instructional delivery. While most standards are at a low depth of knowledge, competencies are created at a higher cognitive demand. Competencies are aligned to state and national standards and allow learners to demonstrate the ability to apply or transfer content and skills in or across content areas. 


What is learner agency?

Learner agency is comprised of four distinct components:

  • Setting Goals (forethought, intentionality)*
  • Initiating Action (choice, autonomy)*
  • Reflecting and Redirecting (self-reflective, self-discipline)*
  • Internalizing Self-Efficacy (growth mindset)*

PCBL is a framework in which teachers can intentionally and progressively develop learner agency through co-created learning experiences.*

*Adapted from Education Re-imagined.

What is Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK)?

Depth of Knowledge (DOK) was developed by Norman Webb. It refers to the complexity of mental processing that must occur to answer a question, perform a task or generate a product. Webb’s DOK has four levels that progressively require more complexity.

  • DOK 1 - focus on specific facts, definitions, details, or procedures
  • DOK 2 - focus on applying skills and concepts
  • DOK 3 - focus on reasoning or planning to respond, complex thinking
  • DOK 4 - focus on making real-world applications in a new setting

How is personalized-competency based learning connected to the strategic plan?

PCBL is a framework that allows learners to be agents of their own learning:

  • Learners make choices based on their needs and learning progression.
  • Learners provide evidence of progress on competencies to assess their level of learning. 
  • Learners connect to their learning based on their strengths, interests, and spark.
  • Learners become informed problem solvers able to reflect and revise throughout their learning experience.


Click here for K-12 Competencies and Rubrics

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