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Insights

Advancing collaboration and competency-based education during COVID-19

Girl participating in online learning

Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs) partner with organizations to conduct research and trainings to improve programs and student performances across the country, but the REL Southeast Alliance, focusing on competency-based education (CBE), is unique. Headquartered in North Carolina, the REL Southeast Alliance focuses on the advancement of personalized learning and is well-equipped to support schools in the transition to remote learning and the evaluation of remote learning strategies. The collaborative group is comprised of members from the practitioner space of K-12, researchers from K-20, and school and district-level educators. Its members include organizations such as:

  • North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI)
  • North Carolina Community College System (NCCCS)
  • University of North Carolina (UNC) System
  • North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities
  • Western Governors University
  • North Carolina Science, Math, and Technology Center (NCSMT)
  • The Friday Institute for Educational Innovation
  • Partner School Districts

An alliance for competency-based education

The REL Southeast CBE Alliance connects partners in government and policy, funding, research, and implementation, allowing them to develop and share best practices for CBE. CBE is a pedagogical strategy allowing students to progress as they master content. In other words, it uses evidence of student learning rather than time spent on content as a measure of student achievement. The Alliance studies CBE programs in other states and hosts site visits to schools in North Carolina that are using CBE to determine best practices. The group also functions as a peer-network, in which members engage in problem-solving and discuss promising practices in North Carolina. 

With the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 has brought to our country’s education systems, the need for collaborations like this to explore and implement innovative educational strategies has become even more crucial.

“It has been very helpful to participate in discussions and learning opportunities on CBE with a key group of dedicated stakeholders,” said Mary Ann Wolf, Senior Director of the Professional Learning and Leading Collaborative at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation. “The opportunity to hear directly from students, teachers, and administrators during the REL visit to Carroll Middle School had a significant impact on my thinking and understanding of implementation, including the successes and challenges with CBE.”

In addition to building local, state, and regional partnerships, the REL Southeast CBE Alliance interacts with individuals and organizations at the national level of research and practice related to CBE. With members of the Alliance ranging from K-12 to postsecondary education, the group represents diverse experiences and areas of expertise, allowing it to benefit a variety of districts and schools. This range of experience was particularly helpful as schools across the nation made the transition to remote learning earlier this year.

Remote learning & CBE

COVID-19 and resulting social distancing measures forced K-12 and post-secondary schools across the country to quickly transition to remote learning over the past few months, and it is possible that some form of remote learning may still be necessary during the 2020-21 school year. This increase in remote learning has exacerbated the need for flexibility in educational settings, and it illustrates the benefits of more personalized learning strategies such as CBE.

With remote learning, students often have more flexibility in their coursework and learning environments. For example, instead of sitting in a classroom for seven or eight hours, they sit in short, virtual class meetings and complete assignments on their own time by a set date. Some students finish those assignments more quickly than others, which highlights the need for personalized learning strategies like CBE. During these uncertain times and periods of transition, the REL Southeast CBE Alliance is well-positioned to provide support and establish CBE solutions in diverse educational settings.

“The network afforded to us in the CBE Alliance to brainstorm with others engaged in this work is very helpful,” said Kelly Johnson, an alliance member and the principal and lead learner at the Innovation Academy at South Campus. “The support of the REL has been crucial in our embedding of CBE in the work of the lab school.”

Overall, the new environment and challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic remind us that student needs vary and cannot be addressed with a one-size-fits-all type solution. Researching, implementing, and evaluating CBE is one way to move toward more personalized learning, which is a statewide goal for the REL Southeast CBE Alliance and could one day benefit students across the country.

If you are interested in learning more about how CBE and other personalized learning strategies could benefit your school, visit our Teaching and Learning page and contact us today! You can also find additional tools to help support the changing needs of students and teachers through the impacts of  COVID-19 on our COVID-19 resources page.