Best Practices in Alternative & Competency-Based Learning

As noted Wednesday on EdWeek, I recently visited GPS Education Partners, a high school manufacturing apprenticeship-based program serving students in Southern Wisconsin. We invited the folks from Edvisions Schools and Jobs for the Future to join a conversation about alternative and competency-based learning. The experts listed eight key strategies:

  1. Set up personalized learning plan focused on interests. Use open questions to find out interests. Get students to take ownership of learning by engaging them in creating their pathway and learning plan.

  1. Personalize learning using projects in areas of interests. Projects should be presented to a panel of at least two adults. This works particularly well with special needs students.

  1. Make goals transparent: clearly explain what students need to know and how they will demonstrate learning. Align competencies with state standards and skills companies are looking for.

  1. Promote confidence, persistence and hope by supporting goal setting process and progress tracking. Track growth in competency as well as habits of success and key dispositions. Make sure there is rigor everywhere.

  1. Incorporate the Edvisions school design essentials: small learning communities, self-directed project-based learning, authentic assessment, teacher ownership and democratic governance.

  1. Provide counseling for careers; make clear what kind of education and experiences specific job clusters require.

  1. Create a work environment that students can personalize.

  1. Grow leaders from within; lead the school with a team.

In short, Edvisions wants to change the school day to change the learning life. They transition from spoon feeding (traditional public education) to showing students they’re able to start feeding themselves with choice about their education based on their interest.

Jobs for the Future’s Students at the Center initiative summarizes what they’ve learned in this category in nine reports.  Also supported by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation is CompetencyWorks, an iNACOL supported resource for competency-based learning.


Tom is a director at iNACOL.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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