From CBE to MOOCs and Back Again

Competency-Based Education

Competency-Based Education programs (CBE) are programs wherein learners progress based on their demonstration of the successful achievement of competencies (or outcomes).  These programs are set up in a variety of models, and are typically self-paced, utilize a distributed faculty model for support, and are lower-cost.  The largest CBE program is that at Western Governors University, which is wholly designed around a CBE model, and which has very reasonable subscription-based pricing, with an “all you can eat” model around a 6 month term.

Many for-profit institutions, and large non-profit institutions, are investing heavily in CBE programs; largely in the self-paced nature of such programs.  Check out this example from Purdue University Global:


MOOCs are Massive Open Online Courses.  In 2012, these courses were launched to much excitement and consternation as high-profile voices from the field either embraced the concept and predicted the demise of most institutions of higher education, while other voices decried the movement as the end of the academy.  It caused so much buzz that 2012 was dubbed The Year of the MOOC.  

Since that time, MOOCs have been forced to evolve in order to create business models that enable them to sustain.  Many MOOCs now have a small cost attached to them, though some can still be taken or audited for free.  Many universities have partnered with MOOC companies like edX, Coursera, Udacity or others to create micro-credentials that can scale at the cost of hundreds of dollars versus multi-thousands for a full degree.  MOOC companies are looking more and more like Online Program Management companies, partnering with institutions and taking a percentage share of the revenue.  This business model is not yet proven to be beneficial for the colleges and universities that partner with those companies.  MOOCs are largely offered without college credit attached, but many enable learners to convert their MOOC courses towards a fully online degree at the affiliated institution.

Check out the below example illustrating what a MOOC is, though it is a somewhat dated video in online education (from 2013).  It does help describe the concepts behind MOOCs, though the MOOC platforms and companies are still exploring business models.

Micro-Credentials and Other Learning Experiences

In addition to these “big buckets” of learning experiences, there are also a variety of other experiences available through continuing education-related divisions of colleges and universities, from those that are entirely non-credit like single training videos considered “Just-in-Time” training to non-credit micro-credentials.

These are typically associated with a specific field that is immediately relevant in the workforce.  Louisiana State University, for example, now offers non-credit online micro-credentials. The divisions that offer these non-degree credentials range from workforce offerings at community colleges to extension schools at Ivy League institutions like Harvard’s Extension School.

There are many options for micro-credentials that sit outside of higher ed (and sometimes partner with higher ed institutions).  Explore a few of these micro-credentialing options by reading the descriptions on each of these websites:

Now let’s check out some new approaches to how to balance a mix of educational offerings.