Skip to Content
Resource Articles //

Is Competency-Based Education Becoming More Popular?

From high schools to competency-based degree programs at colleges, competency-based education is gaining popularity.

Since the dawn of modern education, earning a high school diploma or a college degree has required students to take specific classes for a certain number of hours. But in an increasingly mobile and connected world, does that model still make sense for everyone? Many educators think not.

In recent years, a new, more flexible model of education has gained support. It’s called competency-based education. Rather than attending classes, students who choose competency-based education set their own schedules, mastering competencies (i.e., subject areas) at whatever pace works best for them. Each time they pass an assessment and prove their mastery of a competency, they earn credit for that competency. As soon as they earn credit for all the competencies associated with a degree or diploma, they earn that credential.

This system has a number of advantages. As the U.S. Department of Education says, “By enabling students to master skills at their own pace, competency-based learning systems help to save both time and money. Depending on the strategy pursued, competency-based systems also create multiple pathways to graduation, make better use of technology, support new staffing patterns that utilize teacher skills and interests differently, take advantage of learning opportunities outside of school hours and walls, and help identify opportunities to target interventions to meet the specific learning needs of students.”1

Currently, competency-based education is expanding in three areas:

U.S. High Schools

New Hampshire, Michigan, and Ohio have passed legislation permitting some form of competency-based education in high school, while multiple districts in other states are also experimenting with the system.1 The hope is that through competency-based learning, more students will have the ability to earn a high school diploma.

International Settings

All over the world, educators are implementing aspects of competency-based learning. Finland; New Zealand; Scotland; and British Columbia, Canada, are all using the principles of competency-based education in some or most of their classrooms.2

U.S. Universities

As of 2014, more than 200 U.S. institutions of higher learning offer one or more competency-based degree programs.3 Perhaps more than any other sector of education, colleges and universities are well suited for competency-based learning. That’s because such a wide variety of people in a wide variety of circumstances participate in higher education. While students who are straight out of high school may prefer the traditional campus-based/class-based model, many others who want to earn a degree are working adults who need more flexibility in their education.

By allowing students to learn at their own pace, competency-based degree programs can provide that flexibility. Additionally, competency-based education fits well into an online learning platform, which can provide additional conveniences. For example, when you enroll in an online degree program, you don’t have to live close to a campus or even leave home. Online education gives you the freedom to earn your degree from anywhere you have internet access.

Combined with a competency-based learning format, online education opens up opportunities to many who might otherwise lack the time or means to earn a degree. It’s no wonder competency-based education is becoming increasingly popular.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering a competency-based format in select degree and certificate programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,