Fielding Graduate University News

Competency Based Education and Fielding

Posted by Hilary Edwards on Mon, Jun 02, 2014

Competency Based Education and Fielding

people at computer resized 600Fielding is poised to lead a national conversation on its application to doctoral education.

From the Office of President Katrina Rogers, PhD

As competency based education has become a subject of interest to many institutions across the country, especially for baccalaureate and masters study, Fielding Graduate University is poised to lead a national conversation on its application to doctoral education. Regardless of degree type, competency based education (CBE) addresses issues critical to the long-term vitality of higher education including access, time to degree, and affordability.

In contrast to the American model of doctoral education based on apprenticeship in research and required seminars in a standardized curriculum, forty years ago Fielding pioneered an alternative model based on concepts of adult learning, or andragogy. Formalized by one of our founding faculty members, Malcolm Knowles, the androgogical approach to doctoral education emphasizes mentoring, self-directed and self-paced learning, and assessment of prior learning. These are some of the core elements of CBE.

The application of CBE to doctoral education is complex since the required learning can be both technical and precise while also requiring abstract and conceptual skills. Depending on academic content, knowledge and skill acquired through prior work and professional experience may be readily assessed in relation to degree requirements. Similarly, students’ previous formal education may be leveraged through advanced experience to satisfy higher level learning such as is required in doctoral education.

The work of faculty in this mixed model of assessing learning can require an uncoupling of faculty roles in defining the curriculum, mentoring, and assessing learning. For more technical curricula, such as in science and engineering, these roles may remain bundled together while in professional, social science and humanities fields the functions can be uncoupled to take advantage of the potential benefits to students of following a CBE, or mixed CBE and traditional, path to the degree.

Accredited by WASC and various professional associations, Fielding Graduate University was founded in 1974 as a non-profit, independent graduate school for the adult learner.  Representing progressive education, Fielding’s learning was modeled on competency-based concepts. Located around the country, Fielding students create learning contracts with individual faculty mentors in knowledge areas required for various doctoral degrees. Students and faculty meet periodically in workshops and local clusters to advance and demonstrate learning. Faculty mentors’ primary role is to assess learning rather than teach in a traditional format.

The requirements of regional and professional accreditation created an evolution in Fielding’s education such that we now have a mix of traditional and CBE approaches to doctoral education. Currently, the focus of CBE experiments is on baccalaureate and masters education, yet the concepts have important application to doctoral education as well. Given its history and now mixed-model of educational delivery, Fielding is in a particularly advantageous to examine the role of CBE in doctoral education and assess its promise to address important issues of access, affordability and degree completion.


Tags: Competency Based Education, Distributed education, higher education, fielding graduate university, graduate education