EduVation Insights

Competency-based learning vs. Scenario-based learning. A Perspective

Aug 14, 2017 2:04:20 PM / by Jennifer Reed posted in competency based learning, scenario based learning


Business and community leaders want graduates who are ready for work. Students want to know that they’ll be well-prepared. All want this done while making the best use of time and money

Two models of education – scenario-based learning (SBL) and competency-based learning (CBL) – are competing for our attention. Each has advantages and advocates.

What is Competency-based Learning?

Competency-based learning focuses on mastery of a discrete, but connected, set of skills. Students can move at their own pace through the programs, relying on their understanding of each module and applying previous life and work experience to their understanding of the material.

Pre-dating CBL by three decades, B.F. Skinner showed how a properly constructed series of educational exercises could be implemented by way of a teaching machine. In his 1954 essay, The Science of Learning and the Art of Teaching, Skinner establishes his concept of reinforcement as the basis of meaningful learning.

By the early 1970s, competency-based training had become significant enough to be a mandated part of New York State teacher training. Robert Spencer and William Boyd reported on the effectiveness of these programs for teachers and, as a result, for students.

Scenario-based Learning Emerges

Jumping ahead another quarter-century, we see another educational model emerging not in opposition to CBL, but as an important evolution.

Scenario-based learning, also known as simulation-based learning or problem-based learning (PBL), guides students through a series of scenarios to teach them both practical and analytical skills.

These scenarios require more sophisticated curricula, whether delivered in a seminar or by way of online instruction. The parameters are more nuanced because, in real-life settings, the variables are less precisely defined.

In subsequent posts, we’ll discuss the implementation and evaluation of both SBL and CBL in various professional fields, assessing which model is more appropriate for each. Stay tuned and keep your thesaurus handy.

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