Competency-Based Learning


Competency-Based Education


Learning of concrete skills

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … skill mastery
  • Knowing is … skillful action
  • Learner is … a technician (individual)
  • Learning is … skill development
  • Teaching is … directing; overseeing




Drawing a sharp distinction between abstract learning and concrete skills, Competency-Based Learning focuses on the latter – typically justifying the emphasis by linking skill enhancement to increased productivity and real-world needs. Hallmarks of Competency-Based Learning include identification and isolation of individual competencies/skills, highly structured sequences of activities to support the development of one competency at a time, and requirements to demonstrate pre-defined levels of mastery before advancing to a new skill.


Competency-Based Learning is well-fitted to contexts and domains in which routinized, near-flawless performance is expected or required. That is, in its purest form, it is most applicable in the areas of human activity that are most readily mechanized.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

John Burke

Status as a Theory of Learning

Competency-Based Learning does not aim to offer any new insight into the dynamics and complexities of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Competency-Based Learning is self-defined as a perspective on teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

As noted above, Competency-Based Learning is well-fitted to those domains of activity in which abstract thought or personal reflection are not especially important. In those contexts, its emphasis on practical sequences of instruction and demonstrations of sufficient mastery are utterly appropriate – and they have been indexed to significant empirical evidence showing that such emphases contribute to improved performance. That said, owing to its narrow scope of applicability, which appears coupled to an inattentiveness to meanings of and metaphors for “learning,” Competency-Based Learning does not meet our criteria to be classified as scientific.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Competency-Based Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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