LoudCloud Systems Blog

CBE Goes International and Main Stream

Posted by Greg Harp on Aug 25, 2015 11:11:23 AM

Competency Based Education is still in its infancy, but my observation is that it seems spreading much faster than most educational movements. Online education for example, was on the edges of education for well over a decade before MOOC's exploded onto the scene and gave online education a shot into the main stream. While MOOC's seem to have faded they did leave a lasting impression on mainstreaming online education.

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Topics: Competency Based Education

3 Steps to Understand Adaptive Learning

Posted by Manoj Kutty on Jul 30, 2015 9:16:23 AM

Adaptive Learning or Adaptive Instruction

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Reporting vs. Analytics, LoudCloud, Canvas and AspirEDU

Posted by Greg Harp on Jul 7, 2015 9:00:00 AM

Our team was recently on an implementation for analytics within an institution integrating our LoudSight tools within Canvas. While we don't typically blog about an individual product  we felt like this was an exception.

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Topics: Data, Analytics

Online Learning Needs Colaboration

Posted by Greg Harp on Jun 30, 2015 8:04:00 AM

As more and more learning activities go online, or convert to new approaches like Competency Based (CBE) there is one component of learning that can suffer; collaboration. There is plenty of evidence that collaboration is key, yet it is clear that education is moving online whether from a programmatic level or an activity level for on campus students. So what can we do to create collaboration?

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Topics: Competency Based Education, collaboration, e-reader

What’s MOOC got to do with it?

Posted by Greg Harp on Jun 23, 2015 10:00:00 AM


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Topics: Competency Based Education

CBE Framework From Accreditors Requires Your Attention

Posted by Greg Harp on Jun 16, 2015 5:00:00 AM

The Council of Regional Accrediting Commissions, known as C-RAC, released the framework for the emergent form of higher education program on June 1. Having been involved with institutions as they seek to develop their CBE initiatives, we at LoudCloud Systems (LCS) have been anticipating the accreditation standards for quite some time.

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Topics: Competency Based Education, CBE Accreditation


Posted by Greg Harp on Jun 12, 2015 9:05:50 AM
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Topics: Data, Analytics

Seven Tips for Building Your Institution’s CBE Initiative

Posted by Greg Harp on Jun 9, 2015 3:25:00 PM

Competency-based education (CBE) is here to stay.  Need proof?  Look at the numbers.  According to a July 2014 article published by Inside Higher Education, more than 350 institutions are either offering or currently creating CBE programs. Additionally, a paper from the Presidential Innovation Lab recently stated, “As we move into the future the credit hour will continue to be used for administrative and financial purposes; however, learning models such as competency-based education which demonstrate improved student learning outcomes will replace seat time as a learning measurement.”

Why? CBE programs are a worthy alternative to traditional time-based curricula that appeal to an important learner population in a meaningful way. Additionally, CBE targets costs and schedule challenges in traditional programs. By addressing the issues of time to completion and affordability, our institution can build its brand as one increasingly interested in improving access while growing real and sustainable enrollments.

Pioneer programs like Western Governors University have been offering online, competency-based degree programs since 1997.  Southern New Hampshire University has earned several awards and accolades for its CBE initiatives.  Other schools across the country – including the University of Wisconsin System, the University of Arizona, the University of Texas, and the University of Florida – have announced CBE programs.

CBE isn’t a quick fix, however – and it’s not an “easy” alternative.  CBE initiatives take planning, hard work, and collaboration at every level.  And if your university isn’t 100% prepared, your CBE initiative can face significant setbacks.


Here are seven tips as you start down the path of CBE:

1.  Clearly define and align your competencies

In a traditional, classroom-based university setting, faculty members haven’t historically put effort into developing “granular” competencies at the course level.  Instead, general learning objectives were established, and faculty members guided students toward those objectives on their well-honed instincts and experience.

Because CBE focuses primarily on students’ mastery of specific, clearly defined learning outcomes, there will need to be a greater focus on standardization of competencies among faculty members, and alignment across departments and the institution as a whole.

What’s more, a specific competency might have multiple sub-competencies – how many does a student have to master to be deemed “competent”?  How do you define “mastery”?  Faculty members will also have to develop assessments and grading standards to measure competency and mastery.  This can be a challenging task, but it is critical for CBE success.

2. Develop a robust assessment system

Many traditional programs rely on a “one-size-fits-all” model of assessment that works something like this:  The faculty member lectures, students take notes and complete assignments, and then the faculty member tests the students.  After testing, the class typically moves on to new material, regardless of whether students pass or fail.

The problem with using this method of assessment in a CBE is that it doesn’t provide students with useful, personalized feedback that lets them know what areas they need to focus on and which areas they have mastered. For a student to succeed in a CBE program, it is absolutely crucial that all assessments are directly linked to clearly defined competencies and sub-competencies.  A CBE assessment system must also be linked to analytics that allow faculty members and departments to refine courses and assessment based on student performance and mastery.

3.  Gain faculty buy-in

CBE success depends largely on a “coalition of the willing”:  Faculty members must be on board with the program from day one – and they shouldn’t feel forced or coerced into CBE.  You have to be able to understand and address their concerns early on, especially in cases where your faculty is skeptical of the transition to CBE.

The best way to get buy-in? Involve faculty members in CBE program design from the beginning.  Seek input on how to structure assessments and define mastery while maintaining the integrity and quality of the program.  And since CBE programs typically place faculty in slightly different roles (as mentors and facilitators rather than traditional lecturers), you must make sure that all faculty members have very clear expectations about their roles and responsibilities within the program.


4.  Focus effort on student support resources

In a typical “buffet-style” CBE program, there are no limits to class sizes, and no schedules to consider:  The faculty on record may be responsible for delivering instruction to 5,000 or more students, and those students will all be working on different things.  This system can quickly become unsustainable if you don’t have enough faculty members serving in coaching/mentoring roles to support students.

Online CBE programs are similar to online weight-loss programs.  In both cases, people feel very motivated when they enroll – but without the proper support, that motivation can wane considerably.  To ensure success in these types of programs, there has to be some sort of support system in place.  In the case of dieters, this support system may take the form of a personal trainer.  To ensure that students succeed in your institution’s CBE program, you must have educated, plentiful resources – coaches and mentors – available to keep students motivated.  The institutions that do CBE right ensure that there are enough coaches and mentors available.  And these coaches and mentors are proactive:  They look at analytics, and when they see that a student is going off track, they pick up the phone.

If you try to implement an online CBE program without this critical component, it is very likely that retention would suffer.


5.  Prioritize price structure discussions

As mentioned above, one popular CBE structure is the “buffet” program, which allows students to take as many courses as they want for a fixed fee.  Say you decide to charge $2,500 for an “all-you-can-learn” semester.  That’s a bargain for your CBE students – but what does this imply for students who are paying the same amount for one traditional course?  And how are students’ future employers going to look at that difference?  Will they perceive a difference in quality and value?

This is a complicated set of questions, but thinking through issues like CBE pricing and perceived value now can help your institution and your students avoid issues down the road.


6.  Define your why

There are a lot of really good reasons to embrace CBE programs:  They are cost-effective and they allow you to address the needs of unique students with diverse background knowledge and skill sets.  They save time, and they can provide a critical path to degree completion for working adults and non-traditional students.

Why is your institution interested in CBE?  Which reason is most important to you?  Which reason aligns with your philosophy or mission?  You should have an answer to this question before you try to implement a CBE program.  Why should you have this answer?  Answering these questions will help you define your program and set your pricing appropriately.


7.  Get real analytical tools.         

With CBE, you’re dealing with large groups of students on separate timelines.  Each student may be completing coursework from thousands of miles away.  You have to keep them motivated and on track.  You have to make sure they achieve competency and complete the program.

To do this, the right tools are critical:  You need to be able to easily track students’ start dates and goals they’ve set.  You need to know who is in charge of calling and following up with students if they don’t meet those goals.  You need specially designed learning management platforms that can help you create robust assessments, and you need tools that can analyze individual questions to ensure that they measure mastery.

This can be problematic as many of the tools currently available are data-reporting tools rather than true analytical tools.  Reporting can be useful, but in a CBE program, analysis is everything:  You need actionable information, and you need it as early as possible.  And you can’t get that with simple reporting.


CBE is here to stay

CBE isn’t just a fad – it is a sustainable way to reduce costs and make higher education more effective and efficient.  It is an alternative to the traditional (and outdated) classroom, which places emphasis on seat time instead of competency.  In fact, CBE may just change the face of higher education as we know it. The current model isn’t sustainable.  Institutions that get on board with CBE will be ahead of the game – but they will need to be willing to embrace new ways of doing things.  They will need buy-in; they will need the right technology and resources.

As institutions move toward CBE they will also need to move away from their old learning management platforms.  For more information and to learn about LoudCloud’s robust CBE tools, and professional services contact LoudCloud.

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Topics: Competency Based Education

Data Doesn't Matter

Posted by Greg Harp on May 27, 2015 11:00:00 AM

Talk of big data is everywhere.  From the modern day business publications like Forbes and McKinsey Quarterly to the halls of the higher education news sources like The Chronicle of Higher Education andeCampus News, everyone is trying to explain what big data is and how organizations can benefit from it.  Yet the reality is that data doesn’t matter at all, especially in higher education. 

Institutions of higher learning are overflowing with data.  They have abundant data as it relates to enrollment, student information, transcripts, courses, and the list goes on.  This data may be important to those managing specific departments or functions within the system, but these individual data points are not actionable at a system level and usually do not lead to student interventions that change the outcomes for student success.

The new equation for big data in higher education is simple:

Actionable Information = Timely Interventions = Better Student Outcomes

Watch a video on LoudCloud’s Analytics solution

So, while data doesn’t matter, actionable information does.  Data, when synthesized and processed, leads to information that can be acted upon at a system level or by an individual or professor in a timely manner.

Take for example, a student who has not shown up for multiple classes over a three-week period. Previously, the student had the top grade – As – in all classes.  Now, the student has all Cs.  Additionally, the same student used to spend hours on digital resources but has not logged in for two weeks.   Academic performance, coupled with the student’s digital footprint, reveals an opportunity to provide greater support and focus for this student that may lead to a better outcome.

Better outcomes, such as increased student retention and degree completion, are top of mind in higher education today.

The Lumina Foundation, the nation’s largest private foundation focused solely on increasing Americans’ success in higher education, has what it calls Goal 2025.  They want to ensure that 60 percent of Americans hold a college degree, certificate or other high-quality postsecondary credential by the end of that year.  Issues that the Foundation has cited as critical to this goal are an acceleration rate at which overall attainment increases and the gaps in postsecondary attainment among various segments of the population closes.

Better outcomes are also critical for institutions.

At a recent “Business of Higher Ed” panel discussion at the Arizona State University+GSV Summit, Bridget Burns, Executive Director with the University Innovation Alliance said it best.  “Institutions that double down on student success are doing yeoman’s work …  Getting students to completion is actually a sustainability strategy.”

Data Doesn’t Matter … Add Two

Take Georgia State for example.  They invested $3 million in predictive analytics.  For every 1% increase in retention, they have a $3 million return.  As Ms. Burns said, “Investing in student success is the long-term and how institutions will save themselves.”

Grand Canyon University has identified four predictive learning behaviors that lead to the best student outcomes. They use these factors in an index to provide real time intervention for at risk students. Their predictive analytics modeling tool results in easy-to-read faculty dashboards that enable faster and better interventions.

And, that’s the key to actionable information – easy-to-read dashboards.  As eCampus News pointed out in its story about Grand Canyon University’s use of analytics, “… data streams are useless if they cannot be presented in a manner that is meaningful to those that need it, especially if those in need are faculty members who cannot afford to waste their already limited time …”

Yet, there is no magic formula for analytics, which is the premise upon which LoudCloud Systems bases its behavioral analytics platform.  Improving student and teacher outcomes are achieved without forcing data conformity.  LoudCloud’s platform provides individual educators with minimum data that is immediately useful.

  • How can I improve my classroom materials?  Check.

  • How do I ensure I am spending time most effectively to help the students most at-risk?  Check.

  • How can I learn from the information presented to help with my own self-development?  Check.

Data is inherently messy.  Actionable information allows educators to monitor the educational experience they are delivering, and when applied in a meaningful way, leads to better student outcomes.


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Topics: Data, Analytics