The Shift from Cohorts to Competency

Digital Learning NowDigital Learning Now! (DLN), in partnership with Getting Smart and the Foundation for Excellence in Education recently released “The Shift from Cohorts to Competency.” This report takes a comprehensive look at the overall shift to competency education and the role of technology to help schools meet the college- and career-readiness goals established by the Common Core State Standards.

“By leveraging the technology available today and moving toward competency-based education, states have the opportunity to build a new system – one that is customized to each student, focused on student learning and designed to meet Common Core State Standards,” said John Bailey, executive director of Digital Learning Now!

This paper discusses the ways in which the shift from cohorts (students grouped by age and grade level) to competency (students moving individually according to demonstrations of proficiency or mastery) can improve student achievement and school performance. The authors discuss 10 new capabilities of a competency-based system, 10 design choices and a number of state policies that support competency education.

The ten new capabilities include a competency-aligned system’s ability to set college and career ready expectations, measure learning gains, provide funding that supports options and innovation, sustain a high access environment, know students, view teaching as a team sport, allow  flexibility in time and resources, benchmark effectiveness, create responsive learning opportunities and offer students coaching in a personalized environment.

Design choices offer options in structure, grading, support, progress upon mastery, annual calendars, courses, degree of choice, degree of interconnectedness, opportunities to learn and assessments/progress tracking systems.

The report helpfully clarifies the distinctions between competency education, online learning, blended learning, personalized learning and customized learning.

To access the report, see

For other reports in the DLN Series, see