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Criticisms of PCBE

As described in the preceding sections, personalized competency-based education has a laudable and needed goal: all students achieving mastery of whatever they are attempting to learn.  Yet some people are critical of it.  Why?  At the root of the criticisms is a lack of conceptual clarity.  PCBE is many different things to different people. There are many ways to do PCBE, and many of them don’t work well.

Personalized learning alone is a one-legged stool. So is competency-based education alone.  There are four parts of competency-based education—competency-based approaches to (1) student progress, (2) student assessment, (3) learning targets, and (4) grading and student records—but they are not always used together, and this causes the stool to fail.  


To work effectively, all four parts of competency-based education should be used together, along with personalized, collaborative, project-based, and self-directed learning—all supported with appropriate technological tools and teacher training.  If you try to implement one of these at a time, your stool will fall over long before you can assemble all the legs.

The table on the right shows some conceptualizations of PCBE that are destined to disappoint, along with remedies to those flawed conceptualizations.

The lesson of these criticisms is that PCBE requires full commitment. If your team is not going to implement PCBE fully, then it will be a waste of your time and effort.  If you are committed to doing it well, this book will help you get where you want to go.

Flawed Conceptualizations of PCBE and Corresponding Remedies

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