Instructional Design and Assessment

What should instruction and and assessment be like in the new paradigm of education?  On my home page, I talked about how it must be personalized and competency-based, with collaborative projects, personalized tutorials, and a different kind of student assessment (hence we call it personalized competency-based education – PCBE – or just the learner-centered paradigm of education).  What does each of these mean?  Our latest thinking is represented in the two books shown on the right.  Here, I summarize five fundamental principles related to instruction and assessment: 

  1. Competency-based education

  2. Learning by doing with instructional support

  3. Personalized learning

  4. Changed roles

New Book!     2020
Vision and Action:
Reinventing Schools through Personalized Competency-Based Education 
  By Charles M. Reigeluth & Jennifer R. Karnopp

The purpose of this book is to help teams of educators (teachers, administrators, staff, coaches, facilitators, and even board members), parents, and students to transform their school systems to personalized competency-based education.  We offer proven ideas and methods both for a vision of PCBE and for the action (or process) for trans-forming your school or district to that vision.

1. Competency-Based Education

There are four aspects of CBE, and all four must be used together for them to work: student progress, assessment, targets, and records.

A: Competency-based student progress

In a competency-based system, students move on when they have learned and can demonstrate the understandings or skills. If it’s important enough to teach, it is important enough to make sure students learn it. Thus, no student moves on before mastering the current topic, and each student moves on as soon as he or she masters the current topic. Student progress is based on learning rather than time.

B: Competency-based student assessment

For a student to move on as soon as he or she has learned the current material, the teacher must know when the student has mastered it.  Hence, PCBE requires a different paradigm of assessment—criterion-referenced assessment—which compares student performance to a standard (or criterion), rather than comparing students to each other (norm-referenced assessment).

C: Competency-based learning targets

To know when each student has learned the current material, the teachers have to define the content in the form of learning targets, which are more detailed than typical state and national standards.  To avoid fragmentation, learning by doing (principle E) places the learning targets within a holistic, meaningful context.

D: Competency-based student records

To make decisions about what a student should learn next, one must know what the student has already learned. Current student records only tell you the courses the student attended and grades that tell you how well the student did compared to other students. What you need instead is a list of individual learning targets the student has mastered, often accompanied by a portfolio, rubric assessment, or other proof of mastery, sometimes called a digital backpack.

3. Personalized Learning

To accelerate learning and help all students reach their potential, it is essential to customize the learning experience.  Personalized instruction does not mean that students must learn alone. In fact, teacher guidance and collaborative project-based learning are common parts of PCBE.  A good way to personalize the instruction is to help each student make good choices in all the following areas: goals, projects, scaffolding (primarily just-in-time tutorials), assessments, and reflections.  Each student should have a personal learning plan.

Further Information

The most comprehensive and up-to-date information about these fundamental aspects of PCBE can be found in my latest book, Vision and Action: Reinventing Schools through Personalized Competency-Based Education.

For information about how to design instruction for the PCBE paradigm, see Instructional-Design Theories and Models, Volumes I, II, III, and IV.

For detailed guidance about how to design instruction for the PCBE paradigm, see my forthcoming book, Merging the Instructional Design Process with Learner-Centered Theory: The Holistic 4D Model.  It will be available in October, 2020.

For information about other related publications of mine, click on this button.

Award-Winning Book      2017

Instructional-Design Theories & Models, Vol. IV: 

The Learner-Centered Paradigm of Education

Charles M. Reigeluth, Brian J. Beatty & Rodney D. Myers (Editors)



The themes of this book are a) shifting the paradigm of instruction from teacher-centered to learner-centered and b) integrating design theories of instruction, assessment, and curriculum. Chapters are collected into three primary sections: 1) a comprehensive view of the learner-centered paradigm of education and training, 2) elaborations on parts of that view for a variety of K-12 and higher education settings, and 3) theories that address ways to move toward the learner-centered paradigm within the teacher-centered paradigm. 

2. Learning by Doing with Instructional Support

There are three aspects of learning by doing: projects, instructional support, and collaboration.

A. Projects

Generally, the most effective way to learn is by doing, especially for younger students. We collectively refer to all forms of learning-by-doing as project-based instruction, which enhances motivation, retention, and transfer to the real world.  In project-based instruction, each student chooses or designs a project as a vehicle to master specific content.  Projects are typically interdisciplinary, of significant scope, and as students grow older, focused on bettering the student’s world, not just the student.  

B. Instructional support

Sometimes called scaffolding, accelerates learning and helps all students reach their potential. It can take the form of adjusting, coaching, or tutoring.  Adjusting entails tailoring the complexity or difficulty of the project to the level of the student.  Coaching includes giving suggestions or hints to the student while the student is performing.  Tutoring involves teaching the student a competency, preferably just before it is needed in a project.

C. Collaborative learning

Collaboration is increasingly important in work environments. Collaborating in the school environment will help prepare students for that.  Other benefits are that the helper learns too, it builds community and interpersonal skills, it enhances motivation, it develops critical thinking, and it frees up teacher time.  Collaboration can take the form of team-based projects (which promote deeper collaboration) or peer assistance (for single-student projects).

4. Changed Roles

In order for the other three fundamental changes to be successful, there must be fundamental changes to four kinds of roles: teacher, student, parent, and technology.

A. Teacher as guide

The teacher’s role must change dramatically to effectively implement PCBE. Your team should consider the following five roles for teachers: mentor, designer (or curator), facilitator, collaborator and consultor, and learner.

B. Self-directed student

Lifelong learning is becoming essential as the pace of change continues to accelerate in the post-industrial era.  Teachers should help students to develop agencyby giving them voice and choice, helping them develop goals that better their world, and helping them learn how to self-regulate effectively.  Self-direction skills, responsibility, and empowerment are key.

C. Parent as partner

Parents and other primary guardians are children’s first and most important teachers. Students will be better off to the extent that parents are effective partners with teachers in their child’s learning and development, especially at lower age levels.

D. Technology as tool for students

Technology can ease the burdens of PCBE on teachers by serving four major functions to support student learning: record keeping for student learning, planning for student learning, instruction for student learning, and assessment for/of student learning.