How do we do this thing called CBE?

Last month, I joined hundreds of community college leaders at the CBE4CC conference in Boulder to discuss one of the most compelling topics in education today- competency-based education. While previous CBE discussions often focused on understanding what CBE is (in all its variations) and what benefits it offers institutions and students, the conversation in Boulder really focused on a different question: “How do we do this thing called CBE?” This question – how to do CBE – is one I hear from all types of institutions looking to launch their own CBE programs.

At the conference, successful implementers, recent adopters, policy makers, and technology and service providers all shared valuable “pieces of the puzzle.” But my colleagues and I realized that there was still a great need out there to understand how the pieces fit together.

In an effort to help institutions interested in investigating the most effective strategies and pathways to launch and scale a CBE program, Pearson has developed a CBE Playbook. The figures below provide: 1) an overview of the structure of our CBE playbook, and 2) a breakdown of the detailed sections within it. These figures provide both a jumping off point for a CBE conversation on campus, and a way to organize all the work that needs to be done throughout the lifecycle of program development and execution. The work streams are not meant to be sequential. Rather, they work in tandem to one another, with specific activities occurring within each stream having overlap and dependencies with activities in other streams.


Figure 1: An overview of the seven key CBE work streams

CBE chart 1


Figure 2: Further breaking down the work streams into key sections / modules

CBE Chart 2


We hope that by providing our CBE Playbook framework institutions can start to get their arms around the required activities and capabilities to launch or scale a CBE program.   We realize, however, that having a framework is only one step in the process, as CBE truly challenges many traditional approaches and practices across the institution. Our intention is to have the Playbook serve as a way to identify and implement the model most suited to your institution.

To guide this challenging but crucial articulation of an institution’s CBE strategy, we suggest starting with the seven key questions we often pose to institutions when using the Playbook to launch a new program:

  • What is our overall strategy for CBE and how does it fit into our mission?
  • What organizational challenges does CBE present and how do we address them?
  • How does a CBE program differ from traditional models and to what extent should we fit CBE into the present model or redesign a new model?
  • How do we best ensure student success within a CBE framework?
  • What technology and data strategy do we need to support CBE?
  • How can we most effectively coordinate effort among cross-functional teams and responsibilities?
  • What approach to marketing and recruiting will best help us achieve our enrollment and branding goals?


We held a series of webinars about developing CBE programs, and they are featured in this blog post, New Competency-based Education Playbook and Resources, listen to them for free.

We have also developed a CBE Playbook. Download a copy for free.



About the Author
Daniel Goldsmith

Daniel Goldsmith

Daniel Goldsmith leads the institutional strategies team within Pearson’s Consulting Services organization. For the past ten years, he has worked with leading private- and public-sector organizations to identify new opportunities, manage critical challenges, and transform organizations. Prior to joining Pearson, Daniel worked in higher education at Eduventures, where he helped develop the firm’s educational technology practice, and at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he conducted research on strategy, management, and digital business. He has also worked outside of education at the United States Senate, in private equity, and as a management consultant for a global strategy firm. Daniel completed an MBA at the Brandeis International Business School and a BA in government from the University of Virginia, and has published over 15 peer-reviewed articles on management and quantitative methodologies.