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Washington State Community Colleges Piloting a Faster, Cheaper Degree Program

Community colleges in Washington State are lowering the time to and cost of a degree with a new online program that combines a competency-based model with open educational resources.

The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges (WSBCTC) partnered with Lumen Learning to design the self-paced online courses, which adapt content and activities based on each student's prior knowledge and progress toward mastering course objectives.

"Competency-based education lets students progress at their own pace as soon as they've learned the subject matter," said Connie Broughton, project director for competency-based education (CBE) programs at WSBCTC, in a statement. "We expect this competency-based option to a business transfer degree will save students time and money because they can move rapidly through material they have already mastered with prior learning and work experience."

According to a press release, faculty members from the Washington colleges are working with Lumen Learning to define learning outcomes and related competencies for each of the 18 courses included in the online business transfer degree program. The courses are designed using open educational resources, eliminating the cost of commercial textbooks; for each course, the Lumen team curates OER such as textbooks, video, images and other educational materials that are free and openly licensed for anyone to access, and organizes the content into a "mastery learning" course structure. Embedded assessments gauge each student's progress and are used to generate personalized learning pathways tailored to individual learning needs.

Scheduled for a January 2015 launch, the courses will be delivered through the Candela Mastery Platform, an adaptive learning platform co-developed by Lumen Learning and Difference Engine. Lumen Learning will provide platform hosting, ongoing courseware support and updates.

"This program is an unequivocal win for students ready for this innovative kind of education," said Jan Yoshiwara, deputy executive director for education for SBCTC, in a press release. "There are no textbook costs. Students complete the program at their own pace through well-designed, convenient online courses. A motivated student could complete a 2-year transfer degree in just 18 months. All this adds up to quicker completion at a lower cost, while achieving the same learning outcomes required for traditional courses and programs."

Thirteen Washington community colleges have signed on to participate in the pilot, led by Columbia Basin College, and other system colleges are expected to join after the pilot year. By summer 2015, Lumen Learning plans to make the courses available to the broader education community.

About the Author

About the author: Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology. She can be reached at [email protected].

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