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The Difference Between Traditional Education and Personalized, Competency-Based Education

How is personalized, competency-based learning different than traditional learning? Below, we illustrate key differences between learning focused on personalized mastery vs. a more traditional approach to education, specifically in core areas such as school culture, learning continuum, learning pace, instruction, assessment and grading policies.

School Culture

  • Traditional Education: Learning happens inside a traditional classroom, with little to no accommodation of student interests or learning styles.
  • Personalized, Competency-Based Learning: Students have a range of learning experiences at school, online and in the community. Diverse partners create individual learning pathways to accommodate student interests and learning styles.

Learning Continuum

  • Traditional Education: Students are expected to master grade level college and career ready standards.
  • Personalized, Competency-Based Learning: Students are expected to master competencies aligned to college and career ready standards with clear, transferable learning objectives.

Learning Pace

  • Traditional Education: Students advance at educator’s pace regardless of mastery or needing additional time. Additional time is usually only provided for students identified for special education.
  • Personalized, Competency-Based Learning: Students advance upon mastery of learning targets, not as a result of time-based requirements. Students receive customized supports both in-school and out-of-school to ensure they stay on track.


  • Traditional Education: Every classroom has one teacher who designs and delivers instructional program with very little differentiation. Direct whole-group instruction is usually the norm, with differentiation happening only for students identified for special education.
  • Personalized, Competency-Based Learning: Educators work collaboratively with community partners and students to develop flexible learning environments, grouping strategies and extended opportunities to support a unique learning plan for every student.

Assessment Systems

  • Traditional Education: Assessments at set times to evaluate and classify students. One opportunity to take the summative assessment at the end of the year.
  • Personalized, Competency-Based Learning: A comprehensive assessment system is an essential part of the learning system. Formative assessments guide daily instruction. Summative assessments show mastery; taken when ready and multiple chances to demonstrate mastery.

Grading and Reporting Strategies

  • Traditional Education: Grades are norm-referenced, reflect course standards, are typically based on weighted quarters and a final exam.
  • Personalized, Competency-Based Learning: Scores reflect the level of mastery within a learning target. Course credit is earned when students master identified learning targets.

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