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

In traditional education, learning happens inside a traditional classroom, little to no accommodation of student interests or learning styles.

In personalized 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.


In traditional education, every classroom has one teacher who designs and delivers instructional program with very little differentiation.

In personalized learning, educators work collaboratively with community partners and students to develop a unique learning plan for every student based on interests, learning styles and real-time data.

Assessment System

In traditional education, assessments at set times to evaluate and classify students. One opportunity to take the summative assessment at the end of the year.

In personalized 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 Policies

In traditional education, grades are norm-referenced, reflect course standards, are typically based on weighted quarters and a final exam.

In personalized learning, grades reflect the degree of mastery of competencies. If students do not earn course credit, records indicate competencies that need to be re-learned instead of the entire course.

Learning Continuum

In traditional education, students are expected to master grade level college and career ready standards.

In competency-based learning, students are expected to master competencies aligned to college and career ready standards with clear, transferable learning objectives.

Learning Pace

In traditional education, students advance at educator’s pace regardless of mastery or needing additional time.

In competency-based learning, students receive customized supports both in-school and out-of-school to ensure they stay on pace to graduate college and career ready.