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 needs.

In personalized learning, students have an equitable range of learning experiences at school, online and in the
community. Shared decision-making between diverse partners – including students – works to ensure that learning pathways accommodate student needs, interests and learning needs.


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 each student based on interests, learning needs 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 over flexible pathways, differentiated supports and multiple means to demonstrate skill development.

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 access customized supports both in-school and out-of-school to ensure they get what they need, when they need it, to graduate college- and career-ready.

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