How Personalized, Competency-Based Learning and Whole Child Approaches are Aligned

November 1, 2022

By: Kevin Harrison

According to Ohio’s Whole Child Framework, a whole child approach is one that ensures “all students are challenged, healthy, engaged, safe and supported, so that our children and youth can thrive in the classroom and become self-sustaining, contributing adults.”

The tenants of Ohio's Whole Child Framework, with bands of community partnerships in yellow and family highlighted in maroon and used in the center around the whole child star to indicate its importance.
Ohio Department of Education's Whole Child Framework

If a student does not feel safe and/or does not have proper nutrition, they will have a more challenging experience in the classroom. Our work to help states, districts and schools implement personalized, competency-based learning benefits from a whole child approach to meeting student needs. For example, a student who has health challenges could be distracted and effected by those challenges in the classroom, whether it’s chronic absenteeism due to health and/or transportation, behavioral health or environmental factors. If districts are strategic about implementing whole child supports in collaboration with their efforts to implement personalized, competency-based learning, it sets up students, educators and families for a higher degree of success.

In a personalized, competency-based learning environment,

  1. Students daily make important decisions about their learning experiences, how they will create and apply knowledge and how they will demonstrate their learning
  2. Assessment is a meaningful, positive and empowering learning experience for students that yields timely, relevant and actionable evidence
  3. Students receive timely, differentiated support based on their individual learning needs
  4. Students progress based on evidence of mastery or competency, not seat time
  5. Students learn actively using different pathways and varied pacing
  6. Strategies to ensure equity are embedded in the culture, structure and pedagogy of schools and education systems
  7. Rigorous, common expectations for learning are explicit, transparent, measurable and transferable

There are tenets in the Ohio Whole Child Framework that align with what personalized, competency-based learning aims to do:

  • When students make decisions about their learning and how they will apply what they’ve learned, this is an example of student-centered learning and connected, active learning
  • Assessment that is meaningful, relevant and timely is using data in a way that recognizes the needs of the whole child
  • When students progress not because of how long they’ve been in class but because they have demonstrated mastery, this brings a whole child focus to student progress
  • Different pathways and varied pacing ensure a personalized learning approach
  • Expectations for learning that are explicit, transparent, measurable and transferable contribute to a student’s ability to self-direct and monitor their progress

Together, personalized, competency-based learning and whole child approaches can create equitable conditions for students who will become civic leaders.


Kevin Harrison
Senior Manager of Advocacy

Related Resources

As students become more active in their own educational experience, here’s guidance on ways to support efforts in elevating student…

How one small thing, like a logo, can make youth feel empowered to be a part of education changemaking

Kayla Johnson
Associate of Marketing and Communications

Authentic student voice and choice is about helping students understand themselves as learners.

Jillian Kuhlmann
Senior Manager of Communications