The Basics of CBE Curriculum Development

This is the third installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education. Previously, I provided an overview of what competency-based education is, why I started using it with my own students and other terms it’s frequently known by, as well as the six major components found in a healthy CBE program. Feel free to reach out to me if you have additional questions or need support implementing CBE in your school.

As a reminder from the previous blog installment, there are six major pillars that anchor a solid competency-based education program:

  • Curriculum
  • Instruction
  • Assessment
  • Faculty Training & Support
  • Parent/Caregiver Orientation & Support (for P-12 Schools)
  • Student Orientation & Support (for all learner levels)


An extremely important aspect of CBE is its curriculum—the “what” of education. It’s what you want students to know—sometimes referred to as their knowledge base, their content knowledge, or their scope of learning. We have learned over the years that curriculum should be standards-based in order to provide students with a coherent, cohesive, and sequential body of content over time. However, not all schools and not all states can agree on which specific standards to use (another blog for another time). Some standards commonly used by P-12 schools include:


Higher education institutions typically rely on state-specific content standards or specialty professional association (SPA) standards such as those from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), or other industry-specific standards.

Once the standards have been selected, it’s time to create a set of competencies, which clearly define what students should know or learn and what we want them to be able to do with that knowledge. There should be a clear linkage between the standards and the competency statements. Those competencies form the cornerstone of the whole curriculum ultimately, of the whole program.

After the competencies have been generated, specific, measurable learning objectives (sometimes known as skill statements) must be written. These learning objectives help define the curriculum to a granular level—it’s kind of like an inverted pyramid where you start off from a macro perspective and gradually become more and more defined, narrow, and micro:

Inverted Pyramid


So to summarize, the basics of developing curriculum in a competency-based education program include:

  1. Select the standard(s): WHAT do we want students to know?
  2. Write the competencies: What do we want students to be able to DO with their knowledge?
  3. Write the learning objectives: How can students SHOW (demonstrate) what they know?


Now, the process is more complex than it sounds—there are specific processes and procedures involved in writing quality competencies and learning objectives—but this is an overview.

Installment #4 of this series will focus on building an effective instructional model in a competency-based education program.




Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher is a national leader in educator preparation, accreditation and academic quality assurance. She currently supports higher education and P-12 schools in areas such as competency-based education, teacher licensure, distance learning, and accreditation through her company, Global Educational Consulting, LLC.  

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