Empowerment-Based Learning Puts Students in the Driver’s Seat

Empowerment-Based Learning

 “A student who understands what it means to own their learning has an internal drive to get things done.” This comes from an Idaho rural school administrator who has unlocked the key to powerful learning. Empowering students to take an active role in their own learning is often referred to by many different names:


Using terms like these interchangeably can be confusing but here’s the bottom line:

With empowerment-based activities, students are more able to take control of their own learning.

They achieve success not because someone is forcing them to move at a certain pace, or memorize a set of dates for a test the next day–they learn because they want to. And, teachers are empowered to provide richer, more meaningful feedback to their students because they can customize learning experiences as needed. School leaders are empowered to make more thoughtful decisions about schools and school systems while parents/caregivers see their children enjoying school in a way they never did before.

All students deserve the opportunity to learn.

Many state departments of education have regulations that haven’t been updated in decades and most don’t even mention student-driven learning models. Contact (clock) hours mean far less than learning time–there is a big difference! Just because someone may be sitting in a seat with an open textbook for 50 minutes does not mean they are engaged, motivated, and focused. Most of all, it doesn’t mean they are comprehending, applying, analyzing, evaluating, solving problems, or synthesizing new information.

Students deserve the opportunity to take greater control over what they learn, how they learn, and how quickly they progress through material.

This can have a positive impact on motivation, attendance, student retention, graduation, satisfaction, and college enrollment. Likewise, learners who can demonstrate they have a solid foundation of content knowledge–and they can apply that knowledge to solve problems in real-life situations–are particularly valuable to employers. After all, employees must demonstrate their proficiency on-the-job everyday; why not help prepare them for success by using an empowerment-based learning model in our P-12 schools?

Empowerment-based learning is not limited to a particular school environment.

It can be implemented in public and private P-12 schools, in colleges and universities, and in homeschools. It can also be used quite effectively in online learning environments at all levels. That’s another beautiful aspect of this model–it’s not limited to a particular type of school or location--it can be implemented anywhere, at any time, for any level. 

This isn’t an easy, 1-2-3 step approach.

Despite all its advantages, creating such a model is not as simple as following a few easy steps; setting it up correctly requires a lot of preparation and some foundational knowledge. Moreover, the model is not intended to be static. After it’s in place it still requires periodic review and updates based on student learning data.

Success stems from preparation, communication, and stakeholder buy-in.

While the design can be highly effective in a variety of learning environments the one constant is that it requires a shared commitment to academic excellence on the part of educators, administrators, parents, and learners. In order for this to take place, school leaders must thoroughly educate themselves in empowerment-based learning. They must connect one of the models to their school’s vision, mission, and purpose. School leaders must also be adept at communicating to stakeholders throughout the process, seeking their input and active involvement. It is only when everyone shares a commitment to empowerment-based learning that it can be truly successful, but the results can be incredible.


About the Author: Dr. Roberta Ross-Fisher has expertise in educator preparation, accreditation, online teaching & learning, and competency-based education. A former public school teacher and college administrator, Roberta is now an educational consultant. 

Twitter: @RRossFisher

Email: globaleducationalconsulting@gmail.com


There IS a Better Way to Teach & Learn: It’s Competency-Based Education

This is the first installment in a series of blog posts on the topic of competency-based education; feel free to reach out to me if you have additional questions or need support implementing CBE in your school.

I was a teacher for many years (elementary, middle, secondary) and while I loved working with my students, I sometimes felt as though I was constantly walking around in a darkened room looking for the light switch. I was completely committed to helping my students learn and to achieve their goals—I just wasn’t completely sure how to go about it. I found myself trying all sorts of methods with mixed levels of success, and what made it even harder was that there was never another teacher or principal in my building who could mentor and guide me to a better way of teaching. I knew creating a single lesson plan and teaching to the middle wasn’t effective—even though it was the way I was taught, and it was the way I was trained in my teaching prep program. Under that approach, I felt as though I was throwing spaghetti on the wall hoping something would stick, at least for those students in the middle of the bulls eye. Unless I got really lucky with my aim, those learning at the lowest and highest ends of the continuum rarely had their needs met. It’s not easy to admit, but it’s the truth. I experimented with my own version of individualized learning, but it was so limited in scope that I saw only limited results. However, despite the additional work and time required on my part, I felt excited and encouraged because I could see the impact those efforts were having on my students.

Later I tried project-based learning, and liked it. I enjoyed the notion of students being able to select their own topics of personal interest and to a certain extent driving their own learning. I used this primarily with gifted students but after three years concluded that individualized, project-based learning should be provided to students of all ability levels. It was only in the past few years that I was able to put a name with the approach I came to believe in and adopt as my personal teaching philosophy—it was competency-based education (CBE), which I’ve learned is also frequently referred to as: personalized learning, proficiency learning, performance-based learning, mastery learning, outcomes-based learning, or authentic learning.

Regardless what it is called, the bottom line is that in a CBE classroom:

  • Students demonstrate what they know and are able to do.
  • Expectations are measurable & clearly defined.
  • What students learn is more important than seat time.
  • Teachers serve as mentors or learning coaches to support student learning.
  • Instructional decisions are data-driven.


Installment #2 of this series will focus on the major components of a competency-based educational 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.