I am often asked to describe in a nutshell what competency-based theological education is. What there is much variety in how it can be expresssed, it has three basic characeristics:

Relational Learning

In addition to an Academic Mentor, each student has a Personal Mentor and a Vocational (or Ministry) Mentor, who accompany the student throughout the program and whose help is enlisted in most modules to facilitate and assess learning. Some institutions have the Academic Mentor switch from discipline to discipline (the Faculty Instructor model). The Personal and Vocational Mentors are selected by the student (and vetted by the school) as part of the onboarding process.

Mastery Learning

Students complete a competency once they meet all the success criteria for the assessment(s) in that module (i.e. direct assessment). These assessments typically measure the student’s knowledge, vocational skills and character related to the competency. The student must demonstrate proficiency in all aspects of the rubric to successfully pass the assessment, not just have a passing grade overall. If a student attempts an assessment and is unsuccessful, they may re-attempt it until they succeed (with coaching after each attempt by the appropriate mentor(s).

Learning activities that develop the competency (e.g. readings) are optional, and the Academic Mentor is free to remove some or all of them if the student’s prior learning and experience has already prepared them to attempt the assessment, as well as to replace some or all of them with activities that would be better suited to the student’s abilities, interests or ministry context.

Contextual Learning

Student learning should not occur in a vacuum. Rather, it should be tightly integrated with some ministry context. This goes a step further than distance learning, which simply allows students to pursue their studies while physically remaining in their context. In CBTE, learning activities and assessments should be oriented towards the student’s personal and ministry context, either by knowledge related to that context or by actual activities performed in that context.

Ideally, this context would be a ministry or work the student is actively engaged in. However, this is not always possible. In these cases, the contextual learning activity or assessment should be a hypothetical exercise. That is, if the student cannot actually plan, execute and reflect on some activity in their context, they would describe in detail how they would do so.