Competency-Based Learning

Colleges and universities traditionally award credit for classroom hours attended, conferring degrees based on completion of a certain set of courses for a given number of credit hours. As an online institution that provides its students the convenience of studying and completing coursework outside the classroom, WGU offers a competency-based program for completing its degree and certificate requirements. Competency-based programs allow students to demonstrate through assessments that they have acquired the competencies (levels of knowledge, skill, or ability) required for a particular degree or certificate. Adult students have often acquired many of the skills necessary for a degree through their life or previous work experience. WGU’s competency-based system enables students to employ such previously learned skills in proving their competency.

A team of faculty and other subject-matter experts identified required competencies for each degree offered at WGU. Competencies summarize the critical knowledge and skill levels essential for mastery of a particular field.

WGU students demonstrate mastery of competencies by completing assessments. An assessment may be a traditional "test,” a project, an essay, or another practical demonstration of a required skill. Therefore, assessments come in many different forms, including:


  • Assignments involving problem-solving in science or information technology.
  • Computerized math examinations consisting of 50 multiple-choice, matching, and other question types.
  • Projects requiring the student to design a lesson plan about American history.
  • Reflection essays about case studies.
  • Research papers on particular topics within a student’s field.

Each assessment measures knowledge and skill in a given area through an appropriate means, allowing students to prove their competency in that content area.

Assessments at WGU are developed using a rigorous process that conforms to federal guidelines and professional testing standards. This process yields high-quality exams, reliable results, and supports valid conclusions about each student’s level of competence. Students can be confident that all their assessments, whether computerized exams or performance tasks, align to, and demonstrate specific competencies in their individual degree programs.





Article Number: 20367, 1011