Personalized Competency-Based Learning (PCBL) with Dr. Charles Reigeluth

Dr. Charles Reigeluth is a distinguished author and educational researcher who has paved the way forward for high-quality personalized competency-based learning (PCBL). His focus is on the paradigm shift in education where technology systems can support PCBL and a learner-centred model of education. 

Kritik has been designed to empower professors and institutions to adopt this shift to PCBL in any classroom setting. Thanks to the work of researchers including Dr. Reigeluth, there is a strong foundation of literature and research to support the technology and design of Kritik.

Kritik Co-Founder and Doctor of Education at Indiana University, Carine Marette, sat down with Dr. Reigeluth to discuss the benefits and background of PCBL and how this model is supported by peer-to-peer learning within the Kritik platform. 

What is the difference between competency-based education (CBE) and personalized competency-based education (PCBE)?

Dr. Reigeluth stated that CBE is a paradigm of education that centers around student progress based on learning rather than on time. This paradigm focuses on mastery for all students and helps them become agents of their own learning. PCBE shares the same meaning. However, Dr. Reigeluth has added “personalized” to stress the importance that students must move on as soon as the material is mastered - therefore requiring personalization of the learning experience and ensuring it’s working for the benefit of every individual student. 

In Vision and Action (2020), Dr. Reigeluth outlines that the change to PCBE is partly due to changes in educational needs as we evolve deeper into the post-industrial society, partly because learning sciences and instructional theory have advanced, and partly because technological tools that can personalize learning have become more accessible and more powerful.

There are three key areas to maximizing student learning in a system of PCBE according to Vision and Action (2020). 

  1. Motivation: Through self-directed learning, collaborative learning and a competency-based approach to learning that emphasizes real-world accomplishments, PCBE helps motivate the student to learn.
  2. Scaffolding to support learning: PCBE also allows for a scaffolded approach to learning where the instructor may adjust the difficulty of projects and scaffolds, coach students individually, or tutor the students to improve their understanding (Reigeluth, Myers, & Lee, 2017).
  3. Supportive Learning Environment: Through this personalized learning environment, professors build a caring and supportive learning environment to help students succeed.

Time-Based vs. Competency-Based

“Student progress is based on learning rather than time” (Bloom, 1984).

Reigeluth states, “There are some people who try to implement competency-based education in a time-based system, where student progress is based on time, so some are forced to move on before mastering the current material. That does not take full advantage of how CBE can work best. In order for CBE to work best, students must move on only after mastery has occurred.”

The main distinction between time-based and competency-based systems is that students don’t progress to the next level based on when a calendar or schedule says they are supposed to. They move on when they have proven mastery of a particular set of skills identified by the instructor. This ensures the system is built around the learning of the student and successful completion of the course.  Hence, the institution and system of academia can be certain that students are moving forward with the necessary skills and knowledge required in their future discipline or career.

As explained in Instructional-Design Theories and Models, Volume IV (2017), PCBE “meets learners where they are on a predefined set of learning expectations and follows them along the entire sequence they need to succeed.” This system is transparent and provides students with a clear understanding of the expectations and objectives before them and a clear path on how to achieve them. 

What are the benefits in having multiple perspectives in the peer learning process?

Reigeluth responded, “If you put people who haven’t performed well in one group and people who have performed well in another group, the teacher will have to provide more instruction to address inequalities. Mixing the learning levels allows students to teach each other and relieves the teacher of having to teach everyone who hasn’t learned it.”

There is a fine balance between ensuring that students who are further ahead are engaged and those who need more help are receiving the support required to progress. Pairing students with diverse abilities can be an effective way to enable “learning by teaching”, but there are instances where students will learn most effectively when paired with students on comparable levels.

Instructors should consider the activity type and what prior knowledge each student is coming with to a particular activity. For example, Dr. Reigeluth explains how students, even those who are further ahead, develop a deeper understanding when they provide guidance to their peers. The system and tools used by the professor should allow the flexibility to account for this and make adjustments when necessary. 

Kritik takes the pressure off instructors by pairing students based on varying degrees of ability. Through calibration and AI, Kritik measures the students’ progress through each activity and pairs students of diverse abilities, meaning even for large class sizes of over 1000 students, peer learning can be managed seamlessly.

What is the role of PCBE in addressing equity in learning?

Reigeluth said, “PCBE makes a huge difference in addressing equity. Disadvantaged students are hurt most [in time-based learning systems] because they are forced to move on before mastering the current material. This creates gaps in their learning that make it much harder for them to learn related material in the future.”

Equity is not treating everyone the same, it’s providing each student with individual guidance and support they need to be successful. For each student, this will look different because each student learns and processes information differently. While this requires a personalized approach, it’s an aspect we need to appreciate.

Reigeluth stated, “We need students who are different from each other, who graduate with different competencies. The whole issue of equity needs to be one of helping every student to reach their potential, whatever that potential may be and not pretend that everyone ought to be the same.”

Kritik ensures students have personalized and actionable feedback they need to improve over their various course activities. This feedback is also delivered anonymously in Kritik, so that students are evaluated solely based on their work without any external influence, or bias. 

As Dr. Reigeluth explains, “PCBE (done right) addresses equity better than any other method I know of.”

How does PCBE help students adjust in this evolving digital age?

The digital age, more commonly known as the post-industrial age, presents students with a lot of changes and challenges not seen in previous generations. In the industrial age, when workers were tasked with monotonous work, there was a hidden curriculum that taught compliance. Students had to do what they were told, to keep their head down and follow the system. But, as society evolves more to a more complex state, the digital or information age requires a different mentality.

“In the information age, knowledge work is the predominant form of work, and we need workers to take initiative, to problem solve, to be self-directed and to be collaborative. The focus has shifted to learning throughout their careers and not just in school,” according to Reigeluth.  Schools must encourage students to be creative and to apply their knowledge outside the classroom, and this means that teaching and learning frameworks need to be adjusted as well.

Through the process of evaluating and interacting with peers in Kritik, students develop the critical thinking skills and higher-order thinking skills necessary to be active contributors and problem solvers in this digital age. Additionally, through each function of Kritik, including the ability to dispute grades, self-reflect and provide feedback on feedback, students are required to think deeper about the objective at hand and about their own progress towards mastery. 

How does peer assessment help develop task expertise?

Reigeluth responded, “Feedback is a key ingredient for improving our practice.  Feedback can come in many forms depending on the situation, and peer feedback is among the easiest and least expensive forms.  And the peer who is giving the feedback typically learns a lot from the experience, as well.  Of course, the teacher should monitor the peer feedback occasionally for both what is said and how it is said.  In the situation of online tutorials, like in the Khan Academy, the tutorials can provide great feedback.  In other situations, a more advanced student can provide feedback, or the teacher can provide feedback.  But in many cases, especially collaborative projects, peer feedback is the most cost-effective way to go.”
Kritik has allowed instructors across all class sizes and disciplines to incorporate a more efficient and accountable assessment process without adding more stress or accounting for more time and resources. Instructors then have more time to spend working and mentoring students to address particular blocks or misunderstandings and to elevate students who are moving faster through in the course. 

What are some of the challenges with traditional teaching and assessment methods and how can these be addressed by PCBE?

Reigeluth stated, “Perhaps the biggest challenge with traditional teaching is that slow learners are forced to move on before they have learned the competencies, so they accumulate gaps in their learning that make it harder to learn related material in the future…. Also, fast learners are held back, wasting the potential for them to become so much more than our schools currently allow.”  

In a traditional learning environment, the system is designed to compare students to each other. As Dr. Reigeluth explains, this can make the lower performers feel negative about themselves and discourage them from any future learning. 

Through a system of personalized competency-based learning, all students are supported through their learning journey with the expectations for success made clear and the instructor guiding them along with the necessary support to enhance, or adjust their understanding.  If it takes twice as long for some students to master all the course objectives, that’s fine, but it requires some changes in university structures.

How does PCBE address the challenges of traditional teaching and assessment?

In Merging the Instructional Design Process with Learner-Centered Theory, Dr. Reigeluth and Dr. Yunjo An explain that it is argued that traditional approaches are “too linear, too slow, overly analytical, and inflexible (e.g. Zemke & Rossett, 2002).”

The authors explain, “PCBE can address [the challenges of traditional teaching and assessment] by not allowing any students to move on until they have mastered the current competencies, and allowing them to move on as soon as they have mastered them.”

In terms of motivation, Dr. Reigeluth explains that “Personalized, collaborative, project-based learning is far easier to make motivating, and these are important parts of a system that uses PCBE.” 

Kritik has allowed professors to scaffold the learning of larger assignments, meaning students have the guidance and support they need to succeed from one stage to the next leading to the final assignment form. Scaffolding can help motivate students because they are receiving guidance, have structured opportunities for self-reflection and interact with their peers at numerous levels leading up to a larger culminating submission. 

Whether through anonymous and bias-free peer assessment or through open discussion, Kritik fosters open and constructive dialogue. Anonymous peer assessment - when students provide feedback to each other without knowing whose work they have in front of them -  means students are more likely to focus on providing critical and motivational feedback. Additionally, students feel more comfortable providing genuine assessments to their peers when they know it is anonymous (DeMarchi, 2021). 

Kritik goes beyond creating assignments for students. The platform helps build trust, empathy and care between students. Peer learning is a collaborative and team-first approach where one student’s strong evaluation benefits another student who can make the necessary adjustments to succeed in the course. These are the competencies and soft skills that empower students to succeed academically and in the workforce after graduation. The ability to provide specific feedback that is both motivational and critical means students learn to take risks, embrace feedback and provide responses based on facts. Additionally, there is a feeling of value and responsibility that comes with this process as students learn the impact their feedback has on others and the value of their peers’ feedback on them. 

What is the new role of the teacher in this day and age?

Reigeluth responded, “The teacher’s role has to change from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’.”  In Vision and Action (2017), Dr. Reigeluth outlines how the instructor-as-guide fulfills many roles, including mentor instructional designer, facilitator, collaborator and learner.

Peer learning in Kritik means students' voices are heard and meaningful. Students learn how to provide and receive feedback, and instructors observe and support this progress by delivering personalized feedback and correction within the platform or in person.

With thanks to Dr. Reigeluth for his time and willingness to share his insights and learning with us on PCBE.


Bloom, B.S. (1984). The 2 sigma problem: The search for methods of group instruction as effective as one-to-one tutoring. Educational Researcher, 13(6), 4-16

DeMarchi, J. (2021). 5 Ways to Build a Safe and Collaborative Learning Environment. Kritik Community of Practice.

Reigeluth, C. M., & Karnopp, J. (2020). Vision and action: Reinventing schools through personalized competency-based education. Marzano Resources. 

Reigeluth, C.M., Myers, R. D., & Lee, D. (2017). The learner-centered paradigm of education. In C.M. Reigeluth, B. J. Beatty, & R. D. Myers (Eds.), Instructional-design theories and models: The learner-centered paradigm of education (Vol. 4, pp. 5-32). New York: Routledge

Reigeluth, C. M. (2017). Instructional-design theories and models ; volume 4. Routledge. 

Zemke, R., & Rossett, A. (2002). A hard look at ISD. Training, 39(2), 26–34.

Carine Marette
Carine is the Co-Founder of Kritik.