Motivate Me with CBE: What Learners Want from School

Educators and learners collaborating in some dynamic way

How do we make school not just a place to learn, but a place to thrive? What are the key ingredients that truly motivate students to persist and excel in their learning journey?

A recent Edweek survey attempted to answer these questions by asking students and teachers directly: what practices would be most powerful for increasing student motivation? The results showed affirmation for many project-based learning techniques, such as hands-on, experiential learning and career-connected learning. As proponents of PBL, we were happy to see these finding, but the real eye-opener was the top practices identified by both teachers and students – practices that resonate deeply with the principles of competency-based learning (CBE).

“That was then, this is now.”

When students were asked how teachers could help them feel more motivated to excel in school, 35% said they wanted to be able to redo assignments if they received a low grade. This is where competency-based education (CBE) shines. CBE offers a strength-based approach to learning, where early attempts with low grades aren’t seen as failures, but rather as formative feedback that can foster growth.

“Feedback, please!”

Additionally, 29% of students indicated that receiving more feedback to understand what to improve before getting a grade would boost their motivation. In competency-based models, feedback is skill-focused rather than assignment-focused, with the rubric clearly describing each stage of growth in student-friendly language.

“How do I know thee? Let me count the ways!”

Lastly, 24% of students want more choice in how they demonstrate their learning. While traditional models may not always provide the resources for this kind of choice, a CBE portfolio assessment model offers an ideal platform to capture learning – whenever, wherever, and in whatever form it happens. 

By emphasizing learner strengths, providing constructive feedback, and allowing flexibility in demonstrating learning, we can foster an environment that empowers students to take ownership of their education. The message from the students is clear: they’re asking for CBE!

Check out these other high-value strategies learners said were sure to move the needle on motivation and achievement.

See Education Week Survey

The LiFT Learning Newsletter features articles and insight from experts on essential topics related to CBE, PBL, and student-centered learning.