Competency Based Education (CBE)

Competency-based education is a model of education that is different from traditional models. It moves students beyond just passing classes to requiring students to demonstrate competency in a measurable way. Students need to be ready for the real world, and Horizon’s competency-based approach prepares them with the knowledge, skills, and character they need to succeed in life and ministry.

Competency-based education is among the fastest growing educational trends in the US, and a “trend” already well established in Australia, Costa Rica, France, Mexico, New Zealand, and elsewhere. Horizon is the first college in Canada to offer undergraduate competency-based Christian leadership training.

Why adopt competency-based education?

Horizon launched a competency-based model in 2015. Although Horizon has a long history of producing capable, competent leaders, we sought feedback from alumni and practitioners and realized we knew we must do better.

We listened not only to alumni from our college but to alumni and leaders representing theological colleges and seminaries internationally, cross-denominationally, and from different generations. We heard a common refrain: Bible college/seminary helped me grow personally, spiritually, and in my biblical knowledge, introduced me to lifelong friends (maybe a spouse!), but it didn’t adequately prepare me to serve in real-world ministry. We listened and we changed. We retained the positive aspects of a traditional theological college while ensuring our students graduate competent to handle the demands of real-world ministry, ready to offer personal and biblical counsel, but equally prepared to read a spreadsheet and manage a board meeting.

How did you determine what is a competency?

Competency-based education begins with the end in mind, looking at how students will emerge at the end of their programs. We ask: how is a student prepared to graduate as real-world leaders, whether for the marketplace or professional ministry?

To answer that question, we invited pastors, youth pastors, missionaries, educators, and other leaders and practitioners to inform the real-world knowledge, skills, and characteristics a Horizon student should be able to demonstrate to graduate ready for real-world ministry work. These expectations form Horizon’s six competencies.

What are Horizon’s competencies?

Horizon students graduate having demonstrated (proven!) their abilities according to six competencies that ministry practitioners have identified as necessary for success in Christian life and ministry. These are:

  • Leadership and Administration
  • Spiritual Maturity
  • Contextual Awareness
  • Ministry Development
  • Skilled Communication
  • Biblical and Theological Literacy

Doesn’t every Bible college or seminary do competency-based education?

No. Although every Christian college and seminary wants to prepare its students for competent Christian life and ministry (we hope!), most don’t adopt a competency-based educational model. Students quickly learn that Horizon’s competency-based model differs from traditional approaches in numerous important ways.

How is Horizon’s competency-based program different?

Although Horizon retains a more familiar course-based approach to competency-based education, students in Horizon’s programs experience important differences from a traditional model, including:

Industry-informed curriculum – our curriculum is informed by real-world ministry leaders and practitioners to help students become the kinds of graduates these leaders would want to hire.

No grades for assignments – students’ individual assignments receive no grades. Instead, students receive back their submitted work with generous feedback and explanation of how well they’ve met (or not yet met) competency. For those assignments not yet meeting competency, instructors give direction on what the student needs to do to meet it and the student will revise and resubmit, or work with the professor to demonstrate competency by other means.

Students earn professional certifications and psychometric assessments – as part of being prepared for real-world work and ministry, during their programs Horizon students undertake a battery of recognized, industry-standard psychometric assessments and professional certifications that give them a healthy view of self and bulks-up their résumés. These include Emotional Intelligence 2.0 assessment, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Birkmann, Crucial Conversations certificate, and others.

Course grades are provided for transcripts – although individual assignments do not receive individual grades, at the conclusion of a course students will receive a conversion from competency to a letter grade on their transcripts. We do this to aid students transferring to other institutions. Because students need to meet competency in all areas of a course, successful students will not receive less than a “B-“. Significantly, conversion works only in one direction: It’s possible to convert competency to a grade, but not possible to convert a grade to a competency.

Flexible time for assignments – although time is not entirely relative (sorry, Einstein!), Horizon students have additional time built into the schedule to produce competent work. Different from many traditional schools, students receive no grade penalties for late assignments. This doesn’t mean there are no deadlines or consequences for late submissions, however!

Students must meet competency in all areas to progress – In a traditional grading system, a student who might do poorly in one part of a course and better on another will average their work and pass a class. At Horizon students need to meet the learning outcomes for all assigned areas of a course before they can continue. Fortunately, we have a solid academic assistance office and have built revision time into the schedule to help keep students moving on.

Up to 1500 hours of supervised, real-world workplace experience – to develop competency, students participate in weekly supervised workplace ministries, culminating in a full-time 8-month* internship. Students graduate with real-world workplace experience and fuller résumés. (*Different programs may require different internship lengths.)

Professional, personalized e-portfolio – throughout their programs, Horizon students put together a professional e-portfolio that effectively represents how they’ve met Horizon’s outlined competencies. The e-Portfolio serves to mark a student’s progress throughout the program, functioning as a student’s real-world transcript. As students prepare to graduate, the portfolio becomes an important tool to showcase their knowledge, skills, character development, psychometric profiles, résumés or CVs, and transferable skills to prospective employers. Additionally, students retain lifelong access to their portfolios as a tool to develop through their career changes and advancements long after graduation! See Horizon’s Portfolium page.

What are people saying about CBE?

“Horizon College effectively disciples their students to be impact players in the world.”

Leyton Erickson

Lead Pastor, Ebenezer Baptist Church, Saskatoon

“In 2018 and beyond, we’ll continue to see increased interest and investment in competency-based education (CBE)…CBE is directly improving student outcomes. It allows teachers to shift the focus away from standardized test preparation towards true learning and concept mastery.”

Terry Boyle

eSchool Media's Annual Trends Report: 25 Trends for 2018, p. 9.

“CBE is the best thing that could have happened for my post-secondary education. With the CBE model, I am encouraged to learn rather than pass. CBE makes the connection of a concept to application clear, and necessary.”

Joel Usick

Student, Horizon College & Seminary

“I am excited to see the college that equipped Miriam and I for ministry embracing a bold new direction for the future. We are thrilled to be a part of it!”

Bruce Martin

Lead Pastor, Calvary Temple, Winnipeg

For an overview of CBE at Horizon, go to 7:25 in this video interview with Horizon’s president:

Click here to read about Horizon’s CBE launch in 2015 as reported in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.

Horizon was recently noted by the Association of Theological Schools’ Colloquy Online (Summer 2019 edition).