As I shared last week, Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) is simply an educational philosophy that says our focus is on the outcome not the pathway. In this philosophy, schools work with stakeholders to identify and articulate the learning outcomes for a given degree program, then decide how it will assess whether or not students have reached those learning outcomes. Rather than assume that students will automatically achieve the learning outcomes by progressing through a specific set of courses that last for a specific set of time and occur in a specific chronological order, OBE assumes that students learn at different paces and in different ways, which means not all students will progress toward the learning outcomes in an identical fashion. 

This doesn’t mean OBE casts aside courses, it simply means that courses and degree programs must be flexible enough to account for this shift in philosophy. In the Kairos Project, that means students are able to work with faculty to adapt assignments and to adjust the order in which educational topics are addressed. 

Competency-Based Education is simply one way to implement an Outcomes-Based philosophy of education. Through CBE the institution is able to have a much tighter grasp on what students are learning and how they are progressing through a program. In essence, CBE takes the comprehensive learning outcomes for a degree program and separates them into smaller components. At Sioux Falls Seminary, that means each comprehensive learning outcome has a Knowledge, Character, and Competency component, and that within each of those sub-components are particular targets we plan for students to meet. In one way, the targets could be seen as milestones along the journey of theological education. 

After two years of offering the Kairos Project, we have learned that the philosophy of education is immensely more important than the decision regarding format or delivery method. Yes, the medium or delivery format for a course will impact the way a student feels when he or she is participating in the course (delivery formats are not value neutral, they always say something about what the organization values). At the end of the day, however, good philosophies can be implemented in many different formats.

In our version of CBE, students are still enrolled in courses, and they are still bound by the semester structure; they pass courses, submit assignments, and interact with faculty and students on campus in Sioux Falls. They progress toward the same learning goals as students in classic tracks, and they participate in the same capstone assessment process as students in classic tracks.

It is that last sentence that serves as the crux of this article. To put it simply, after nearly three years of developing and implementing an Outcomes-Based philosophy of education, we have learned that it can serve as the backbone to almost any format. In addition, CBE does not need to be limited to a certain format. At its core, CBE is about helping students achieve discrete learning outcomes. As Dan Aleshire (Executive Director of the Association of Theological Schools) once said, in the future there will be “multiple definitions of good.” This is true for CBE. As long as it adheres to the philosophies of OBE, it can morph into several different models of delivery. 

CBE is one implementation of OBE, and I believe it is OBE that matters most when thinking about the future of theological education. We must place the outcome above the content in terms of value. If CBE is treated simply as a way to reduce an educational journey into its component parts rather than an opportunity to reimagine the journey with a new focus on the learning outcomes, then we are missing an important opportunity. This important opportunity stems from the freedom that comes from Outcomes-Based Education. Competency-Based Education can be a wonderful model of education, but only if it truly implements a new philosophy instead of repackaging an old philosophy.

I think Sioux Falls Seminary is on the right path because at the core of the Kairos Project is an Outcome-Based philosophy of education. Come back next week to see some of the next steps that we are taking with the Kairos Project and how this philosophy might extend beyond North America.

This is a repost of an article I posted on Sioux Falls Seminary’s website. It is available here.