As competency-based education (CBE) becomes more and more important to US higher education, it would be worth exploring the learning platforms in use. While there are cases of institutions using their traditional LMS to support a CBE program, there is a new market developing specifically around learning platforms that are designed specifically for self-paced, fully-online, competency-framework based approaches.
Several weeks ago Flat World announced their latest round of funding, raising $5 million of debt financing, raising their total to $40.7 million. The company started out by offering full e-textbooks (and was previously named FlatWorld Knowledge), developing 110 titles that included 25 of the 50 most-used lecture courses. The e-textbook market was not working out, however, and the company pivoted to competency-based education around the time that Chris Etesse became CEO two years ago. Now the company is developing a combined CBE learning platform with integrated course content – much of it repurposing the pre-existing e-textbook materials. Their first academic partner for CBE is Brandman University, a non-traditional part of the Chapman University system and is currently one of the CBEN network.
One central tenet of the Flat World approach is based on their history and pivot – a tight integration of content and platform. As Etesse describes it, content is a 1st-class citizen in their system whereas other loosely-coupled approaches that do not tie content and platform together can be difficult to navigate and collect learning analytics. In other words, this intentionally is a walled-garden approach. For Brandman, approximately 70% of the content comes from the pre-existing FlatWorld texts, 25% comes from various OER sources, and about 5% has been custom-designed for Brandman.
In other words, this is very much a walled garden by design. While there is support for outside content, I believe this integration must be done by Flat World designers.
As was the case for the description of the Helix CBE-based learning platform, my interest here is not merely to review one company’s products, but rather to illustrate aspects of the growing CBE movement using the demo. Continue reading