Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 2-16-2017


My dissertation research investigated an adult learner’s experience in an online competency-based education (CBE) bachelor’s degree program. The purpose of my study was to understand how CBE was transforming the practices of traditional post-secondary education and how CBE was serving the needs of students, particularly nontraditional adult students in higher education.

The methodology used in this dissertation research was a qualitative case study. The participant was an adult learner enrolled in an online CBE bachelor's degree program at a public institution. My case study used a series of face-to-face interviews, document analysis, participant-guided web tours, and participant observation to collect data during a six-month period.

The themes that emerged from my study include: (1) adult learning as a self-directed process, (2) adult learning as a flexible process, (3) adult learning as a social process, (4) adult learning as a goal-oriented and results-drive process, (5) adult learning as a change process, and (6) adult learning as a scaffolding process.

The findings of my study suggest that CBE can make a valuable complement to the traditional higher education model and a functional alternative pathway to post-secondary credentials. While CBE has the potential to enhance existing models of higher education to address access, quality, and productivity challenges, it is certainly not a panacea that will save higher education and no one has claimed that it is. What competency-based education can bring is a catalyst for change and innovation that our higher education system desperately needs.


competency-based education (CBE), post-secondary education, adult learning, self-directed learning, autonomous learning, social learning

Document Type




Degree Name

Language, Literacy and Sociocultural Studies

Level of Degree


Department Name

Language, Literacy, and Sociocultural Studies

First Committee Member (Chair)

Dr. Christine Sims

Second Committee Member

Dr. Alicia Chavez

Third Committee Member

Dr. Lucretia (Penny) Pence

Fourth Committee Member

Dr. Ricky Allen