Need-to-Know-News: Competency-Based Transcripts, a Profitable Online Education Company & Ed Tech Tool ‘Vittle’

In this ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series my aim is to share noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

Vittle app for iPad

In this post I review BIG news for higher education—competency-based degrees, specifically Northern Arizona University’s [NAU] program. This week NAU provided a further glimpse into its program with the release of a version of its competency-based transcript; the first of it kind for public degree granting institution. Also I’ve profiled a company that provides online education to thousands of students worldwide, and is [very] profitable at doing so. Finally I share a new and nifty ed tech tool, Vittle, that is user-friendly, with great potential to support educators in face-to-face and online classrooms.

1. Competency Based Degrees and Transcripts
There’s been little coverage in the news of Northern Arizona University’s [NAU] ground-breaking online degree completion program launched earlier this year. NAU’s program,  Personalized Learning, offered through its Extended Campus, is not based on credit hours, but on students demonstrating mastery of identified competencies defined as skills and/or knowledge; where NAU defines knowledge as “conceptual understanding”.

The program, developed with a grant from EDUCAUSE and the Gates Foundation is the first public university in the United States to use competencies rather than the traditional credit-hour to grant degrees (Bolkan, 2013). Two other schools have entered into the competency arena, College for America at Southern New Hampshire University [a private, non-profit institution] whose program was also developed with a similar grant, and for-profit Capella University. When NAU’s degree program launched in May 2013, I thought it would be big news, yet it slipped under the radar, no doubt due to the preoccupation with MOOCs. Yet this competency-based online degree program, is a revolutionary concept, and has the potential to disrupt traditional higher education in a way that MOOCs have not.  NAU’s website gives a comprehensive overview of the program which is quite different from the traditional college experience. The most remarkable difference is the tuition structure. Students pay a subscription fee in six-month increments to access coursework instead of tuition calculated by credit hour; a significantly less expensive option for a college degree.

NAU was spotlight this week with the release of a version of the competency transcript for its degree program, yet again with little news coverage except for a comprehensive article in Inside Higher Ed.  For now, students will receive two transcripts from NAU as a record of their work—a traditional transcript and a competency-based one. Likely this will ease the transition to competency-based higher education, allowing time for employers and other institutions to become comfortable with the concept.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 5.21.57 PM
Scoring legend on first page of NAU’s two-page sample transcript

InsightsCompetency-based education is just getting started. As [U.S.] institutions look for ways to harness technology effectively, lower costs and remain financially viable, many will explore competency-based programs. Making it even more feasible, is the The US Department of Education’s move to provide federal financial aid to students enrolled in competency programs. They are even encouraging education institutions to explore and implement such programs (, U.S. Department of Education). This gives competency-based education serious clout.  Given the programs lower costs and flexibility for students, competency-based education can be a game-changer for education.

“Watch. Listen. Practice. Learn.”

2. What a Profitable Company that delivers Online Education Looks Like
Though the online education provider doesn’t offer higher education credit courses, it has a vibrant business model worth examining. It has been profitable for over fifteen years. was one of the first companies to provide online instruction in Microsoft Office Excel, Word, etc, and now offers instruction in “software, business and creative skills”  (

“Subscribers pay $25 a month, or $250 a year, to access 3- to 20-minute courses on Web design, 3-D animation, Photoshop, Excel and CAD, among others, adding up to $100 million in revenue last year. All that has helped build a huge fan base and a library of 100,000 videos”. Forbes

Insight: The market is becoming saturated with online skill training courses with the proliferation of free courses such as tech-specific MOOCs, fee-based online courses offered through platforms such as Yet as the market continues to evolve at its rapid pace, for-profit organizations need to be adaptable and progressive to remain viable. Even is vulnerable, yet it’s apparent that a strategic plan and an adaptable management team are essential for sustainability.

3. Ed Tech Tool – Vittle
This application could be a useful tool for educators wanting to create short videos with an iPad to reinforce key concepts for students. The iPad becomes a whiteboard. It may even be more useful for students to create their own videos to explain concepts learned. Videos can be posted on Facebook, YouTube, Tweeted or played on a iPad or device. Looks  nifty.

3 thoughts on “Need-to-Know-News: Competency-Based Transcripts, a Profitable Online Education Company & Ed Tech Tool ‘Vittle’

  1. I agree. Northern Arizona University’s Personalized Learning program is revolutionary and the kind of change higher education needs. I know I would’ve preferred this option when I went to college years ago.

    Inside Higher Ed recently published an article on NAU’s Personalized Learning degrees. It lacks pep, but it diagrams what their competency-based program is now, and where it plans to go:


    1. It would be interesting to track students reactions and comments about NAU’s program. Their feedback would be invaluable for institutions planning on implementing a similar program. Thanks for your comment and contribution! Debbie


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