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Northland Expands Innovative Competency-Based Education Learning to Welding Program


Northland Expands Innovative Competency-Based Education Learning to Welding Program

The groundbreaking program allows students to gain welding skills at their own pace

May 20, 2021 – Northland Community & Technical College announced the expansion of its innovative Competency-Based Education (CBE) learning model to the Thief River Falls campus Welding Process Technology program. The program marks the second CBE program offered by Northland in just the last year and highlights the College’s commitment to workforce preparation.

With scheduling conflicts and pricing being two of the most common barriers students face when pursuing an education, Northland is working to remove those barriers by offering students innovative solutions to help make education available for everyone. One of those solutions is the introduction of this new welding CBE program.

What is Competency-Based Education?

The CBE model of delivery puts students at the center of their own learning, allowing them to chart their courses at a speed that works best for them. When students begin their educational journey at Northland, they will engage in self-paced instruction and assess skill proficiency rather than attend traditional classes and receive standard grades. The program structure will accommodate a wide variety of schedules and give students, who also may already be employed full-time, the ability to learn these skills and earn a degree or certificate.

Through Northland’s Welding CBE program, students advance through the curriculum at their own pace, and as their knowledge and skills are proven, they continue to progress through the subject material. Students study and complete their work on their own schedule and then come to campus when ready to demonstrate mastery of the material. There is no required classroom attendance. Northland also offers flex lab hours for students to practice their skills and seek guidance and mentorship from program faculty.

Competency-Based Education is for everyone.

This education model is multi-faceted, appealing to not only the traditional student but also allows the hobbyist an opportunity to take one or two classes to learn a specific skill and the industry professional a way to upskill to advance in their career. In addition, local businesses and industry partners can also benefit from the flexibility of the new welding program by utilizing these courses to train their employees and future workers to meet new workforce demands.

“This is a structure where students can attend at their own pace, take one or many classes, and pay as they go,” Curtis Zoller, Associate Dean, says. “Flex labs are open at a variety of hours for students who are ready to test to complete a course or practice their skills. There are no required lectures or classroom time. For our workforce partners in the region, it gives them a great opportunity to send their employees to us when time allows learning a new skill.”

Changes have been made to Northland’s Welding Process Technology diploma to incorporate CBE. Three separate certificates that focus on a particular welding process are integrated into the diploma. Each of these certificates focuses on a specific welding process; Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW), and Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW). A student that earns the full 34 credit diploma will also be eligible for all three certificates; however, they can also focus simply on one particular process and earn a certificate in that discipline.

Joel Ziegler, Thief River Falls campus Welding instructor, explained that the biggest reason for implementing the CBE delivery model is to make welding courses accessible to a greater variety of students-those currently employed don’t have the flexibility to take a traditional college course. “It’s simply convenience-students don’t need to show up at scheduled times on specific days for lectures and labs,” Ziegler explains. “They now can complete the theory work at home, at the library, or even at the Academic Success Center here at Northland.”

Students won’t have to go it alone, however. Northland will offer flex lab hours to use equipment to practice their skills and complete assignments while receiving instructor feedback. “Once students complete their online work, they come to campus during the flex lab’s operating hours to take an assessment so I can gauge their progress,” continues Ziegler. “Students can then practice their welding or complete the hands-on exam for a particular unit to prove their mastery of the skills.”

With the official launch set for fall semester 2021 on the Thief River Falls campus, the flex lab will be open a variety of day and evening hours to accommodate most any schedule. To provide maximum accessibility, there are very few course prerequisites; however, some courses are a bit more advanced than others. It is recommended that each student visit with the instructor or an advisor prior to registering.

Welding isn’t the first CBE program for Northland. Last fall, Northland announced plans to launch a new Mechatronics program that offered students courses in mechanical, electrical, automation, and manufacturing technologies. Developed as a traditional two-year degree with several shorter certificate opportunities mixed in, the Mechatronics program was the first CBE program offered in higher ed in Minnesota. Enrollment in both programs is now open, with classes beginning fall 2021.

To learn more about the Competency-Based Education programs available at Northland or to apply, visit or call 1-800-959-6282.