Ask Why – Carnegie Units

The Carnegie Unit is a measure used by high schools, colleges, state departments of education, accrediting bodies and federal loan providers since 1906, ostensibly to keep track of student learning. The exact definition of a standard Carnegie Unit is “120 hours of contact time with an instructor, which translates into one hour of instruction on a particular subject per day, five days a week, for twenty-four weeks annually.” Why do we still use it? Learn more and share.

Tweet it: What the heck is a Carnegie Unit? Watch the latest video in the #AskWhy series to find out! from 180 Studio & @EdReimagined #FutureForLearning


Education Reimagined partners with 180 Studio to continue the Ask Why video series exploring traditions in education. The series digs into why we narrowly group children by age, use grade levels as indicators of “moving up,” and more. Complementing each video, Education Reimagined’s Vice President, Dr. Ulcca Joshi Hansen, provides the research and history around the “why” of America’s education traditions and invites all of us to explore the possibility of something new.

How can we know when a student is learning?

One option is competency-based learning, sometimes called learning for mastery. Competencies are specific and observable learning outcomes that transcend specific subjects and get to the fundamentals of learning. Schools use competency-based learning to help students develop and demonstrate the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that are important to success in school, higher education, work, and life.

Learn more about competencies:

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