Evidence-based learning is best for self-starters with related work experience, who can progress toward their degree by demonstrating mastery of skills.

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A couple of years ago, Zachary Pfrimmer, 30, and his wife, Manetta, had a newborn son, Grayson. They lived in the Everett area, which unfortunately resulted in Pfrimmer commuting five days a week to BMW Seattle, where he worked as an internet manager.

He didn’t feel passion for his job and he wasn’t spending enough time with his son. Pfrimmer needed a change.

“I wanted to do something that I cared about, and that allowed me to see my family more,” says Pfrimmer.

While Pfrimmer had a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance, he actually comes from a family of teachers. His parents were school teachers before becoming school principals. His wife is also a third grade teacher at Quil Ceda Tulalip Elementary School in Marysville.

So it just made sense for Pfrimmer to enroll in City University of Seattle’s Master in Teaching program, an evidence-based learning program.

In contrast to the more traditional mode of learning that takes place purely in classrooms, evidence-based learning is best for self-starters with related work experience, who can progress toward their degree by demonstrating mastery of skills through assignments, projects, portfolios and other evidence rather than just papers and exams.

“Individuals with years of experience in one field or one aspect of a field are well positioned to benefit from evidence-based learning,” says CityU Provost Scott Carnz. “People who have worked on significant projects and have evidence of the work they’ve done can typically show, fairly easily, the level of competence they have in a particular discipline … and many employers offer non-credited trainings that could translate into credited work.”

Pfrimmer left BMW Seattle and worked for two years as a paraprofessional educator — a teaching assistant — as he earned his teaching degree. He was able to access his class materials online as well as build a network of support of colleagues at his new job. His schedule was such that after work, he could spend time with his family before his son went to bed, then stay up until 11 p.m. writing lesson plans and curricula that both contributed toward his portfolio and also were things he used daily in his classroom.

“One of the best parts of evidence-based learning is that you don’t have assessments in the traditional sense, like taking a test,” says Pfrimmer.

Rather, assessments are based on the portfolio of work.

“Traditional testing tests one knowledge, but does not necessarily test their ability to do anything with that knowledge,” says Carnz. Incorporating evidence-based learning asks students to demonstrate how they’ve applied their knowledge and skill set in the classroom. Evidence-based teaching involves the use of evidence to establish where students are in their learning. It helps them decide on appropriate teaching strategies and interventions and monitor student progress and evaluate teaching effectiveness.

Pfrimmer’s program was self-paced. Being in completely control of his learning required him to set his own deadlines and stay organized in order to accomplish the work. He estimates that he wrote more than 350 pages of material during his two years in the program.

“I felt like it really prepared me to be a teacher,” says Pfrimmer. “I was recently talking some of my co-workers who went through other programs to get their master’s. And in talking to them, comparing that to how I felt going through my program — I feel like I was much better prepared to be a successful teacher.”

After completing his program and earning his degree, Pfrimmer was hired on as a fifth grade teacher at Liberty Elementary School in Marysville this most recent school year. He will also be teaching fifth grade again next year.

“When I was younger, I had actually kind of avoided becoming a teacher because my parents are teachers. I was like, ‘No, I’m going into the family business!’ But when I started working at a school, I felt like I really loved it and that I was good at it. Through the program, I learned that teaching is actually something I am meant to do.”

City University of Seattle is a private nonprofit university accredited through the doctoral level. It is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the Top 50 in the country for its online bachelor’s degree programs for seven consecutive years.