Mastery Learning Model: Definition, Theory & Approach

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Jade Mazarin

Jade is a psychotherapist in private practice with an MA in counseling and a Board Certification in Christian Counseling. She is also a freelance writer on mental health topics and spirituality.

In this lesson, we will define the mastery learning model and compare it with traditional teaching. We will also look into the steps through which students master material before moving forward.

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What Is the Mastery Learning Model?

The majority of us are very familiar with the traditional flow of classes, where we learn material and study for the upcoming test. Then, regardless of our grade, we move on to the next set of chapters, until we are tested on those. We go on to learn more and take the next test and so on, until we are done with the class. Maybe we really learned what we were taught, or maybe we only learned a portion, or maybe we barely understood most of the material, and it's reflected in our ending grade. But what if we had to master what we were taught? What if we couldn't move forward in a class until we had fully grasped what we were tested on?

These are the kinds of questions that educator Benjamin Bloom began posing in the 1970s. He was studying the variation of grades in classes and saw a vast difference between those who had higher grades and those with lower ones. In an effort to create more balance, Bloom considered how those with the lower grades could be given the chance to do better on tests by receiving the help they needed. Specifically, he came up with a model that could promote genuine learning along every step of a course. This model is called mastery learning.

Mastery learning is unique compared to the traditional method mentioned above. Under this model, a unit of material is taught, and students' understanding is evaluated before they are able to move on to the next unit. As Bloom had suspected, this method was successful in improving grades and lessening the divide between students in class. Below we have the flow and order of mastery learning in the classroom.

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