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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.

We also recommend watching John Dewey on Education: Impact & Theory and Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi: Theory & Impact on Education

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.

The Approach

  1. As mentioned already, teachers break down their class curriculum into smaller units - about one to two weeks worth of material - that will be taught throughout the course. After learning the first unit, students are given what is like a quiz but serves more as an evaluation or assessment.
  2. Rather than signifying the end of their time on this unit, the assessment is a guide to the teacher regarding the level of understanding the students have of the unit. He or she then identifies the areas of weakness and also the areas where the student may not need any help.
  3. Detailed feedback is given to the student, and corrective activities are assigned on those topics that are lacking. Students can be given practice exercises, study guides, group work or complimentary resources, like information on the web, to help them improve.
  4. They are then given the chance to take another quiz, which is similar to the content of the first one. Only when the student masters that particular unit can they move on to the next one. Students who showed mastery at their first evaluation are given enrichment exercises like special projects, tasks or academic games to further or broaden their knowledge of the material.

Benefits

Mastery learning ensures that the ultimate goal of any course - the understanding and learning of new material - is achieved. It also gives students who are struggling opportunities for improvement that are not available in the more traditional model. It provides clear, individualized feedback that can help each student realize what they are missing and how to attain it. It also helps those who are already doing well to develop their potential more fully through further activities. Mastery learning shows students that the focus is not on their grade, but on what they learn. And that alone seems to be a very valuable contribution to the field of education.

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