Mastery learning is a type of learning model that focuses on student “mastery” or competency in a given topic before advancing to the next concept. It is different from traditional forms of learning in which students learn a concept or skill without demonstrating active mastery.
The application of mastery learning has the ability to improve student academic performance while reducing wasted time spent covering material the student has learned previously.
This type of learning is particularly effective for learners who struggle with specific subjects because it allows them to learn at their own pace.
In this post, I am going to show you the key elements and benefits of mastery learning and also explain how you can implement this learning model in the classroom.
What is Mastery Learning?
Mastery learning is a pedagogical approach designed to ensure that all students acquire a target set of skills and knowledge before advancing to a higher, more complex level.
In this model, teachers strategically group students based on readiness and provide scaffolded lessons until students have demonstrated proficiency. Students then move on to new material at their own pace.
Mastery Learning was pioneered by Benjamin Bloom in the late 1960s with the goal of improving student performance. Today, it is a time-tested instructional method with a proven track record of success across subject areas and grade levels.
It is an effective instructional approach in which students advance to the next unit of study only after demonstrating mastery of prior material. The learning model has been implemented by hundreds of K-12 schools, with great success.
What Are the Key Elements of Mastery Learning?
It is clear that mastery learning has impacted the landscape of education in many ways. As educators and school leaders explore how to meet the unique needs of all students, it’s important to be aware of the various elements that make up the learning model.
So, here are the key elements that must be seen in a class implementing the mastery learning method:
Students are examined for past knowledge, misunderstandings, and learning aptitude before giving instructions to them. What exactly is the aim of all of this? To assist the teacher in determining where each student begins so that he or she may choose what should be done next.
Basically, it helps teachers determine students’ prior knowledge, experience, skill levels, and potential misconceptions before beginning instruction.
2. Demonstrable learning objectives
Without clear objectives for each unit of study, mastery learning is impossible. Educational standards have become too broad to help teachers focus on what students should know and be able to do.
While this type of learning model does not dictate the curriculum, it relies on clearly stated objectives that identify the content and skills to focus on with students.
3. Mastery thresholds for each learning objective
The problem with the traditional learning method is that students who are “ready for the next lesson” move on at the same time as students who have not achieved mastery (and often do not even have partial mastery).
In mastery learning, the only way out of this problem is to ensure that no student moves on until they demonstrate mastery.
The key component in this solution is creating clear mastery thresholds for each learning objective, and building sequential lessons that check whether the student has met the current threshold before proceeding to the next lesson.
4. Group-based initial instruction
Although mastery-based techniques emphasize customized learning, the first lesson is rarely tailored to each learner individually.
Students are taught ‘high-quality, developmentally appropriate,’ and well-researched topics in a group-based classroom, just like ordinary classes during the first training. However, the lesson must be varied, context-sensitive, and student-centered.
5. Processes for students to demonstrate mastery
Mastery learning requires processes by which students are able to demonstrate mastery when they show what they know. These processes must be fully scalable: for every student and every learning objective.
This also helps to guarantee that all students have equal access. Through this type of scalability, it is possible to construct an egalitarian learning environment in which students who are usually left behind do not encounter the same hurdles.
6. Regular formative assessments
Formative assessments are a central part of any mastery learning model. These assessments can occur daily, weekly, or monthly, although for most learners best practices show that it is wise to accomplish these tasks more than once in a learning period.
Formative assessments provide teachers with immediate feedback about what students learned well and what needs to be improved, empowering them to make informed decisions regarding the next steps in their lessons.
7. Corrective instruction
Mastery learning emphasizes correcting a student’s knowledge gaps, but what does that really mean? Educators who use this teaching method correct all their students’ knowledge gaps and, by extension, increase their level of academic performance.
Characteristics such as high-quality instructions (with differentiated instructions), the classroom culture, and frequent testing are at the heart of the learning model, but corrective instructions and feedback define this teaching method.
8. Effective enrichment activities
After the learners have shown consistent proficiency in the subject, mastery learning educators provide enrichment activities for them. These activities aim to enrich students’ experiences and further explore a greater depth of related topics.
Implementing these activities will not only challenge students but also motivate them to reach their full potential as active learners.
Benefits of Mastery Learning Method
An effective strategy to help students improve their understanding of academic subjects, mastery learning does more than just ensure that students learn the basics.
It also benefits students by helping them craft individualized learning plans for their specific needs and goals.
Mastering a skill or concept can also act as a motivator for students, encouraging them to work harder and smarter in order to improve their skills.
Below are some of the key benefits of the Mastery Learning Model:
- Helps students take responsibility for their own learning
- Promotes effective use of technology by teachers and students
- Gives students the opportunity to learn new things
- Improves productivity
- Increased ability to learn and retain new information
- Easier transition to a complex (or challenging) topic
- Focus on clear targets
- Lesson plans are broader and more detailed
- Teachers have more time to focus on different students
- Creates a positive learning environment focussed on mastery
How to Implement Mastery Learning in the Classroom
1. Set demonstrable learning goals
Setting demonstrable learning goals is fairly simple, but not as easy to do. Some teachers make this more difficult than it needs to be by setting goals such as: “I want my students to have a better understanding of the subject”.
While this is well and good, it leaves you asking the question, “Better than what?” You need to give yourself measurable benchmarks so that you know where your students are and where they should go.
2. Create effective groups for collaborative work
Collaborative groups are a unique type of group learning activity that you can use for differentiation or remediation when you start to notice certain students struggling.
By creating effective groups for collaborative work in your classroom to implement mastery learning, it’s easier to see which students grasp certain concepts or methods and which ones still need some help.
3. Give an anchor task to your students
You can use the anchor task to implement this learning model in your classroom. The idea is that you give students a challenging task/assignment and break it down into smaller subtasks.
At the end of each subtask, students need to take a quiz before proceeding. If students don’t pass the quiz, they repeat the task until they pass, otherwise, they move on to the next subtask.
4. Monitor progress carefully
When planning mastery learning activities, you have to talk to your students in advance. They should know what you expect them to achieve and also set some boundaries for their learning.
The class should be kept small with everyone closely monitored as they learn, adding more detail and directions as the students move up levels of knowledge.
Keep records of each student’s progress. Because this helps set targets for their progression and allows you to find out which areas they might need help with.
5. Give additional support to struggling students
A prominent challenge in today’s modern classroom is helping all students learn. With the increase in education standards, students are graduating and reaching college unprepared for college-level work. Fortunately, the mastery learning model can help solve this problem.
To implement the learning model, adopt an instructional approach that helps to provide additional support for struggling students. Do this while allowing them to keep up with the class. This is much more fulfilling than simply pushing ahead.
Mastery Learning: FAQs
Does mastery learning work in advancing to difficult topics or subjects?
If implemented effectively, mastery learning helps students to easily move on to studying more difficult subjects.
This educational philosophy is based on the idea that learning can only happen if students are able to master basic concepts before moving on to more complex skills.
By meeting specific, clear goals, students then move on to more advanced topics.
Can mastery learning helps every student succeed?
Yes, since mastery learning requires that teachers know exactly what to teach, students know exactly what to learn. And also students receive the time and instruction needed to demonstrate their learning with high quality.
How is Mastery Learning different from other methods?
Mastery learning is a way for teachers to deliver instruction in a way that is responsive to students’ needs.
Unlike other methods, students are given the time and proper support needed to gain mastery of an objective or concept before moving on to another concept or skill.
Mastery Learning: Conclusion
Teaching doesn’t have to be a one-way street. The opportunities for involvement and interactivity in any classroom are boundless. But it may require a little creativity on your part (or from your learning management system).
With the pedagogy of mastery learning, you can help students learn at their own pace by setting them up with demonstrable learning goals.
Students reach mastery through incremental steps. However, how teachers deliver this will depend on students’ ages, levels of ability, and learning styles.
Mastery is always an achievable goal. Teachers can always close the gaps and develop the competencies of their students to the point where they can reach mastery.
Therefore, if you’re looking for a way to help your students learn better and understand the lessons, implementing the mastery learning model may be the solution.
However, if you want to try your hands on more learning models and see the one that works for you, you read my guide on Discovery Learning, Insight Learning, Continuous Learning, Social-Emotional Learning, Interactive Learning, and Smart Learning. I will encourage you to check out these learning models.
I hope you found this article helpful.
Thanks for reading.