Understanding Mastery-Based Learning

Nov 06, 2023
Mastery based learning Edmentum International article

As a teacher, the chances are you hear about “mastery-based learning” on a regular basis. However, do you feel all your colleagues and students’ parents understand the benefits of implementing this style of learning in your school?

Mastery-based learning is an instructional approach where students need to demonstrate a deep level of understanding of a topic or subject area before progressing to another topic or subject area.

Essentially, having the ability to solve a calculation is not enough; students now need to have the ability to justify their calculations, saying, “It is correct or incorrect because…,” and they must be able to solve related word problems in context.

Mastery-based learning surrounds itself with the premise that different students will take different paths to attain the desired understanding, and different students may need more or less time on topics or subject areas than others.

It covers the fact that there needs to be more personalized support so that students can master concepts before they move on to another.

This eliminates the need for some students to be bored as they cannot move faster in an age-based group classroom scheduled to cover certain areas of a curriculum within a timeframe. It also helps some students who are unable to keep up with the pace of learning.

With the rise of technology to support mastery-based learning and a more refined and proven understanding of mastery-based learning as a concept itself, many schools are adopting it around the world.

“Exact Path allows us to give the students time to catch up to their grade level and what’s going on in their classrooms at the same time. It gives the teachers data that supports them with differentiation and helps them translate the grade-level curriculum into lessons every day. That was the advantage for us of Exact Path.”

– Lee Dabagia, Principal, Summit International School, Abu Dhabi

What are the student benefits of Mastery-Based Learning?

With mastery-based learning, students can:

  • Learn deeply in ways that are best for them
  • Have engaging and meaningful ways to demonstrate mastery
  • Personalize the learning experience for them and learn at a pace that best suits their needs whilst providing the right balance in terms of how challenging learning should be

Some parents will wonder whether students having their own different learning paths and different speeds of learning will mean some children will learn less or more slowly.

In fact, research shows that schools that implement mastery-based learning have higher overall student attainment progress. It doesn’t mean that students learn faster, but that students have higher levels of learning within the curriculum.

The overall experience means students move ahead with a similar range of speed, and they learn better too. Students are less likely to have gaps in learning.

What is a mastery-based learning classroom?

In a mastery-based learning classroom, teachers divide their curriculum into a sequence of skills or instructional units.

The teacher will typically teach a topic and afterward undertake an evaluation to record each student’s understanding of that unit.

How do I implement a mastery-based learning model?

There are a few questions to consider when implementing a mastery-based learning model, which should be considered before using this strategy in your learning environment.

1. Plan for change and review success

When implementing a mastery-based learning approach, do you have the tools in place to plan for changes and assess whether it is successful in your learning environment?

2. Monitor and communicate student progress

In this approach, you will need to evaluate whether your students have successfully mastered a concept before moving on to the next, so how will you monitor and communicate student progress?

3. Foster support between students

How are you going to provide opportunities for students to help each other master content?

4. Choose topics and concepts appropriate for mastery-based learning

Mastery learning can be effective as a teaching strategy in addition to those you already use. How are you going to select and choose the topics and concepts that are appropriate for a mastery-based learning approach?

5. Provide help and support

For those students who take a little longer to master concepts and attain the required level of knowledge for each unit, how are you going to provide additional support?

By implementing mastery-based learning, the focus is placed on the student and maximizing every student’s potential to ensure success is the only option and that they are ready for college and their future careers.

Looking to explore the pros and cons of popular instructional strategies? Check out our article for insights into various approaches, from constructivism and questioning to project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, Bloom's approach, mastery-based learning, scaffolded instruction, and teacher-led strategies.

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