Mastery Learning in MOOCs

This post relates to my reflection of Mastery Learning in MOOCs

I enjoyed the presentation here by Daphne Koller where she elaborated the use of Mastery Learning as a pedagogy in MOOCs.

It’s interesting to see if Mastery Learning is a perfect model/pedagogy in MOOCs.

Mastery Learning:

Bloom believed that nearly all students, when provided with the more favorable learning conditions of mastery learning, could truly master academic content (Bloom, 1976; Guskey, 1997a). A large body of research has borne him out: When compared with students in traditionally taught classes, students in well-implemented mastery learning classes consistently reach higher levels of achievement and develop greater confidence in their ability to learn and in themselves as learners (Anderson, 1994; Guskey & Pigott, 1988; Kulik, Kulik, & Bangert-Drowns, 1990).

Sustaining and Extending Success

Researchers today generally recognize the value of the core elements of mastery learning. As a result, fewer studies are being conducted on the mastery learning process itself. Instead, researchers are looking for ways to attain even more impressive gains by improving students’ learning processes, curriculum and instructional materials, and the home learning environment and support and providing a focus on higher level thinking skills. Work on integrating mastery learning with other innovative strategies appears especially promising (Guskey, 1997b).

As we strive to improve achievement even further, we can continue to learn from the core elements of mastery learning. Attention to these elements will enable educators to make great strides in their efforts to close achievement gaps and help all students achieve excellence.

I was first introduced to Mastery Learning in 1985, and studied about Benjamin Bloom’s hypothesis and the related theories. After years of teaching, I could comment about its application based on my experience and observation. There are certain assumptions made in Mastery Learning (again, I have proposed Assumptions Theory as a basis upon which all Theories could be challenged, validated or tested, and that could be a critical lens for any one to view, from different perspectives, with different angles). I understand that there are always parameters which could not be easily controlled in even the most extensive studies in education, though I would suggest to be cautious in interpreting the studies.

Refer to this paper on 2 sigma problem:

First, Mastery Learning works, based principally on a behavioral model, whereas pre-requisite knowledge and skills are tested before the learning, and that mastery of skills could be achieved through a self-learning mode with continuous feedback in the learning process.

Second, Mastery Learning works best when the learners are learning skills which have definite learning and performance outcomes (skills, knowledge), and that these outcomes are measurable using the tools used.

Third, Mastery Learning relates to individual’s performance and so it is a good measure of individual’s performance based on an apprenticeship or traineeship model. Even under the Bloom’s Taxonomy, the emphasis is still on individual’s performance. That also explains why most of our students are assessed individually, without much consideration of assessing individuals under a group or network situation.

The one-on-one tutoring sounds like a perfect system, though there is also an implicit assumption that the trainer and trainee (or mentor and mentee) would help and support the trainees or mentees at their best. I don’t think that is that simple, as I have worked on a number of mentoring project (as well as traineeship model – with one-on-one) where a number of factors are critical for such learning to work. This includes assumptions such as: a good match of mentor and mentee, a healthy and trustful relationship is established and sustained in the mentoring or training process, and that there is a supportive learning environment for the trainer and trainee etc. There are also other critical factors which need to be considered: trust, power, learning context or situation, incentives and motivation of mentors and mentees or trainer and trainee etc. Are these possible in MOOCs? I wonder!

I think mastery learning is useful as it is a structured approach towards learning of the content. I have reservations in its use for advanced or deep learning, as some aspects of learning – such as creative thinking, critical thinking, complex analysis and emergent learning cannot be measured using those conventional tools (i.e. Multiple Choice, True or False, or objective testing). The mastery of those skills cannot be relied solely on testing, and so I would question the validity of these research findings when applying in the checking of learning of participants’ of MOOCs in a linear fashion. I doubt if anyone could repeat such studies nowadays with those experiments, as people are learning beyond the institutional framework, and that 2 or 3 sigma is not “good enough”.

 Here is my previous post on Bloom’s Taxonomy and Mastery Learning

14 thoughts on “Mastery Learning in MOOCs

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  6. When information is scarce, then surely, such information is not readily available for students to obtain, and most learners would rely heavily on teachers to provide them with the information or knowledge. Here is the paper whilst teaching presence could be supported via knowledgeable others, not always the teachers especially in cMOOCs. Indeed, a lot of online learners can learn through their PLE/N once they have learnt how to learn (the metacognitive skills) and digital literacy. I am referring to online learners who are learning via MOOCs, and my proposition is “any normal person can learn anything even without the teachers” given the current learning ecology with abundance of information and the possibility of learning with many others (AKA knowledgeable others). In the case of high school students who have not been exposed to any information or knowledge, there are still many avenues of learning apart from being taught by the teachers. Indeed MOOC, TED Videos, educational videos, books, social and educational networks and communities etc could also be used as tools or platforms for learning. I agree with you that: ” In many cases the teacher is essential, and is always most effective” though I would add that sometimes learning could be more effective if it is self-organised and motivated, as it is learner-centred and thus geared towards the needs and expectations of the learners, rather than just to satisfy the requirements of the teacher, or a course etc. In my previous researches with other researchers, we are all peer-learning and there aren’t any particular teachers (as all of us are teachers). Indeed, we are now also immersed in these networks and each of us may be acting as the role of teachers, though not the “formal” teacher as in formal institutions.

    A pedagogy of abundance or a pedagogy to support human beings? Participant support on massive open o
    A pedagogy of abundance or a pedagogy to support human beings? Participant support on massive open online courses

    Here is the Learning as a Network (laaN) theory whereas Chatti is radically challenging the instructivist approaches towards education and learning, and the LMS, suggesting that a more effective learner-centered approach with Personal Knowledge Management (PKM) with PLE/N under an Knowledge Ecology.

    Here is my view on the role of teachers in MOOCs This seems to be the case of cMOOCs where teachers are guides on the sides, though it seems that in lots of xMOOCs teachers are sage on the stage.

    On Education Matters Part 2 – Role of teachers in MOOCs
    What is the role of teachers in MOOCs? Teachers are tools in the education process. I have posted here on what teachers are for: Good question: what are teachers for? In a highly commercialized an…

    Here is my personal experience about learning by myself (playing harmonica), and not being taught.

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  12. Mastery learning approach is a recommended strategy to design instruction in MOOC. I believe that an effective instruction be it oline or face-to-face should be systematically designed using instructional design principles. There are a number of ID models that a professor or teacher can select (classroom, product or systems orientation models (Gustafson, 2002) depending on the scope and target learners. I have seen a number online lectures given by University professors. Unfortunately, the lectures delivered are more informational rather than instructional (Merrill, 2010). Mastery learning using ID may end up with effective learning and performance. Cousera and other online free instructional providers are using mastery learning with ID to deliver online lecturers.

  13. Yes Yusup, I think we shared similar views, especially on the instruction in MOOC. As you have shared, the lectures delivered are more informational rather than instructional. Instruction needs to be reinforced with feedback loop, the double learning, that would enable the instructors and designers to adjust the instruction to suit the learners, and their learning needs. Besides, if possible, such mastery learning should be learner based, learner paced, as a way of self-mastery learning, as Bloom first postulated. For advanced and deep learning, mastery learning may need to be supplemented by other more adaptive learning models, where the learners could create his learning using PLE, and Web2.0 tools. Since this wasn’t available when Bloom developed it in the 70s to 80s, we can’t expect mastery learning to have embraced these interactive learning methodology and e and digital pedagogy. What do you think? John

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