What does mastery learning mean?

Hi Jesse, Thanks for a wonderful post. Shouldn’t an ideal system expect mastery? Shouldn’t we be able to say what a graduate has demonstrated the ability to do something? I would say a resounding yes. I think there are different understanding and interpretation of mastery, though. For instance, at an expert level, our concept of mastery may be the fulfillment of all performance criteria as stipulated in the standards, or learning outcomes. Under our existing education system, how is mastery learning measured? Even the researches done by Benjamin Bloom was based on quizzes and Multiple Choices. Though one could argue that in MOOCs, mastery learning is pedagogy that best suits its purpose, by drilling, quizzes, MC, T/F to check and test the understanding of concepts or “knowledge”. But then this doesn’t really mean that the students have mastered the learning a deeper sense, by applying those concepts in various contexts, or projects etc.

May I share here? So, in the case of mastery of essay writings and blog posting, our definition of mastery learning, what we are looking for would be mastery learning based on deep learning, with the acquisition of more advanced skills of synthesis and evaluation, and the creation and curation of posts etc. That may also require students to work in cooperation and collaboration with others through joint blog posting, wiki/Google writing projects and research.

What does a “C” grade say to the student, and what does that component say to a future employer? To me, that is a very good question. I would say C grade means what a C grade represents, based on the performance standard in education, no more or less.



5 thoughts on “What does mastery learning mean?

  1. Pingback: What does mastery learning mean? | В&#109...

  2. John,

    Your post is getting at exactly what I was thinking.

    There are two underlying concepts that you allude to in your reply. The first has to do with how we measure understanding. We are brilliant at measuring recall or recognition. We also have great, evidence based methods of maximising recall and recognition performance. Behaviourist and cognitive principles can show us how we can get excellent recall or recognition. This type of learning, and memory does play a central role in learning, can be measured by MCQs, T/F, short answer, and a range of other methods that can be easily automated. Excellent for use in learning that has memorisation and recall at the core. With those kind of tools, we can expect mastery, and get is, in a fairly simple manner.

    However, how do we measure understanding, critical analysis or synthesis? This is the problem that has been at the core of educational research, and lies at the heart of mass education (or learning) today. How do we effectively measure understanding?

    We recognise and know understanding when we see (or hear) it. However, it is not amenable to automation or quick measurement. It is not very responsive to quality assurance, and is difficult to accomplish in a heavily regulated environment. Vivas, in depth essays, well written blogs, long running projects, these can all measure understanding. However, these types of assessment take time, the second of the underlying concepts. The evaluation of real understanding takes time, and this is unacceptable in todays world. The evaluation of understanding also takes talent – as opposed to labor, which can be automated and reduced to clever algorithms.

    As academics, this is what we should bring to education. As professionals in higher education, this is the real value added that we bring to the education system. Politicians and private enterprise are pushing an agenda (and winning the battle for hearts and minds) that would have all learning reduced to memorisation and regurgitation. This is the kind of learning that our students, parents, and administers are demanding – efficient, clean and measurable. Not the kind of learning that is of high value. Assessing understanding is messy, subjective, and not prone to measurement. But the most grievous of all sins that the measurement of understanding is guilty of is that it takes time. And time is money.

    If I had the time, and the administrative systems allowed, I would have talked to my 52 students about what synthesis is all about, how you do it, and what it should look like, and then send them out to try again… and again… and again… until they either figured it out (with my support), or decided that this was something that they really couldn’t do, and found something more suited to their abilities (also with my support).

    Unfortunately, in our system of education, this isn’t an option. As a result, I award a “C” grade and move on to the next batch of students and try again.

  3. Pingback: Understanding and Time | Thoughts about Higher Education

  4. All agreed. As you said: “As academics, this is what we should bring to education. As professionals in higher education, this is the real value added that we bring to the education system.” Yes, that is our mission. We need learning that is of high value, not one that is based on mere memorization and regurgitation. The transmission of knowledge model has limited value for the learners if such knowledge is based on the recall of facts and information only. It is sad that education becomes giving fishes to the learners, rather than “teaching” and facilitating them to become autonomous fishermen who learn how to fish for their lives.

  5. Interesting topic and replies. “Shouldn’t we be able to say what a graduate has demonstrated the ability to do something?” I agree, and I have recently begun working toward project based learning and assessment in my fifth grade classroom. As we deepen thinking, and students master learning, will we see an increase in the scores of MCQ, T/F, and other ‘quick’ assessments? Or, will we find that students can justify more than one answer based on differing rationales? It seems in my classroom, once you open thinking and discussion as a daily occurrence, the more we arrive at different answers, that can be justified based on different perspectives. As more classrooms toward authentic learning, we need to further the discussion of authentic assessment, and are we developing test takers or project designers or creative collaborators…

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