Why Mastery-Based Learning?


Changing Education Paradigms [11:41] - Sir Ken Robinson

In this very popular video, world-renowned education and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson talks about how education needs to keep pace with a changing world.

How is it possible that a student can graduate from high school and yet be unable to read or write well, do basic algebra and geometry, identify major countries on a map, understand how our political system works, or explain the scientific method? While it may be difficult to believe, countless students graduate from high schools every year without the fundamental knowledge and skills they will need to earn a college degree, succeed in the modern workplace, or contribute meaningfully to their communities.

How is this possible? The answer is that many schools do not use teaching, testing, grading, and reporting methods that require students to prove they have actually acquired the most critically important knowledge and skills. In fact, high schools give out thousands of grades, report cards, and diplomas every year, but many of them would not be able to tell you what their students have specifically learned or not learned.

Luckily, there’s an alternative option for today’s schools: mastery-based learning.  Rather assuming that completing a number of hours in a classroom results in understanding, mastery-based learning requires students to demonstrate knowledge and skills before progressing to the next level.  Mastery-based learning requires teachers to develop a more fine-grained understanding of student abilities.  It personalizes the learning experience, allowing some students additional time to develop a particular skill while allowing others to earn credit for knowledge and skills learned outside the classroom so they can move on to more challenging material. Because of the opportunity to demonstrate skills mastered beyond traditional education settings, it encourages the active participation of parents and community partners in fostering student learning.

Role of Student

By being specific about each individual’s progress toward learning goals, mastery-based learning helps students become aware of their own abilities which leads to becoming stronger and more self-directed learners. Students benefit from by receiving feedback on what they need to know in order to demonstrate grade-level skills and knowledge. Rather falling behind as the class moves on to the next topic, students receive the time and attention they need to meet each learning goal. Mastery-based learning is designed to insure every student has the opportunity and support needed to learn.

Role of Families

Clearer individual learning goals help families better understand and engage with their child’s learning. In addition to clearer goals, grade reporting is based on a wider variety of assessments with more specificity about individual progress. Because skill mastery is more individualized and recognizes that skills and knowledge are developed in a variety of settings, mastery-based learning provides more opportunities for families to foster learning at home. Better understanding of each child’s goals can help families connect home activities to school-based learning. Mastery-based learning offers greater opportunities for families and schools to work together.

Role of Teacher

Teachers have more autonomy in the classroom within a framework of professional collaboration. Within a system of mastery-based learning, teachers work together to prioritize common learning goals for their grade-level and course, to determine a shared understanding of what is considered mastery, and design a variety of learning activities to help students with different learning styles develop the knowledge and skills required meet each goal. To create a personalized, student-centered learning environment, teachers have the flexibility within the classroom to tailor activities to support each student achieve the common learning goals.

Role of Community and Business

Mastery-based education benefits the community and businesses by providing clearer expectations for learning. A mastery-based high school diploma signals that graduates have developed a set of skills and a body of knowledge. In addition to academic standards, mastery-based learning focuses developing 21st century skills like communication, collaboration, and problem-solving that are essential in the workplace. In addition, there is a stronger emphasis than traditional education on applying knowledge in real-world situations. Accordingly, students are encouraged to integrate learning across settings: at work, from internships, and from volunteer activities. A mastery-based learning system seeks partners in community organizations to provide practical learning experiences for students. There is a larger role for the business community to help youth develop relevant skills.

Learn about: 21st Century Student