Mastery learning - Improve Competencies

Mastery Learning: A Brief Guide

Mastery learning is an educational strategy pioneered in 1968 by Benjamin Bloom at Chicago University. In its early days, the system would involve 1-to-1 tutoring sessions between a teacher and a student so that more time and explanations could be provided on points where the student was struggling.

However, today’s new technology and online education programs are overriding the need for individual tutoring.

We’ve put together an outline showing how it works, its stages and how it can be implemented in today’s educational system.

What is Mastery?

Conventional teaching involves a constant time period dedicated to a topic which allows variable mastery of its content. But Mastery Learning maintains consistency on learning outcomes and varies the required time for the student to become competent and proficient on topics.

How Does It Work?

Mastery learning is based on breaking up subjects and studying units of content with a clear objective in mind which is pursued until its reached. Students go through each unit of the subject matter until they prove a comprehension level of at least 80% before moving on to the next content unit.

Students who struggle to reach a high level of success on a block unit receive additional learning materials, peer support, and tuition.


Mastery systems involve several factors including a sensitive and systematical approach to instruction, helping students on topics they’re struggling with, offering enough time for students to achieve mastery and determining clear criteria of what mastery means.

However, these variables are influenced by aptitude, the quality of instruction provided, perseverance, the extended time allowed for the learning process and the students’ comprehension levels.

Aptitude is measured through standard tests to determine the amount of time required by the student to achieve mastery on a specific subject. Some students have an increased capacity to assimilate subjects such as learning Spanish or music while others have certain disabilities for learning a task/ subject. The ability/ aptitude to learn a task varies and can be changed by learning (at school/ home) and environmental conditions.

The Quality of instruction provided is the degree to which the explanation, ordering of learning units and presentation help the student reach an optimum understanding of the subject matter. Its effects should be assessed on individual students rather than groups or classrooms.

The Capacity to understand a subject matter is influenced by the nature of the subject which should be learned and the procedure which should be followed by the student. Because students’ comprehension capacities vary, ML suggests that tutors should provide additional support to fit the requirements of different students. For example, a student facing problems with reading and verbal communication abilities could be helped by workbooks, audiovisual material, educational games or group studies.

Perseverance influences ML by how much time students are willing to dedicate to learning a subject matter. However, students can present low perseverance rates in learning a subject but high rates in learning a different one. So, perseverance can be improved by providing rewards and proof of successful learning. Teachers should provide clear feedback more frequently and enhance their instruction quality to reduce the level of required perseverance.

The Time required for learning a specific subject varies. It’s influenced by factors including the aptitude of the student, his verbal capabilities, the quality of the tutor’s instruction and the help offered to the student.

Mastery Completes the 4 Stages of Competence

The 4 Stages of Competence learning model used in corporate training indicates that the learning process involves four stages. For example, the process of learning how to drive would include:

  • Unconscious incompetence: a non-driver;

  • Conscious incompetence: a beginner;

  • Conscious competence: just passed the driving exam;

  • Unconscious competence: driving to the office without thinking about how to drive.

Tutors who are stage 4 learners struggle to push students through each of the learning stages because they cannot identify which stage each student is in to help them move through to the next. However, Master Teachers take a reflective competence approach and personalise tutorials to meet the requirements of each student. They offset the 4 Stage learning model by highlighting the why in learning and by digging into each stage to provide needed guidance to their students.

Mastery Shouldn’t Be Avoided

Most teachers are reluctant to implement Mastery systems in their classroom because of the general misconception of losing control over their students. However, by following a few steps, teachers can integrate a self-paced learning model and improve their students’ performance.

By shifting the focus away from just spreading the curriculum across the school year calendar, teachers can develop a system based on content. Content can be broken down into units and aligned with tasks and objectives. This way, teachers can create an outline of the learning path which can be easily followed by their students.

Assessing students’ performance a few times throughout the learning curve can help teachers get feedback in real-time on their students’ understanding and growth rates. Mastery involves the assessment of the student’s competency rather than on how he/ she compares with other students in the classroom. It’s based on criteria-referenced evaluation which establishes competency base on specific criteria which are not related to the performance of other students. Teachers can analyze the results and adapt their instructional strategies to override issues which students are dealing with on the topic.

Also, allowing students to re-take an assessment if they fail contributes to promoting a Mastery culture in classrooms. Students who failed a test should be allowed to re-take it once they’re ready.

Benefits of Mastery

Mastery curriculum and experiences improve your memory, your skill set level and turn e-learning into a building process and starting point for lifelong learning. Effective online Mastery courses are highly flexible and offset the linear curricula practised by traditional learning systems.

By spreading courses over parallel units which can be studied in any order, Mastery engages students to decide based on their requirements and interests.

Online Mastery courses integrate customisable learning systems which can be widely configured based on the needs of each student.

As opposed to traditional educational methods, online Mastery courses don’t involve short-term memory. They ensure that the student understands and remembers what he/ she learned. The cram-forget model is replaced by learning-mastering-retaining.

Online Mastery courses turn education into a growth process. It’s based on setting a strong foundation which can be safely developed on without compromising the outcome.

The online system offers students the right tools to understand how to learn. When students know how they should learn they can attain the knowledge needed to achieve their goals. But learning doesn’t stop after graduation. Successful people have a life-long learning mindset which helps them strengthen their businesses and fast track their careers.

A Simplified E-learning Model

The logistics required by an online Mastery model are highly flexible and can be adapted to fit students’ requirements. A simplified mastery model should involve online courses provided by teachers, practice, digging deeper into topics, assessment, and revision.

To streamline Mastery in online courses, the procedures and tests should be simplified. A de-cluttered strategy will provide positive performance results and overcome any reluctance towards the new models in the online education system.

Final Thoughts

Today’s educational system should adopt the online Mastery system so that teachers can focus more on what students know rather than when they know certain topics. By identifying the gaps in students’ understanding of a specific subject, tutors can help them overcome struggles by breaking down big blocks of curriculum into easy to understand and attain units of content.

The Mastery approach to e-learning helps the educational system build a solid foundation for students learning abilities, so they can excel in the areas of interest and achieve their objectives in record time. It teaches students how to learn and helps them become successful and goal-oriented professionals by promoting a growth mindset focused on life-long learning.

Discuss this article