Information Age Education Blog
Mastery Learning: What Goes Around Comes Around
I am a regular reader of the (free) ASCD SmartBrief. Quoting from the 9/9/2010 (http://www.smartbrief.com/servlet/ArchiveServlet?issueid=539D4C89-3ABF-4700-9FA9-4E814961C5C2&lmid=archives) issue:
Philadelphia high school implements mastery-learning model
Class is back in session in Philadelphia, where educators are working to raise achievement at six schools designated by Superintendent Arlene Ackerman as Promise Academies. One high school is adopting the mastery-learning model of instruction. The approach uses pass-fail ratings instead of letter grades and allows students to progress through subjects at their own pace.
Now, quoting from the Wikipedia page http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mastery_learning:
Mastery learning has nothing to do with content, merely on the process of mastering it, and is based on Benjamin Bloom's Learning for Mastery model, with refinements made by Block. Mastery learning may be implemented as teacher-paced group instruction, one-to-one tutoring, or self-paced learning with programmed materials.
Finally, quoting from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benjamin_Bloom:
In 1984 Bloom published "The 2 Sigma Problem: The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring" in the journal Educational Researcher. This paper reported on what has come to be known as Bloom's 2 Sigma Problem, which shows an astonishing positive effect for the average student in conditions of one-to-one tutoring using Mastery learning techniques. Bloom realized one-to-one tutoring is impossible for most societies, and thus encouraged educators to study combinations of other alterable variables in the learning process that may approach the 2 sigma results.
Block's book provides citations for the beginning of Mastery learning in 1922 (Block, 1974). Thus, I was amused to see the brief article about Philadelphia's new attempt to improve high schools. However, I was pleased to see their use of computer-assisted learning as part of this new endeavor. Under the leadership of Sylvia Charp (http://iae-pedia.org/Sylvia_Charp), in the early days of Computer-Assisted Learning (CAL), Philadelphia was one of the CAL leaders in the United States.
Here is another example of "what goes around comes around." See
Gewertz, C. ( 2/2/2011). 'College for All' Confronted: Harvard report proposes diverse academic paths. Education Week. Retrieved 2/10/2011 from http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news_events/features/2011/Pathways_to_Prosperity_Feb2011.pdf.
This report recommends that our educational system move back in the direction of providing vocation-oriented programs of studies as part of its overall mix of pathways through secondary school. Quoting from the report as presented in the Gewertz article:
Yet as we end the first decade of the 21st century, there are profoundly troubling signs that the U.S. is now failing to meet its obligation to prepare millions of young adults. In an era in which education has never been more important to economic success, the U.S. has fallen behind many other nations in educational attainment and achievement. Within the U.S. economy, there is also growing evidence of a “skills gap” in which many young adults lack the skills and work ethic needed for many jobs that pay a middle-class wage. Simultaneously, there has been a dramatic decline in the ability of adolescents and young adults to find work. Indeed, the percentage of teens and young adults who have jobs is now at the lowest level since World War II.
The report then goes on to analyze the projected job openings for people who have an associate degree and/or other types of post high school education and paints a rosy picture of their opportunities.
What You Can Do
Mastery Learning has been an important idea in education for a great many years (Guskey, October, 2010). The basic idea is sound. If we want students to use what they are learning as a prerequisite to future learning, then we want them to master what they are learning.
Think about your own learning from when you were in school. To what extent did you "master" the content you studied to a level that you still remember it and can use it? If you are like me, you have forgotten many of the details of what you learned in school. However, likely you remember general ideas of those topics that you learned with understanding.
Even mastery learning does not adequately take into consideration forgetting through lack of use. Think about examples of learning in your own schooling that has continued to serve you well in your adult life.
The IAE Blog entries tend to have a relatively long "shelf life." However, over time, the references tend to get out of date. You can help your fellow readers and IAE by adding a Comment that includes an up-to-date reference and its URL. Your Comment should include a couple of sentences summarizing the up-to date-information and ideas.
Suggested Readings from IAE and Other Publications
You can use Google to search all of the IAE publications.
Then click in the IAE Search box that is provided, insert your search terms, and click on the Search button.
Click here to search the entire collection of IAE Blog entries.
Here are some examples of publications that might interest you.
Being increasingly responsible for your own education. See http://i-a-e.org/iae-blog/being-increasingly-responsible-for-your-own-education.html.
Communicating in the language of mathematics. See http://iae-pedia.org/Communicating_in_the_Language_of_Mathematics.
Education for Increasing Expertise. See http://iae-pedia.org/Education_for_Increasing_Expertise.
Empowering learners and teachers. See http://iae-pedia.org/Empowering_Learners_and_Teachers.
Lifelong learning, learning for one's possible futures, and helping student learn for their possible futures. See Newsletter Issue 14, March 2009.
Math maturity. See http://iae-pedia.org/Math_Maturity.
Mile Wide Inch Deep ICT Education. See http://iae-pedia.org/Mile_Wide_Inch_Deep_ICT_Education.
Block, J.H. (Ed.) (1974). Schools, Society and Mastery Learning. UK: Thompson Learning.
Guskey, T.R. (October, 2010). Lessons of mastery learning. Educational Leadership. Retrieved 12/16/2012 from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct10/vol68/num02/Lessons-of-Mastery-Learning.aspx.
Written by Dave Moursund, September 10, 2010.
My first experience with Mastery Learning came in the early 1970s when I was Head of the Computer Science Department at the University of Oregon. One of our faculty members experimented with Mastery Learning in an introductory level computer programming course. I was quite suspicious at the time, but in retrospect it seems clear that this was a good idea.