I assign the grad students in my instructional design and technology class the task of analyzing a system that allows individuals students to advance based on demonstrated competence. This my way of explaining what I learned as “mastery learning” back in the 1960s. My position is that such systems were always a good idea, but technology has not made them more practical and powerful.
Part of the challenge for students is identifying such systems. I could name many systems that meet my expectations but students are often unfamiliar with this perspective for thinking about learning environments and if they work in traditional schools unfamiliar with such systems. It is my opinion that such systems are far more common in charter schools and probably among those who home school. The exception might be the Kahn Academy, but familiarity with this online opportunity seldom includes long-term individualization.
Without giving away too much because I want students to think and explore a bit, I decided to use the example of Newsela. My take on Newsela would allow long term individualization fitting my charge to the grad students, but I am guessing the possibility I see when not be perceived in this fashion. Newsela is a very interesting service making the same stories (e.g, current events) available at different reading levels. This approach allows educators working in a group-based environment a way to address levels of reading proficiency. Because the stories come with comprehension quizzes, I see a mechanism that would allow learners to advance level to level over time based on performance. Sometimes, seeing how opportunities fit models is all it takes.
As I thought about Newsela, I flashed back to much earlier experiences with SRA reading kits (I think this was the description). If you are a little older, you may now be thinking about the same reading resource that I am. I remember a box with partitions separating groups of laminated, 8.5 x 11 laminated cards. Each card contained reading material and comprehension questions. The cards had different colored borders that allowed them to be accurately returned to a specific partition in the box. The different colors represented different levels of challenge. Each card within a color was different, but supposedly a similar level of challenge. I remember thinking at the time that this was a variant of the different mastery models I was studying and research at the time.
I searched for SRA kits and came across this post by Audrey Watters with a similar recollection. I also remember that in the 60s-70s mastery tactics were often associated with a behavioral tradition. I was a cognitivist even then and never thought that the proposed processes had to be understood within a behaviorist tradition.