Embedded formative evaluation = mastery learning

One of the ways in which I presently see technology improving learning experiences and success involves methods of individualization that allow individuals to move forward at a rate suited to their individual aptitudes and past experiences. My thinking about this opportunity has been shaped by my previous exposure to the theory and research of mastery learning. This perspective, which I associate with Bloom, Keller and other researchers of the late 1960’s and 1970s, provides the rationale for present practice. Many ideas that were great and well-substantiated ideas at that time were difficult to implement. One way I often look at technology now is as a way to take advantage of great ideas in ways that are now practical. The use of history to claim “we tried that and it did not work” needs reexamination. It is important to ask the why question? Sometimes the why is known and ignored. This is the situation in which interesting ideas reemerge in some form based on a similar interesting past ideas, but are a waste of time and energy because the conditions of why have not been acknowledged and/or changed. For me, the argument that learning to code will develop critical thinking falls into this category. Then, there are examples in which the why should encourage a second look if the conditions of the why have changed. I see this as the case with mastery learning.

I had my class this semester read a review by Shute and Rahimi (see citation at the conclusion of this post). This article focused on recent technology-supported instruction that offered data on the importance of competence and feedback. No mention was made of mastery learning. The article used a different vocabulary which I remember as “embedded formative evaluation”. So formative evaluation is likely a familiar concept (Bloom did see his group-based mastery learning as involving formative evaluation). The idea is that technology-enabled systems can incorporate formative evaluation as a mechanism to provide feedback and determine when individuals should progress. If these new words appeal to you, I think this is great and perhaps this appeal may encourage attempts at application. What I think is unfortunate is that a vast collection of work is out there and may allow new innovators to avoid tactics that were unproductive once and will likely be so again unless the circumstances of application are changed.

Shute, V.J. & Rahimi, S. (2017).  Review of computer-based assessment for learning in elementary and secondary education. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 33, 1-19.

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