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Mastery Learning

I added this content on mastery learning after reading Salman Kahn’s book “One world school house”. The story of the Kahn Academy bears a resemblance to other Internet success stories, but is unique in that the origins were not in an effort to create a business. Salman started by attempting to tutor relatives and the YouTube videos were a convenient way to do this (after phone calls in the earliest efforts).

The Kahn Academy grew into something more combining practice problems, models of how skills fit together, and efforts to attract tutors. Of course, the effort also attracted investors willing to commit large sums of money so those who were aware of the earliest video-based tutorials are now missing the full picture.

For me, one of the surprises in the book was the effort to connect the model the Academy is now pursuing with the theory and philosophy of mastery learning. I discovered the theory of mastery learning in the mid-1970s and have always been fascinated by the theory of mastery learning - understanding individual differences in aptitude as variations in the amount of time to learn rather than as a predictor of the amount learned. I did recognize the challenge in attempting to accommodate individual differences in classes of 25+, but agree with Kahn that technology offers the flexibility necessary to address individual needs. What was once interesting, but not practical may now be more realistic.

Two short videos follow. The first explains the theory of mastery learning. The second explains how the theory of mastery learning was implemented as instructional strategies when first implemented.

Mastery Theory [video]

Mastery Methods [video]

It is not our intent to offer a deep analysis of this topic. The perspective is relevant and useful, but so are so many of the topics studied by educational researchers. For those interested in the research, we list several reviews (positive and negative) on the issue of time to learn and mastery implementations. These readings should get you started if you want to understand what researchers have discovered in evaluating approaches based on the mastery theoretical position.

Comparisons with traditional instruction:

Kulik, C., Kulik, J. & Bangert-Drowns, R.L. (1990). Effectiveness of mastery learning programs: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 60, 265-299.

Kulik, C., Kulik, J. & Bangert-Drowns, R.L. (1990). Is there better evidence on mastery learning? A response to Slavin. Review of Educational Research, 60, 303-307.

Slavin, R. (1987). Mastery learning reconsidered. Review of Educational Research, 57(2), 175-213.

Time to learn - can variability be reduced:

Arlin, M. (1984). Time variability in mastery learning. American Educational Research Journal, 21, 102-120.

Arlin, M. (1984). Time, equality and mastery learning. Review of Educational Research, 54, 65-86. Bloom, B. (1976). Human characteristics and school learning. New York: McGraw Hill.

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