Mastery Learning Model

Goals specific to this model:

  • 1Promote and document students’ knowledge and skills in different areas
  • 2Allow students to progress with variable pacing

Variations of this model

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A key variable in mastery learning is each student’s learning needs and prior knowledge and experiences. It recognizes that some students will need very little instruction and others much more. Depending on the type of implementation, students can progress in a self-paced, modified self-paced, or time-bound manner.

Self-paced:

Acrobatiq courses typically have a high number of opportunities for practice with feedback, and each practice opportunity is tied to specific learning objectives. Because of this, students do not need to wait for grading or feedback from their instructor, and can move more quickly through the material. Instructors gain clear insight into students’ progress, and it is possible to allow students to move completely at their own pace. This approach tends to work best when all of the coursework is self-paced (so that deadlines from other courses don’t continually take precedence) and when there are institutional roles that are dedicated to monitoring student progress, such as advisors, mentors, or teaching assistants.

Modified self-paced:

An alternative to fully self-paced learning is a modified self-paced approach. Students can move at their own pace within a certain timeframe. This timeframe could be a full or half semester or quarter, or even smaller chunks such as two- to three-week milestones. This allows students some flexibility to schedule their work around competing priorities, but does not allow them fall behind. The automatic feedback on practice problems in Acrobatiq will allow students move ahead up to a certain point. Usually students would not be allowed to move beyond what is normally covered during a specific term in a modified self-paced approach, which makes this approach consistent with a traditional term structure.

Time-bound:

Frequent due dates can be set as they normally would be for a given course or academic program.

In addition to these various approaches to deadlines, the specific level of performance that students must achieve can vary and is set by the instructor or institution. For example, instructors can require a certain percentage correct (80-90% is common) on each learning goal, or a cluster of learning goals (such as a module or unit). Mastery learning differs from traditional grading in that students do not earn a passing score by averaging over assignments, but rather by demonstrating proficiency with each learning goal (in competency based education, a cluster of learning goals may be called a competency).

When determining at what level to set the performance goal, it is important to consider the reason for setting the performance criteria. Specifically, what are the next steps when students achieve mastery of the learning goals? For example, if the mastery learning is to prepare a student for a high stakes assessment, then perhaps a higher performance goal is set. If the mastery learning is to prepare students for an applied assignment or group work that extends the learning, then perhaps a more lenient performance goal is set. Alternately, if the online learning is a way to identify which students need additional support, then the performance goal is less important than the diagnostic data that are gained. If this is the case, you may wish to consider a complementary implementation model such as the Flipped Model of Instruction, which uses the data as a starting point for guiding instructional choices in the next face-to-face meeting.

What this model means for students

There is a certain level of self-regulation that may be new to students. This may play out in terms of motivation to complete work without a firm deadline, or simply juggling multiple priorities. Students can be supported in this process in different ways. For example, they can learn to self-monitoring progress in achieving their learning goals. In addition, support roles can be put in place that set up check-ins with all students or only with students who are struggling.

It is important to remember that metacognitive skills, such as self-regulation of progress, are learning goals in their own right and should be taught and monitored as with any other skill. It is also recommended that students have dedicated human support. This may take the form of an instructor, a teaching assistant, a coach, a mentor, or any other administrative team member. Their role is to monitor student progress in terms of both time and achievement level, and to help the students remain accountable to the goals that have been set.

What this model means for teachers

There are shifts in the instructor’s time and focus that naturally flow from this model. Lecturing and grading activities might decrease, whereas monitoring students’ progress and readiness for major assessments, engaging students in targeted learning to correct misconceptions, and removing barriers to further progress might increase.

The overall grading may decrease because most of the feedback at the level of individual learning goals can happen in Acrobatiq. Perhaps instructors will design, implement, and grade fewer assessments that are more cumulative in nature and are based on the instructional material in Acrobatiq. Because students are able to learn from mistakes with targeted feedback, and often are able to attempt their assessments more than once (for example, perhaps they are able to take different forms of each module quiz up to three times), instructors (or other instructional support roles) help students identify areas for further improvement as they move toward mastery. The main objective is to meet the students’ individualized needs, which, in practice, may mean that some students need more support and others need less.

With the mastery learning model, the instructor and institution must plan for what happens if students do not achieve one or more learning goals. As with determining performance criteria, the program context and requirements will play a key role in guiding this decision. In general, if students are not learning from the targeted feedback in Acrobatiq, perhaps they receive additional academic support. If they are not able to progress in a timely or efficient manner, perhaps they receive additional administrative support. Each of these scenarios should be considered prior to implementing a mastery learning model.

Suggested strategies that best leverage the strengths of this model

  • 1.

    Assessment planning: This model requires carefully designed assessments that clearly align to the learning goals, because performance on these assessments is usually directly linked to progress in the program of study.

    You may implement a design where mastery is determined through reaching the performance threshold on Acrobatiq assessments. Using the data available in the Acrobatiq dashboard for continuous course improvement is a best practice with this design, because Acrobatiq is providing the critical assessment of mastery.

    Alternately, you may implement a design where reaching a performance threshold on Acrobatiq assessments signifies readiness for additional assignments that will be used to determine mastery. These assignments are may be larger in scope and may include group projects, capstone projects, and authentic tasks for the domain.

  • 2.

    Support for various learning paths: Depending on how many times students may complete their assessments, they may develop various strategies for determining their own readiness for major assessment. If students are given three opportunities to show mastery, some students who have a grounding in the material may attempt the assessment early to find out where they should focus or to determine if they can pass without much preparation. Other students with less knowledge may use an assignment attempt in order to acquaint themselves with the task. Often the goal of the first attempt is benchmarking for the student. The instructor can benefit from this knowledge, as well, in determining how to allocate instructional time and resources.

  • 3.

    Support planning: This type of model may be very attractive to students in that there may be fewer assessments overall, more flexibility in when work can be done, and more methods to seek support. Due to this, some students may underestimate the time commitment and overestimate their ability to regulate their learning. Explicit instruction and guidance on these points is helpful.

  • 4.

    Program planning: Carefully consider the guidelines for how many times students can attempt mastery (on quizzes or other assessments) and at what intervals students can repeat assessments. Identify what to do if students do not achieve mastery despite feedback from Acrobatiq and the instructor and taking advantage of any support services offered.

Benefits

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  • Personalized learning paths via variable pacing. Greater flexibility in learning, allowing students to work ahead or more slowly depending on their needs.
  • Clearer indication of students’ readiness for major assessments or projects by requiring that all students meet performance expectations, instead of the more traditional variation in the range of passing grades.
  • Ability to closely monitor student progress toward goals and time spent learning, as well as patterns of strengths and weaknesses, and to intervene as necessary through tracking of performance and progress.
  • Students may gain insight into own progress and better direct their own learning. Students can be taught how to track their own progress and also have regular communication with instructors or advisors to review progress.