Mastery Learning | Dev Degree



Mastery learning is an educational strategy initially proposed in 1968 by Benjamin Bloom, an American educational psychologist. In mastery learning practices, students need to achieve a certain level of knowledge on specific content before moving on to learning subsequent content. In this model, teachers give students the necessary time and guidance for them to fully understand concepts, and the amount of time and guidance varies based on the needs of the student. For example, a teacher may set a guideline that students need to achieve a score of 90% on a knowledge test in order to achieve mastery of a topic. Students who don’t achieve 90% would receive more coaching and more opportunities to write the test until they were able to reach that score.

In mastery learning, teachers organize the important concepts and skills they want students to learn into units, and each unit requires one to two weeks of instructional time. After each unit is complete, teachers administer a formative test to see the areas where students have gained the necessary knowledge and the areas where they haven’t. The results of the test include correctives, which are specific, targeted suggestions about how students can acquire the necessary knowledge in order to achieve mastery learning of the topic.

Students typically complete their corrective activities in one or two classes, and then take a second formative test, similar to the first but with slightly different challenges and questions to answer. The results of the second formative test indicate whether the correctives were successful in helping students gain the required knowledge. The correctives can also be motivational for students, by offering them a second chance to achieve mastery of the topic. For students that don’t require correctives for a particular unit, Bloom recommended that teachers offer enrichment opportunities for these students to broaden and expand their learning.

Bloom’s 2 Sigma Problem

Related to mastery learning, Bloom observed an educational phenomenon referred to as Bloom’s 2 sigma problem, reported in 1984. Bloom found that the average student tutored one-on-one using mastery learning techniques performed two standard deviations higher than students who were taught with conventional instructional methods. The average tutored student outperformed 98% of the students in the control class.

Since one-on-one tutoring for students is not typically part of the conventional education system, Bloom proposed the following ways to get the mastery learning benefits in group classroom settings:

  • tutorial instruction

  • reinforcement

  • corrective feedback

  • cues and explanations

  • student classroom participation

  • student time on task

  • improved reading/study skills

  • cooperative learning

  • homework

  • classroom morale

  • initial cognitive prerequisites

  • home environment intervention

Bloom found that when the mastery learning feedback-corrective approach was implemented in a classroom, students’ level of achievement was 1 sigma or 84% higher than the students in the control class.

Bloom proposed the following recommendations for teachers and schools to gain the benefits of mastery learning and tackle the 2 sigma problem:

  1. Improve the student processing of instruction by using the mastery learning feedback-corrective process and/or the enhancement of the initial cognitive prerequisites for sequential courses.

  2. Improve the tools of instruction by selecting a curriculum, textbook, or other material that has proven to be very effective.

  3. Improve home support for students by opening a dialogue between the school and the home.

  4. Improve instruction in the school by providing favorable conditions for learning in each classroom, as well as by increasing the emphasis on higher mental process learning for all students.

Related Resources:

Lessons of Mastery Learning

The Search for Methods of Group Instruction as Effective as One-to-One Tutoring