January 18, 2008

Mastery Learning Teaching Method

The goal of mastery learning approaches is to have all students learn instructional material at roughly equivalent, high levels. Instructors who use mastery learning break down course material into manageable units and create formative tests for students to take on each of the units. In their review of mastery learning programs, Kulik, Kulik, and Bangert-Drowns (1990) cite Bloom's (1976) formulation as the classic approach. In Bloom's model, students receive individualized instruction as necessary so that they all master course material. The basic approach reduces variation in final student performance through instruction suited to all students' needs.

Kulik et al. also describe a second influential mastery model: Keller's (1968) Personalized System of Instruction (PSI). PSI has four distinguishing characteristics. First, written materials rather than lectures constitute the major teaching activity. Instead of presenting information to students orally, instructors select and/or create appropriate reading materials, create behavioral objectives and study questions, and prepare multiple forms of tests that measure student progress and provide feedback. Second, students finish assignments at their own pace. This principle stems from the recognition that students have many other obligations and learn at different rates. Third, students must demonstrate mastery on tests or correct deficiencies before they move on in their work. Finally, instructional staff resources are devoted to helping students deal with their deficiencies.


Bloom, B. (1976). Human characteristics and school learning. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Keller, F. (1968). "Goodbye teacher..." Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 1, 79-89.

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

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