What is Mastery-Based Learning?

Mastery-based learning is the backbone of the Summit Learning program. And, it’s one of the biggest things that differentiates how we teach students, from how they are taught in a traditional classroom.

Because of that though, we frequently get asked, “What is mastery-based learning?”

Traditional Classrooms

You know how a traditional classroom works. The teacher gets up and lectures to the average student. This style of teaching often leaves those who need help to fall behind and those who already understand the lesson bored. After the lectures are all done, the students take a test. Some of the students pass the test, some of them fail the test, but all of them move on to the next section of subject matter — regardless of whether or not they fully comprehend the material.

As you can see, this doesn’t really help most of the students in a class actually understand what they’re learning; especially if they are advanced or need a little help.

Mastery-Based Classrooms

In a mastery-based classroom, there are two big changes: How the teacher teaches and how the students advance.

Like in a traditional classroom, the teacher still teaches in a mastery-based program. The difference comes in who and how they teach. Instead of talking to the class as a whole, Summit Learning teachers work with students in small groups or individually. This means they can instruct a student based on their individual strengths or weaknesses, and they aren’t beholden to the average needs of a very mixed group.

When it comes to advancing to a new study area, mastery-based programs don’t let students sneak by. Because the pacing of instruction is based on an individual student’s progress — as opposed to a whole class — they have to successfully complete their work (and prove they understand the subject matter) before they can move on.

The Benefits of Mastery-Based Learning

To answer your next question, yes this is a different way of teaching than you are probably used to. And, yes, it would be a lot more difficult for teachers to successfully implement without some helpful technology. That’s where the Summit Learning Platform comes in.

Since all of the work our students do ends up in our Platform, teachers are able to instantly see which students are excelling and which ones need some extra help. This allows our teachers to concentrate the majority of their instruction on whomever needs it most. It also makes it so every student is held to a definite standard that they can’t avoid.

And finally, the biggest benefit of mastery-based learning is just that, students have to show they’ve actually mastered the subject manner and can use it in the real world. Which, when you get down to it, is the point of education in the first place.

About the author

Summit Learning
Summit Learning is a research–based approach to education designed to drive student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong student–teacher relationships that prepare students for life after graduation. Created by teachers with experience in diverse classrooms, Summit Learning is grounded in decades of research about how children learn. With Summit Learning, students gain mastery of core subjects like math, history, English, and science, while also carefully developing the skills and habits of lifelong learners. Summit Learning is independently led and operated by the nonprofit, Gradient Learning.