Mastery Philosophy

In this artifact, I’m going to describe mastery philosophy and outline my top 6 strategies for personalized mastery learning.

Mastery Philosophy

The industrial system of education where all students are given the same amount of time to master the content, intentionally failing some students (Bloom, 1968; Carroll, 1963) is efficient, but is not the best system for educating all students.

According to R. Culatta at (2018), the key elements in a mastery learning environment are:

  1. clearly specifying what is to be learned and how it will be evaluated

  1. allowing students to learn at their own pace

  1. assessing student progress and providing appropriate feedback or remediation

  1. testing that final learning criterion has been achieved

At its heart, mastery learning is varying the time spent learning content. Mastery or competency-based progressions provide opportunities for students to work at their own pace and to reinforce a particular skill or standard until they have mastered the content (Software & Information Industry Association, 2010).

The six strategies below represent my six ideal classroom strategies for teachers implementing mastery learning in their classrooms. I am making a couple assumptions in this idealized model, most notably that we have unlimited time and money, both of which are highly unlikely in the practice. However, I feel that it is important to outline an idealized model and, within reason, try to approximate this model in the real world, with the knowledge that no school system, classroom, or teacher has unlimited resources.

Weaknesses will be in red text and strengths will be in green text.

Classroom Strategy 1: Competency-Based Student Progress (CBSP; “Move On When Ready ")

Competency-Based Student Progress (CBSP) is a mastery learning strategy that is sometimes also known as Move on When Ready. CBSP may accelerate the pace of learning based upon abilities, needs, and interests for some students and may require additional learning time and alternative instructional formats for other students (Software & Information Industry Association, 2010). The research has long supported CBSP. For example, Bloom (1984) found the following when students were given sufficient time to master the current topic of study:

  1. Aptitude achievement correlations decreased from 0.60 to 0.25

  1. Students' time on task increased from 65% to 90% of in-school time

  1. Attitudes and interests of the students in the mastery group were significantly higher than in the group using the conventional, time-based method

  1. Achievement level of the average student in the mastery group was two sigmas higher than the average student in the conventional group

Ideally, these students should be able to have unlimited time to master the content, but in practice that is not feasible. Students are often limited by their time in class or semester or yearly deadlines. However, in an ideal world, with a dedicated student and a dedicated teacher, most students should be able to experience a move on when ready classroom within the constraints of semester or yearly deadlines.

On the flip side, the students that master the content quickly should be able to progress through the content at a quicker pace and not have to wait for those that take longer to master the content. The Davidson Academy, a public school for profoundly gifted children in Reno, NV, for example, places students in courses based on their ability, not their age (Teaching Methods, 2021), allowing teachers to progress through the content quicker with these students than in a typical public school. These students should not be limited by semester and yearly deadlines either. They should be able to move on to new topics when they have mastered the current content. They should not have to sit and wait for everyone else to catch up.

Classroom Strategy 2: Personalized Learning Plan (PLP)

Each student in a mastery-focused classroom should have the opportunity to create a personalized learning plan (PLP) with the instructor. PLPs make learning more effective and motivational because it is customized to individual needs (Lee, 2014).

Before a plan can be created, student data, such as career goals, interests, and master levels should be collected (Lee, 2014). During the planning process, the teacher should walk the students through the standards the student needs to master and the student and teacher can plan a path through the content together. Student and teacher should select long-term goals, short-term goals, projects as vehicles for learning the standards, and the student’s role and responsibility for each project (Lee, 2014).

This co-planning allows the student ownership over their learning and pace. Additionally, it has the added benefit of clearly defining for the student what they need to do to achieve mastery, giving them an idea of what they need to do in the agreed-upon time frame.

At the Davidson Academy (Prospective Learning Plans, 2021), each student has what they call a Prospective Learning Plan, which is document that guides "students through a rigorous core curriculum and help them make elective decisions based upon their interests and commensurate to their levels of ability, achievement, and motivation. Students, with adult guidance, including staff and parents, propose ideas for the personalization process." These documents are revised at least once per year, which is a best practice according to Lee (2014).

A weakness or drawback with PLPs is they can take time to create. The teacher needs to meet individually with each student to plan a path through the content. If the plan is created across content areas, then multiple teachers need to meet with the student to create this plan. If a set of 4 content teachers have 100 students and they only spend 5 minutes on the PLP for each student (not nearly enough time), that’s 500 minutes (8.33 hours) per teacher. Who supervises the other 99 students during these 8.33 hours? What do the other students do during these 8 hours? Realistically, how many days will it take to complete the PLP conferences for all 100 students? And that’s with a conference time of only 5 minutes/student. These logistical considerations increase as the time/conference increases.

Classroom Strategy 3: Mastery Menu

In an ideal mastery learning model, students should have multiple choices for demonstrating mastery. Gone are the days when all students did the same activity on the same day. Allowing multiple methods for demonstrating mastery gives students the opportunity to demonstrate mastery in a way that showcases their strengths.

A drawback of this method is that it can be time-consuming for the instructor. If the students are young, the teacher may need to provide several appropriate options that all demonstrate mastery of the same standards, which can be time-consuming to create. If the students are older, the students can be given more latitude in choosing their artifacts for demonstrating mastery as long as they are provided with a detailed rubric of expectations.

Assessing these different types of artifacts can also be time-consuming because each one is different.

Classroom Strategy 4: Remediation

Ideally, in a mastery model, or in any classroom model, students demonstrate competency or mastery in their first attempt at the summative assessment. However, this is not always the case. In fact, more often than not, students make mistakes or the summative assessment brings to the surface any misconceptions the student may have had about the content. In an ideal mastery model, students should be able to have an opportunity for remediation.

Remediation is helpful for many reasons. New knowledge is effectively constructed when it is built upon pre-existing knowledge. So, without remediation, students are forces to move on without reaching mastery, inhibiting deep understanding of the subject matter (American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Psychology in Education, 1993; Bransford et al., 2000). Remediation is especially helpful for subjects that build upon previous topics, such as STEM fields.

There are few weaknesses to allowing remediation. The biggest drawback to remediation is the time involved. The instructor must take time to reteach (though one could argue, that is their job) and reassess, sometimes multiple times. This takes time. Additionally, some might argue that the opportunity for remediation might encourage students to assess before they are truly ready.

Classroom Strategy 5: Utilizing a Learning Management System (LMS)

In my idealized mastery learning model, utilizing a learning management system serves several purposes. First, it provides a place where students can access learning resources regardless of their location. This repository of information also gives students a place to go if they know that they need additional practice or instruction to master the concepts being taught. They do not have to scour the web to find relevant resources that may or may not be legitimate.

Second, some full-featured LM systems offer integrated software for tracking student progress through the standards at their own pace. This is beneficial because students can see their progress through the content (where they’ve been and where they need to go) and instructors can more easily track the progress of all of their students.

Third, an LMS makes it easy to provide a menu of options for students to demonstrate mastery and to tie each of these options to the standards in the course. For example, Canvas by Instructure offers Mastery Paths. These paths can be customized to allow multiple ways for students to demonstrate mastery (Olson, 2020).

Finally, LMS software makes it easy to assess students on their knowledge.

An LMS can be very expensive, which is a weakness of the software. Additionally, an LMS can be used as a crutch by the teacher. Because they are so easy to use and track students so well, teachers can sometimes rely too much on the software and not enough on themselves and their knowledge of their students. Additionally, if the teacher is not tech savvy, using an LMS can seem like a huge burden. Lastly, setting up an LMS with resources and personalized options for students is time-consuming work on the front end.

Classroom Strategy 6: Project-based Learning (PBL)

Project-based and authentic learning opportunities can help increase the relevance of learning and improve students' ability to apply knowledge and use critical thinking skills (Software & Information Industry Association, 2010’ Lee, 2014) while solving complex problems or creating artifacts” (Lee, 2014). PBL also “allows learners to select learning content that they are interested in, to choose preferred methods to learn, and to advance at paces that they are comfortable with” (Lee, 2014), encompassing the most important aspects of mastery-based learning.

The weakness of PBL is a weakness seen in many of the other mastery classroom strategies: time. Co-planning the projects with students takes time. Detailed and effective rubrics designed to measure mastery of the content must be written by the instructor, which take time. Finally, projects typically take much longer to complete than traditional methods of demonstrating mastery (multiple choice assessments, worksheets, etc.).

Works Cited

American Psychological Association Presidential Task Force on Psychology in Education. (1993).

Learner-centered psychological principles: Guidelines for school redesign and reform.

Washington, DC: American Psychological Association and the Mid-Continent Regional


Bloom, B. S. (1968). Learning for mastery. Instruction and Curriculum. 1(2), 1-10.

Bloom, B. S. (1984). The 2-sigma problem: The search for methods of group instruction as

effective as one-to-one tutoring. Educational Researcher, 13(6), 4-16.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind,

experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.

Carroll, J. B. (1963). A model of school learning. Teachers College Record, 64(8), 723-733.

Culatta, R. (2018). Mastery. Retrieved October 22, 2021, from

Lee, D. (2014). How to Personalize Learning in K-12 Schools: Five Essential Design

Features. Educational Technology, 54(3), 12–17.

Olson, S. (2020, October 20). Canvas learning mastery paths. Canvas Learning Mastery Paths.

Retrieved October 22, 2021, from

Prospective Learning Plans. Davidson Academy. (2021, July 29). Retrieved October 22, 2021,


Software & Information Industry Association. (2010, November). Innovate to Educate: System

[Re]Design for Personalized Learning; A Report from the 2010 Symposium. In

collaboration with ASCD and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Washington,

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Teaching methods. Davidson Academy. (2021, July 29). Retrieved October 22, 2021, from