Mastery Learning: Can all children academically achieve to the same standard if given the right tools?

What is Mastery Learning?

Mastery learning is based on Bloom's model: Learning for Mastery.
This model states the belief that all children can learn to the same level if they are provided with the appropriate learning method that suits them best individually.
Bloom explains that the learning outcome is broken down into several small stages, which gradually become more complex. Learners do not progress through to the next stage until everyone in the class/group have full understanding of the previous stage. (Guskey, 2005)
Therefore those who have mastered the stage do enrichment tasks whilst the remaining who have not mastered the stage are focused on using different learning techniques until they too have mastered that stage.
Mastery Learning requires frequent feedback and testing to ensure mastery of the outcome has occurred. Bloom explains the importance of feedback, and constructive comments for learning to develop. (Biggs & Lai 1994)

Support for Mastery Learning

1. A meta-analysis on several studies testing the effects of Mastery Learning found that there were no cases of academic testing where the mastery groups had come off worse than the control groups. (Kuliki et. al. 1990)
2. 67/103 experiments found significant positive effects from academic testing and in 16/18 cases which looked at subjects attitudes 16/18 had positive attitudes towards learning in this style (Kuliki et. al. 1990)
3. Current policy in US supports this: The NCLB (No Child Left Behind) policy states that schools must report academic results separately for sub-groups such as poverty, ethnicity and disability. They then have to identify how large the academic achievement gap is between these groups and how best to reduce the gap size (U.S Congress 2001) Therefore mastery learning technique is a widely established and used model in classrooms today.

Criticisms of Mastery Learning

1. Time consuming, having to wait until the whole class was competent at each stage meant that course completion was lower than when uniform teaching methods were used; (all children are taught the using the same technique) (Kuliki et. al. 1990)
2. Low aptitude students gained more than high aptitude students, mastery learning meant that variation between students was smaller as more focus was paid to students who took longer to master the task whilst those who successfully achieved mastery at an early stage were given less opportunity to further develop and excel. (Kuliki et. al. 1990)
3. Mastery Learning focuses too strongly on testing and not so strongly focused on broader understanding of topic. Students would learn to pass the test not to understand at a deeper level so could not put theory into practise unless when applying to tests. (Biggs & Lai 1994)


The criticisms for Bloom's Mastery Learning Model, appear to be far out weighed by the evidence supporting the model. It seems as if Mastery Learning approach fails mostly if it is taken too literally. For example, mastery learning approaches such as, learning to pass a test or forcing students who become competent at each stage to completely withhold further learning until the whole class is at their stage, could be taken to extreme levels thus resulting in negative results. If these rules of Mastery Learning are not taken quite as literally, the overall achievement and attitudes would be generally very positive
Therefore the support for Mastery Learning appears to be justified, explaining why this approach is used across many classroom situations currently.


Bigg, J. & Lai, P. (1994) Who Benefits from Mastery Learning? Contemporary Educational Psychology, Vol. 19 pages 13-23

Guskey, T. (2005) Formative Classroom Assesment and Benjamin S. Bloom: Theory, Research and Implications, American Education Resource Association.

Kulik, C. Kulik, J. & Drowns, R. (1990) Effectiveness of Mastery Learning Programs: A Meta-Analysis, Review of Educational Research, Vol.60 pages 265-299