Mastery Learning


Traditional instruction holds time constant and allows achievement to vary within a group of students. A college course may last sixteen weeks, for example, and at the end of that time students who have mastered the subject thoroughly receive grades of A, those who have mastered very little get grades of F, and so on. Mastery learning, on the other hand, holds achievement constant and lets the time students spend in pursuit of the objectives vary. In the same college course, a few students might meet the standards in ten weeks; most might meet the standards in sixteen weeks; but a few students might take twenty-five or thirty weeks to meet these standards.

Mastery learning overlaps considerably with other principles discussed in this chapter and throughout the rest of this book.

Mastery learning takes into account the elements cited by Carroll in the preceding section and states that given enough time and help, about 95 percent of the learners in any group can gain complete mastery of the designated instructional objectives. Mastery learning is not synonymous with pass/fail grading, nor does it imply that standards should be lowered. When mastery learning is successful, high standards are articulated and students receive ample time and help to meet these standards. Additional information about mastery learning can be found in Guskey and Gates (1986), Slavin (1987), and Levine (1987).

Mastery learning overlaps considerably with other principles discussed in this chapter and throughout the rest of this book. Mastery learning has received formal emphasis only in the past thirty years, but students and teachers have known about this principle for a long time. For example, if you have ever had trouble learning something, you very likely believed you could master it if you were given enough time and if you worked hard enough. That is a very simple statement of the principle of mastery learning.

Two problems often arise with mastery learning.

  • First, grouping and scheduling may become difficult. Teachers often find it easier to force people to work at a constant pace and to complete tasks at a predictable rate than to permit wide variations in activities within a class.

  • Second, while slow learners spend extra time on minimum standards, the faster learners may be forced to wait when they could be progressing to higher levels of achievement.


These problems are not insurmountable. We can overcome them by providing individualized attention, setting high but attainable standards, and making additional materials available for learners who master objectives more quickly than others.

Topics Related to Mastery Learning:


 Online Links
Mastery Learning


Implementation of Mastery Learning and Outcome-Based Education: A Review and Analysis of Lessons Learned by Doris W. Ryan

This article analyzes mastery learning and relates it to Outcome-Based Education. An abstract of this1998 article can be found online at this web site, from which you can also download the entire article for free:


Connecting Performance Assessment to Instruction

This ERIC Digest from 1995 is subtitled "A Comparison of Behavioral Assessment, Master

Click on a topic from the following list, or use your web browser to go where you want to go: