Mastery learning is the idea that students should adequately comprehend a given concept before being expected to understand a more advanced one. This idea has a long tradition in educational theory and research. In 1919, superintendent Carleton W. Washburne in Winnetka, Illinois, showed that students could advance at their own pace if they mastered a concept before moving on to something more complicated.
Years later, building on Washburne’s work, educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom coined the term “mastery learning.” In 1984, in Bloom’s seminal study, “The 2 Sigma Problem,” he showed that mastery-based one-on-one tutoring is two standard deviations more effective than conventional instruction. (That means it would take the average for a cohort of students from the 50th percentile to the 98th percentile!). Ever since, educators have sought ways to make mastery learning available to all students.
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