WTF is Mastery Based Learning?

I recently tried an online program called Launch School, which focuses on improving students’ Software Engineering competence via something called ‘Mastery Based Learning’.

Although I have decided not to continue with Launch School, I would definitely recommend it to people looking to move into Software Engineering from another background.

I learnt quite a bit during the two months I spent on the program, but could not justify the time commitment required.

I did, however really like the concept of ‘Mastery’ and have continued to use this approach to improve my Maths skills in my spare time.

“Mastery learning maintains that students must achieve a level of mastery (e.g., 90% on a knowledge test) in prerequisite knowledge before moving forward to learn subsequent information.”

This short book explains the concept more fully, and is worth a read if you want to learn more.

Mastery learning means getting to a point where you know any required foundational topics to an insane degree, before moving up to the next level of complexity.

Mastery based learning works especially well when applied to subjects that require a student to sequentially build on previous knowledge, to gain a progressively more complex understanding about something.

Good examples of subjects like this are Maths, Science, and Engineering.

These, coincidentally are the subjects I sucked at most at school!

Typically, after the first couple of weeks in a new term, I failed to understand something crucial, got annoyed and glossed over it because it was boring to learn and made me feel stupid, and moved onto the next piece of work, which then made even less sense.

Unsurprisingly this did not result in huge amounts of academic success and led to the (I now think false) belief that I ‘wasn’t a maths person’.

I have been working gradually through this book, and by far the most important thing I’ve learnt so far, is that it is healthy and necessary to embrace the suck.

By that I mean, if you are really learning, it will be hard.

Mastery based learning means spending almost all of your time on material you are bad at, and trusting that through consistent effort and practice, you will improve.

In order to improve, you must get used to this feeling of being stupid and clumsy, and embrace it.

After a few months of this approach, I’ve found that I genuinely enjoy the feeling of fumbling around in a new topic, safe in the knowledge that if I continue to fumble, and ‘deliberately practice’, it will eventually make sense.

I’d be very interested to hear anyone else’s thoughts or experiences in this area, especially any teachers, as I really believe that this approach would have worked much better for me at school.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *