Mastery Learning


Learning for Mastery


Individualized pacing to improve achievement and understanding

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible actions and interpretations
  • Knowing is … mastery
  • Learner is … a refiner (individual)
  • Learning is … acquiring, attaining
  • Teaching is … instructing




Mastery Learning is an instructional strategy built on the premise that each student must demonstrate a high level of competence and confidence with prerequisite topics before moving to more advanced topics. With Mastery Learning, responsibility for student failure is laid mainly at the feet of the teacher, and so strategies and pace are adjusted to suit the learner until the required level of mastery is met. Influential precursors to Mastery Learning included:
  • Programmed Learning – an approach to formatting information and activities for learners in which content is first parsed and arranged in a logical and tested sequence and then presented to the learner in small steps, and thresholds of demonstrated understanding must be met before proceeding.
  • Model of School Learning (John B. Carroll; 1960s) – a model of learning with one input variable (Aptitude – i.e., general learning ability, defined in terms of the time needed to learn), four intermediate variables (Quality of Instruction; Ability to Understand Instruction; Time Available to Learn; Perseverance), and one output (Academic Achievement). Within this model, the level of learning is the ratio between the time needed to learn and the time actually spent on learning.


Mastery Learning was originally articulated in vocabularies associated with Mentalisms, especially the Attainment Metaphor and the Acquisition Metaphor. As it turns out, its grounding principle – that is, that what the learner already knows is the factor most influencing what can be learned – works across virtually all theories of learning. That point suggests that Mastery Learning is more a criticism of traditional teaching practices than an innovative insight.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Benjamin Bloom

Status as a Theory of Learning

Mastery Learning is not a theory of learning. It is, in essence, an application of a principle that is shared by a wide diversity of learning theories – namely that what the learner already knows is the most factor influencing what can be learned.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Mastery Learning is a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Over the past several decades, Mastery Learning has been among the most intensely researched teaching emphases. Results have been consistent across contexts and disciplines: When it is implemented with fidelity, it leads to resounding successes. As with any intensely research phenomenon, some investigations have proven to be flawed. Nonetheless, the breadth and depth of its evidence base places Mastery Learning among the most robust educational theories.


  • Model of School Learning

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Mastery Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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