I recently re-watched a Ted talk on Mastery Based Learning by Sal Khan that I have posted on this blog before. In summary, Mastery Based Learning (MBL) is about helping students learn at their own pace and ensuring that they have fully mastered a specific skill or topic before they are introduced to new content, regardless of how long it takes. This means that if a student has not learnt how to read at a certain level when they are evaluated, they will not be progressing to an advanced class.
This is not how the majority of schools work in the UK. Most schools progress students at a predetermined pace based on what is expected of their age group. If gaps are identified in a student’s knowledge of a subject after they take an exam, they may get a bad grade but they, along with the rest of the class, will still move on to a different subject that is often more complicated. If a student fails their exam in year 8 they will still be able to progress to year 9 irrespective of whether they have understood the basic concepts from their previous year.
The above system of learning is one of the reasons why we have many people who have finished secondary school, but still have serious difficulty with reading and basic algebra. It could also be why very capable students disengage with certain subjects and believe that they don’t have a ‘math’s gene’, when they simply haven’t been given enough time to master their subject and deal with areas that they find fuzzy.
In making his point, Khan asks, rhetorically, if people would not build a house on top of an unfinished foundation, why they would allow students to progress through school when they have often not fully grasped the elementary areas of their subjects.
In Khan’s opinion, the traditional system of school should be flipped. Lecture videos should be set for homework and class should be used for students to work through any extra questions that they may have with the teacher.
My initial thoughts when I watched the talk were, wow this is fantastic! What an amazing idea. But on second thoughts I have a few questions about how this would work in reality. Do all students have the necessary self-discipline to engage with MBL and watch lectures for homework – especially for topics they are not really interested in? Should we practice MBL in every subject? Will it work for art and performance studies? Are online videos effective at teaching students topics that they find complicated? What about students who don’t have access to the Internet or who live in poor home environments that are not conducive to learning?
Whilst MBL sounds good in theory, a lot more needs to be explored before we agree to revolt and topple the current system of education. On-line learning is useful, but it may not work for everyone.