Transition to Mastery Based Learning

After embracing the mastery based learning model, I had to readdress how I took in the information being presented at Launch School. When you are studying under the classical education model, you tend to learn at a relatively shallow level. Your main concern is to digest the content to a point where you conceivably can understand or comprehend most of it; keeping your eye out for high importance items that might require you to dig a little deeper. This model works well when you are studying for a test. Having a general understanding will more than likely get you to when you need to be. Being a full-time college student I employ this learning model regularly.

What happens when you need to be able to apply your knowledge? Application usually requires practice and repetition. Think back to math class and working out fifty of the same type of problem. These kinds of assignments were designed to move you from an understanding of the topic to an application level. They worked pretty, after completing so many exercises you should be able to successfully work a similarly shaped problem on your own.

Both the classical education model and mastery based learning involve understanding and practice. Where they diverge is in the required outcome. Under the classical system if you can regurgitate the information and apply your knowledge by providing solutions to problems structured in a familiar fashion, you progress. Mastery based learning is a bit more complex. Mastery requires you to comprehend the content at a deeper level. You go beyond just knowing that something works, to understanding the why and how of it. Even deeper, when it comes to application, not only are you practicing to become proficient; you look at all sides of the problem. You look at them, not just from a point of how to solve them, but what does not work, what ways are more efficient, and when you need to apply a different approach. To truly master something you need to be able to recognize when it is needed. Problems will not always be presented as neatly and concisely as they were in math class. You need to be able to identify them in the wild.

So how do we get there? How do we make the mental switch from learning under the classical system to realizing a fuller understanding under the mastery based learning model?

The first, and arguably most important, step is to disregard any concept of time. The classical system requires timelines because it is moving large cohorts of individuals through. Under that system, you learn as much as you can until the current phase has ended and the next begins. However, the path to mastery is a lonely one. There are no cohorts, groups or classes. You progress forward after you master what is in front of you. There is no place for timelines in mastery based learning. When you place a time requirement on yourself you tend to revert to the classical education model because learning something to depth often takes much longer.

Second, you can’t limit your access to the material. Think about a movie that you have watched more than once. You often learn more from it the second or third time. Why would you limit yourself to one pass through of the material? When I start a course. I plan on going through it at least twice. The first pass gives me a bulk of the content, but it also gives me context. On the second go around I get to experience the content with access to all the relevant information, not just what I have gained up to that point.

Third, mastery based learning rewards the inquisitive mind. You should ask a lot of questions. Not just on the forums or in Slack, but to yourself. Look further than the how, investigate the why. Compare what you know to what you don’t. When we free ourselves from the burden of time based learning, we allow ourselves to understand at a much richer and fuller level. Asking and answering questions will naturally guide you down the path to mastery.

Mastery based learning takes a little getting used to. Most of us have progressed through life under the classical model. I assure you that if you cast off timelines, give yourself permission to go through the material as many times as it takes, and invoke your creative curiosity you will find the mastery based learning model as satisfying as I have.