Remote education: How online schools are facilitating mastery learning amid coronavirus pandemic

June 15, 2021 8:22 PM

The mastery learning model revolves around the fundamental dogma that a teacher ensures that the student fully grasps the taught concept without limiting the process logistically in terms of time and resources.

Webster's Dictionary describes the term 'Mastery' as skill or knowledge that makes one a master of a subject.

By Yeshwanth Raj Parasmal

The changing global scenarios have transformed the way ‘learning’ is perceived. Some continue to hold on to conventional methodologies, while others have transgressed into niche avenues that include honing skills and acquiring mastery over learned concepts. Despite the term ‘Mastery Learning’ being added to the vocabulary of the Indian schooling system fairly recently – it is not a notion that is entirely unknown. Most classrooms in our country have been following the “Moving On” philosophy, with teachers running through the curriculum within a stipulated period as an accepted practice. With schools taking education to virtual platforms and online learning becoming an accepted route to acquire quality education, this narrative is now beginning to change.

Understanding Mastery Learning

Webster’s Dictionary describes the term ‘Mastery’ as skill or knowledge that makes one a master of a subject. The mastery learning model revolves around the fundamental dogma that a teacher ensures that the student fully grasps the taught concept without limiting the process logistically in terms of time and resources. The objective of the process is for the pupil to gain a ‘complete understanding of a given topic.

Over the years, Mastery Learning has evolved in its definition. A simple way to understand the concept would be through an example.

Scenario 1 – Student A and Student B are learning in a classroom and are expected to understand a new concept in a given duration

Student A is sharp in mathematics and picks up the concept of the Unitary Method with ease, while Student B struggles to understand its basics. After two 30 min classes and some homework questions, the next day, the teacher moves on to teaching bar graphs and pie charts. While Student A can keep up, Student B continues to struggle with the first concept and cannot focus on the new topic, losing out on it as well.

Scenario 2 – Taking the Mastery Learning Approach

While Student A aces the unitary method and moves on to bar graphs and so on, the teacher allows Student B to continue asking questions on the unitary method, offers additional practice tests, responds to minute queries, and re-explains the concept until Student B understands it completely. The teacher then moves on to teaching the next topic.

The Role of Online Schools

The notion behind this ideology is that every student can gain command over taught concepts should their conditions permit. In a herd classroom with a student-teacher ratio of 1:30, it becomes increasingly difficult for an instructor to maintain and implement the desired matrix for mastery learning.

Reimagining classroom dynamics wherein students are taught at their pace and given extra time to cope with the curriculum is a stepping stone towards a brighter tomorrow. Identifying and bridging this need gap, Online Schools have constructed virtual learning classrooms so that students, especially in their foundational years, have access to consistent support from their teachers.

The advanced Ed-Tech tools used by online schools offer teachers the liberty to differentiate learning for students, give individual feedback, conduct assessments on the basis of a child’s level of understanding and aptitude and structure the classroom in a way that benefits each student individually. Along with this, students can also have undistracted access to a qualified teacher as and when they need it. Students accessing online schools often learn under parental guidance, and without classmates to divert their attention, they can grasp more. This further increases the retention of learned concepts in the long run.

Blended learning models, such as those offered by online schools, encourage students to take charge of their learning process, pushing them to apply their existing knowledge and invest in research to derive the best from what is taught. In such cases, students often opt to focus their efforts and spend time on new concepts that pique their interest and continue to direct their energies until they fully understand them. When students learn independently in an environment that encourages growth, more times than not, they go deeper into the idea and retain its application over merely remembering it to recreate it on an exam sheet.

The mastery learning model primarily revolves around three key factors – Instruction, Practice, and Feedback. What this means is that a conducive learning ecosystem is essential for it to reach fruition. When an educator imparts knowledge about a particular topic, it must be followed by formative assessments and feedback while also giving time to the learner to take corrective measures based on the input as mentioned above. This approach has especially proven to be more effective in online schooling as teachers have greater control of the classroom and a diminished student-teacher ratio, offering greater freedom.

When this concept is implemented at an early age, it instills confidence in pupils to become lifelong learners. Providing them with a drive to succeed and the much-needed perseverance, early independent learning tools significantly offered by online schools give students an advantage over others to fully bloom into their individuality as they grow.

(The author is Co-founder & Director, 21K School. Views expressed are personal.)

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