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Why Mastery Learning, by Sal Khan

Updated

Why Mastery Learning?

You've always known as a teacher that students in your classroom are at different skill levels and could benefit from more personalized instruction. This is especially the case when many students come to your class with "Swiss cheese" gaps in their knowledge. Teacher preparation programs teach differentiated instruction as a best practice for this very reason.

Mastery learning simply means allowing a student to continue to work on a concept until they can master that concept or skill. You can tell a student has mastered a skill when they apply that skill to successfully complete a job, or task, that requires that skill. 

At Khan Academy, we provide a personalized, mastery-based learning system. Students are supported and challenged to build skills over time. The Khan Academy mastery system was designed to give teachers like you the power to unlock mastery learning for your students while saving time and fitting into your weekly classroom routines.

How do I get started?

Get started by setting a course mastery goal for your students, based on your knowledge of how they’re doing. 

Setting a goal is a simple, one-time step. Then, whenever your students have independent work time, they’ll have a long-term goal that will likely take many months to complete since it encompasses a year's worth of concepts and practice. 

  • Students in the bottom 25% as measured by benchmark standardized exams: these students likely have significant gaps so we recommend setting a mastery goal that is two to three grade levels lower than the grade level you’re teaching. 
  • Students in the 25th to 50th percentiles: these student likely also have major gaps so we recommend setting a mastery goal one to two grade levels lower than the grade level you’re teaching.
  • Students in the 50th-75th percentile: these students likely have minor gaps and could benefit from reviewing earlier material. We recommend setting a mastery goal one grade level earlier than the grade level you are teaching.
  • Students in the top 25%: we recommend setting a grade level mastery goal. 
  • If you don’t know a student’s skill level yet, start at grade level and you can always adjust their goals as you get to know them better.

In all cases, students may already feel comfortable with some of the material in their mastery goals. When this happens, students can accelerate using "Course Challenges" and "Unit Tests."

Encourage your students to work at least 45 minutes per week on their mastery goals. Ideally, one class period a week would focus on mastery goals. Using class time allows students to work in a setting where they can be supported by you and their peers. 

As your students make progress, you’ll be able to use Khan Academy’s teacher reports to see how your students are moving forward and pinpoint where they need more support.

Once you and your students unlock the power of mastery learning in your classroom, not only will it accelerate learning, it will also help students build agency and confidence. Those are skills that last a lifetime!

For additional help, check out these articles:

What are Course and Unit Mastery? 

How do I set a Course Mastery goal?