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  • Writer's pictureHeather Clayton Staker

What is mastery learning?

One big reason many children start to fail in school is that they are forced to move on to the next unit, grade level, or course before they've truly mastered all the objectives from the prior set of lessons. Over time, they get hopelessly behind.

"A lot of football players on my team have snowballed in math," my 15-year old son told me one day. I asked him what that meant. He explained that snowballing is when someone gets so lost that there's no hope of catching up.

In the video below, the founding CEO of Mastery Track, Scott Ellis, chats with Ready to Blend facilitators and me about mastery learning — a better way of organizing the learning system to prevent snowballing. Scott talks about five key elements of mastery learning, answers a question about whether any schools are mastery based yet, and discusses mastery-based transcripts.

VIDEO: What is mastery learning?

Mastery learning and personalized learning are the two essential elements of a truly student-centered school. In a mastery-based school, learners avoid the "Swiss cheese" effect: getting to the end of the semester with big holes in one's understanding.

During the last five minutes of the video, I do a screen share of the new ProGames dashboard. We launched ProGames last week because many leaders have told me that they struggle with how to help their teachers and administrators master the skills that they need to shift to a student-centered school.

I wanted a solution for them that has three attributes:

1. Mastery based: Educators earn a micro-credential after reaching a specific mastery threshold, as determined by outside reviewers.

2. Comprehensive: Educators have the opportunity to choose from a broad catalog of 80 micro-credentials that relate to being an effective teacher or leader in a student-centered environment.

3. True to learning science: Educators earn points, have fun with a close community of peers, and are immersed in a "game" to help them experience daily success in their work.

I've partnered with BloomBoard and Brain Chase Productions to develop ProGames — our answer to those three requirements.

School, system, and teacher leaders, I invite you to participate in the upcoming ProGames challenge, which begins April 29th, and see whether ProGames is the solution you need for next school year. In last week's blog, I posted a promo code for $20 off. Expires 4/17/2019. You can register at

Young and old learners alike need the opportunity to develop new competencies in a mastery-based way. Mastery learning is the key systemic change to unlock big gains in human capacity.


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