Have you ever struggled to learn something in school, unable to fully grasp it before you are forced to move on to the next topic? Mastery-based learning is an learning strategy that consists of taking as much time as is necessary to learn a part of something fully before moving on to the next part. This results in a full and complete understanding of all aspects of a topic because no part of the learning has been rushed, as complete understanding is a prerequisite to move on. This approach differs to traditional learning because of its self-paced nature.
In traditional settings, we learn in a style that can be described as factory-based learning. We have a preset amount of time to learn something, and we move on to the next topic by day/week/month rather than by understanding. This causes gaps in knowledge and understanding which can create larger problems down the line when newer topics depend on thorough understanding of fundamental topics. This can be observed in most traditional schools. Throughout elementary, high schools, and even in university, learning still follows this factory model: take in students as an input and churn them out en masse. The name “factory-based learning” comes from how an assembly line in a factory is similar to this this learning strategy: everything moves at a set pace along a conveyor belt, and the factory depends on every factory worker consistently performing well enough to complete their part of the assembly process before it has moved past them, without forgiveness for errors.
These two learning strategies contrast: in factory-based learning the constant is time and the variable is understanding, whereas in mastery-based learning the variable is time and the constant is understanding. With this we can see where each strategy may prove superior to the other. Although factory-based learning has the downside of variable understanding, there are some circumstances (like traditional school) in which time being variable is not realistic. In our adult lives, however, we have much more time. This makes mastery-based learning an ideal strategy for the majority of our lives. Figuring out how to implement this can make learning much more effective and time-efficient, because rather than spending too much time on something you understand well and not enough time on something you can’t quite grasp, you always spend the necessary amount of time on every topic.
The key takeaway here is to learn with mastery wherever possible. If FBL will sometimes result in a thorough understanding but MBL will always result in a thorough understanding, then MBL is clearly the superior learning method whenever applicable. Applying mastery everywhere possible in your life will result in less gaps all around and higher satisfaction, especially since you don’t have to compare yourself to others since the learning pace is dependent on yourself, and everyone learns at a different pace.