As education emerges from the first two years of the pandemic and looks to the future of learning, educators are focused on how best to mitigate learning gaps

Mastery learning can help close pandemic learning gaps

As education emerges from the first two years of the pandemic and looks to the future of learning, educators are focused on how best to mitigate learning gaps

In our survey, teachers say they think the elements of mastery learning are important for closing learning gaps. For example, they’d like more flexibility so they can spend additional time on a concept if it’s needed (for example, less rigid pacing guides). They’d also like to allow students to retake tests. 

Teachers say the best way to identify learning gaps is to work individually with students during class. What’s more, they say the best way to encourage students to catch up is through one-on-one instruction. 

Freeing up teachers’ time 

Teachers also consistently report that they do not have enough time to do the work they want to do: 

  • More than six out of 10 teachers feel they don’t spend enough time providing feedback to students.
  • Teachers would like to spend, on average, an additional 3.6 hours providing feedback every week. 

Lack of time is the most commonly reported barrier to mastery learning. “We think technology can help with the time bind,” Khan Academy chief learning officer Kristen DiCerbo says. “Teachers don’t have time to have those individual conversations with every student on every skill. They can look to edtech tools to do the heavy lifting of supporting unfinished learning so they can focus on the grade-level learning.” 

A snapshot of math and science

YouGov conducted a survey of more than 600 teachers for Khan Academy between May 16 and May 31, 2022. The online survey was weighted to reflect the overall population of K-12 teachers. 

Subgroups in math and science were identified. Among those, results show teachers feel less confident that they’re able to identify learning gaps in science: 

  • 76% of science teachers have been able to identify student learning gaps in science.
  • 97% of math teachers have been able to identify student learning gaps in math.

The findings released today are the first time Khan Academy has surveyed a nationally representative population of teachers to gauge sentiment around mastery learning. The survey also shows which steps teachers think will be the most impactful for helping kids make up for lost learning time.

“Overall, I’m heartened by the findings,” Sal says. “The results show teachers believe in mastery learning and think it’s an important solution for pandemic learning gaps. While we have a lot of work to do, we’re hopeful about what’s ahead.”

Kristen DiCerbo, Khan Academy’s chief learning officer, offers teacher tips for mastery learning:

Focus on learning skills – Be clear what skills students need to learn. Standards are too broad for day to day work. Break them down into skills for a lesson. Focus students on the goal of mastering these skills (as opposed to just getting high scores), and provide understanding of why these skills are important. Research shows that learners who have goals related to learning as opposed to goals related to achieving high scores in relation to others have better learning outcomes.

Understand what students know – have multiple low stakes opportunities for students to show what they know. Use these assignments as ways to identify areas that need more work, as opposed to activities that will pull down a learner’s final grade if they are not successful.

Encourage multiple attempts on assignments – Allowing multiple attempts on assignments helps ensure learners are reinforced for continuing to learn and improve and not penalized for taking longer to learn a particular skill or not getting it right on the first try.

Provide feedback and support to learners who are struggling – Doing an assignment over and over without help probably isn’t going to lead to different results. Instead, provide feedback on what was incorrect on the first try, alternative instruction and explanations, and additional opportunities to practice prerequisite skills the student may be missing. Use technology to do this at an individual level so each student can get faster feedback and more targeted support.

Methodology: All survey figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size 639 teachers. Fieldwork was undertaken between May 16 – May 31, 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of US teachers in kindergarten through 12th gradeIf you’d like to see the full survey findings, please email to receive a PowerPoint report.

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