In the old days we all had to learn at a fixed pace. That meant that if you were in a first grade class you would learn the alphabet and numbers, if you were in the second grade you would learn addition and subtraction…etc. Everything was fixed based on your age. If you were a high flier you would get some extension work and if you were slow to grasp ideas you’d get some additional remedial help. But basically all learning was based on age related understanding.
Khan Academy has introduced the concept of mastery based learning as the future for our young people. He states that this would allow children to master at their own rate and move faster through the concepts that they were expected and even be able to work together with others at different ages based on their mastery level rather than their age level.
I like the idea a lot but it doesn’t account for the key issues of social maturity. I personally have taught some children who are really brilliant at maths or science, who were accelerated through the school to reach a very high level well beyond their years. Problem was socially they became isolated and lonely and often suffered severe personal trauma when it came to understanding the soft skills of work life. For example, if you have a 10 year old doing university based work, and their collaborators are 18 years old, when it comes to social interaction the experience gap is huge, and can interfere with the collaboration dynamic.
So, is the mastery idea a reasonable concept for the future? It may create some satisfaction for the ‘personalised learning’ notion which is always good, but in the long run, how will it truly be worthwhile for the individual student?
My opinion is that ‘mastery learning’ is a great idea but there are some constraints. Getting students to follow their passions to the extreme has always been around. Students who want to learn how to code a computer for example, do so in their own time following their own direction. It is happening now and has always happened to any creative individual out there. My question is, what about the ‘average’ people? With the ‘average’ amount of passion, the ones who are not that interested in changing the world, who aren’t going to do anything particularly ground-breaking and are perfectly happy about it? These are the ones who will get lost without a fixed pace style of learning. I’m not saying that these students will never be anything, I’m saying that the direction for educators to take for these ones is to get them to find a way to navigate themselves through their dreams and be able to set into place their own direction, with the help and support of educators around them. Making it too personalized for them could be disastrous.