The Mastery approach to learning
Western education does not use this approach systematically (despite what you may read). All focus is on standard goals -e.g. Learn to Read (Early Primary school), Read to Learn (Secondary +), Learn to Pass (JC/LC, BA, Msc, etc).
Post qualifications, funnily enough, this continues – CPD points, Show your certificates of completion, etc.
The focus becomes on getting the paper, not being able to apply the learning.
And this is a BIG problem.
This was one of the key issues reported back to me by SET, SNAs, and healthcare professionals when I was building Education Nation.
Namely, participating in a CPD course because they have been told to, or they get EPV days for it as the main motivator, seldom gave great results.
The amount of ‘specialized units’ our clinical team at CATTS would go into where the SLT had to re-cover the basics again was silly. Many of the people in the units were ‘certificated up to their eyeballs’, but the pupils with additional needs were not always seeing the benefits on their day to day.
When reminded, a team member may recollect learning about proprioception issues with ASD, and if they can find their handouts, they could manage to re-jig their memories.
This is not a fault of the teacher or SNA, but of the way CPD learning was made available to them.
The biggest feedback was –
“when I often need to use what I learned, the course is too far in the past, so it is either vague recollection of something, or not able to link the issue at hand to that solution.”
Big disclaimer here of course.
Where a SET, or SNA had a pupil with certain needs, and they asked and got access to a particular course they wanted, if it was running locally within a couple of weeks, this doesn’t apply.
In these cases, they had the need, got the training, – IMPLEMENTED the training in class, and Honkey Dorey. (Honkey Dorey is a technical term! 🙂 )
The problem was getting the timely training available – WHEN needed, as OFTEN as needed.
In essence, this can be solved by using the Mastery Approach to learning. This often was not possible however due to the lack of instructor – with a video based learning platform, this changes.
At its core, mastery learning enables students to move forward at their own pace as they master knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom coined the term “learning for mastery” in 1968 when applying it to teaching children mathematics.
(Limitations of this approach in schools is for obvious reasons of course. For example, a 1st class teacher using it for math, either moves the WHOLE class at the pace of the least strong student, or she essentially runs as many mini groups as she can handle over the year. The latter approach she ends up with a range of skills from basic addition only, to early algebra! – so, despite my trigger warning above, there is a reason why this often can’t be applied fully in principle to schools! 🙂 )
That said, as an educational professional, as a Special Education Teacher, SNA, class teacher etc., the only person who you need to focus on with your own professional development is YOU. So, although there may be a requirement to complete a certain amount of hours each year (the ‘Show your cert’ model), the onus on being able to apply this learning successfully in class is still down to you.
This is often made more difficult by the varying amount of courses available, and the fight for funding when they do appear.
(Interestingly, since COVID, a lot of course providers have moved their courses into virtual webinars, but almost all, apart from a few, are OK to provide access to the course afterwards.)
This is purely for financial reasons as one Psychotherapist put it to me –
‘Why should I give online access to a course to schools when I can charge €500 for repeating the same talk to different schools?’.
So, there is some way to go mentally with providers also, currently most take the more profitable way out! 🙂
So, how does this tie into Education Nation?
Well, this system is build to encourage the Mastery approach for individual, and team learning.
The courses, are the teaching resources.
They are not written to be watched once, then ignored.
They are there to be viewed, reviewed when you need it – and repeated.
If you work with children with say, ASD only, we would recommend revisiting the ASD 101 course, and supporting pupils with ASD in the classroom at least once a year.
This helps you be sure that you are not missing anything, and are participating in best practices as much as you can. With the best will in the world, all systems and routines experience ‘normalcy’ over the course of implementation. Sometimes the routine reinforces best practice, others, small skips start creeping in which can leave gaps.
This is especially important say if you have a core SN class, and each September new pupils come in. By having revised and refreshed your routines from the start means you are less likely to have issues you will have problem identifying.
Example: one of the phrases often heard when a new arrival is having issues is ‘Oh, we used to do that, but we don’t need it anymore.’
Another is the merging of terms – which means simple effective tools are overlooked. E.g. Confusing PECS with Visuals. “We use visuals and it doesn’t work” – No, you are trying PECS, with a child who is not able for it, but they ARE able for visuals. (Hence you throw the pupil out with the bathwater. 🙂 )
Having it baked into your PERSONAL CPD routine helps avoid this.
Another reason why we take this approach with the system is that we build it for a certain type of educator. There are those teachers, SNAs who will not take a new course, or upskill unless they get a day in lieu, or get paid for it in some way. Frankly, we can’t assist those who need carrots or sticks in order to get better at their job. This goes for any industry by the way. We see the same in care staff in the healthcare areas we serve.
From my days as overseeing brand education completion as part of my role in a blue chip tech company, I saw it there too. (And these were salespeople, where the more they knew about the product could result in them being able to buy a new car every year or two if they wished. – So it isn’t always remuneration. Its just attitude and motivation – which is a management issue, not education. 🙂 )
On the FLIP side, there are those teachers and SNAs who have used their own money, taken days off without days in lieu, in order to learn something that can help them help a pupil in their care. Our system logs show a LOT of evening and weekend log ins and courses being taken by teaching staff. We also see a lot of short term logins during certain days of the week, shortly after school closing hours where previously completed courses are being reopened to specific videos.
In short, these are the people who are using the mastery approach, and the system, as designed. It is these type of educators who we want to help and encourage. One of the limitations of the mastery approach is that there has to be a way for the person to learn and relearn the topic as they need it. With the normalization of video based on demand learning, this puts this method of achieving a new skill with the reach of everyone.