Bloom's taxonomy

Mastery learning: promoting higher forms of thinking

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21 February is the birthday of educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, who shaped the theory of mastery learning

What do Andy Murray and Garry Kasparov have in common? They both spent more than 10 years learning to master their disciplines.

Who’s the smartest kid in the class? Who’s the fastest and strongest of them all? These questions often arise in educational environments. That’s why Benjamin Bloom sought to prove that, independent of natural ability, the right environment and education can enable almost anyone to master their discipline. Instead of focusing on children’s giftedness, Bloom explained that attention, support, and dedication not only at school but within the family create the right environment for children to thrive.

Bloom’s study in 1985 proposed to change the educational model of horse-racing to one of cooperation, hard work and support, sustaining the idea that successful academics, athletes, and musicians spend 10 years or more working in their speciality before rising to the top. This was called the ‘decade of dedication’ or ‘mastery learning’.

Mastery learning, thus provides an opportunity for attainment for any student, given the right environment and constant effort. For Bloom, educators are key, since they are the ones who provide the opportunity and enhance learning.

The key to success

Andy Murray became a professional tennis player in 2005, but it was not until 2008 when he started building a name for himself when he faced Roger Federer in the US Open final. In 2012 he won his first Grand Slam and in 2016 he won for the first time Wimbledon. That is 11 years after his professional debut. Gary Kasparov’s started practising chess early in his life when he was six years old. He won his first competition at the age of 13. But it wasn’t until 1985 that he won for the first time the World Chess Championship, aged 22.

According to Bloom, predictors for attainment are not always in intelligence and aptitude. Rather, to master learning a specific discipline, you need knowledge and ability, powdered by attitude, motivation and the enhancement of self-confidence. Teachers and educators, thus, play a major role in this, especially since feedback is so important in helping people achieve.

So, it’s not just a matter of time, but about creating the environment for success that will make you thrive. The good thing? From Bloom’s perspective, anyone can be successful. That is, anyone willing to endure consistent practice and constant study in their chosen discipline.

Benjamin Bloom was born on this day in 1913 and perhaps the best way to honour him is to get to get that essay done and keep studying!

Related programmes at Edinburgh

The University of Edinburgh is committed to creating a successful learning environment for enthusiastic students from across the world.

If you’d like to find out more about the topics covered in this post you may be interested in some of the Master’s degrees on offer:

MSc Developmental Cognitive Science

MSc Performance Psychology

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