The Learning Accelerator Blog/All Together Now: Data, Personalization, and Mastery-Based Progression

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All Together Now: Data, Personalization, and Mastery-Based Progression

by Beth Rabbitt on March 14 2016

As I shared in last week’s post, the TLA team has spent a lot of time over the last six months seeking clarity on what exactly we mean when we say we’re an organization transforming schools through blended learning. Over the course of hundreds of conversations and visiting an equal number of classrooms throughout the country, we landed on the following vision to guide our work:

Blended learning is the strategic integration of in-person learning and technology to enable real-time data use, personalization, and mastery-based progression.

At the heart of this vision is the idea that blended learning is a lever for creating meaningful, long-term changes in approaches and outcomes -- changes we believe are necessary for creating efficacy, engagement, and equity in classrooms across the world.

As we’ve shared this vision, we’ve been asked why we’re calling out the three key elements - data use, personalization, and mastery-based progression - separately. Why not just personalization, some have asked? Don’t you need data and mastery-progression to do that?

To this we answer, in theory, sure. But in practice, no.

These three elements closely align and amplify one another. But at any given time, you can walk into classrooms - blended and non - and see differing levels of each in action. For example, in some schools data use is ongoing and powerful, but students are progressing together regardless of what the data are saying about mastery. In other schools, mastery is the driver of pace, but the modality of learning isn’t personalized - every student gets the same content in the same way. Finally, certain classrooms are empowering students with differentiation and choice, but progression remains time based and data aren’t being used to inform instruction as powerfully as they could be.

We can’t take for granted that by doing one thing we are also doing the other. We’ve got to talk about each specifically and explicitly to understand how they work.

So what do we mean by each element and how do we delineate them? For TLA, it boils down to systems and routines, pedagogical approach, and structures.

Use of real-time data.

TLA has been looking at the systems and routines educators put in place to help them and other stakeholders make sense of and act upon data. Note we’re not talking just about producing data. Data are useless unless we - educators, students, and families - do something with them.


Here we’re trying to understand the pedagogical approaches that are used by educators to tailor the learning experience to each student’s needs and choice. Needs include not just gaps but also strengths. Choice is intended to build on interest and goals. Levers for making this happen include path, pace, place, and modality, as well as how much agency students have in making decisions about which levers get used when, and how.

Mastery-based progression.

Here we’re talking about the structures educators put in place to allow students to progress upon mastery of a learning objective. The pieces of a mastery-based progression include common, clear, and shared learning goals, definitions of what demonstrating “mastery” means for each, and a pathway across and through the content students need to learn.

So those are the individual elements we are trying to see and understand more deeply. You don’t actually need technology to make any one of these elements possible - indeed, educators have been doing them as components of great teaching and learning for ages. But it sure does help. And if we’re going to try to get them all working together, at the same time, for as many students as possible, then blended learning is likely our best shot for making that happen.

We’ll be sharing more out soon on the classrooms where we saw this coherent data, personalization, and mastery-based progression happening. If you have ideas about how we can do this in a way that helps you, tweet me @bethrabbitt with the hashtag #TLAVision.

About the Author

Beth Rabbitt is a Partner at The Learning Accelerator. Email comments to [email protected], and follow Beth @bethrabbitt.