Survey Shows Teachers Favor Mastery Learning to Address Pandemic-Related Learning Gaps

As we emerge from the pandemic and head into our first post-pandemic school year, the results of our new survey of teachers gives us hope for a brighter future and, at the same time, reaffirms our deep commitment to staying laser-focused on recovery.

The findings show: 

  • Nine out of 10 teachers say they’ve been able to identify learning gaps that need to be addressed. 
  • 84% of teachers believe mastery learning can help address learning loss from the pandemic.

We wholeheartedly agree. Mastery learning ensures each student has the opportunity and incentive to master a concept before they stop working on it. It’s the philosophical core of Khan Academy, and decades of research shows that mastery learning works. 

84% of teachers believe mastery learning can help address learning loss from the pandemic.
53% of teachers use mastery learning in their classrooms.

The nationally representative survey of teachers shows that the majority of teachers are using mastery learning or would like to. For example:

  • 53% of teachers use mastery learning in their classrooms. 
  • An additional 35% would like to use mastery learning.

While this news is encouraging, the survey also shows the profound impact of the pandemic: 

  • More than 80% of teachers say that when introduced to new concepts, their students need more help than they would have needed before the pandemic.
  • Only 59% of teachers say their students mastered the content they needed to last school year.

Mental health and behavioral support were also prominent threads. After a tumultuous two years, teachers identify student mental health needs and a lack of behavioral support as major barriers in the classroom.

Survey question: What do you think are the most important change(s) that would help students make up “unfinished learning” or the learning gaps that developed during the pandemic? 
Increase emotional/behavior support 60%
More family engagement 56%
Less rigid pacing guides, so I have flexibility to provide instruction and practice until a skill is mastered 52%
Consistent small group instruction 52%
Offering more opportunities for students to demonstrate mastery 50%
Tools to help provide instruction and practice at the level the student is at 48%
More support or tools to provide instruction and practice until mastery is reached 47%
Tools to easily help me know which skills a student has mastered and not mastered 46%
Tools to make it easier to provide feedback to students 39%
Project-based learning 36%
Making the bar for mastery high 17%
Other 5%

Mastery learning can fill in the learning gaps 

We believe mastery learning can accelerate pandemic recovery. Sal Khan, our founder, is a longtime advocate for mastery. Unlike traditional learning, students in mastery-learning classrooms are not pushed ahead in lockstep, which can cause the accumulation of knowledge gaps. (Sal calls these “Swiss cheese gaps.”) 

Last year, in the wake of pandemic school closures, several large school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, turned to elements of mastery learning to address lost learning time. Six superintendents published a high-profile op-ed advocating for the widespread adoption of competency-based learning, which shares many of the same tenets. 

“It’s terrific to see so much enthusiasm for mastery learning,” Sal says. “Mastery can play a critical role in recovery. It allows teachers to personalize learning so that each student can progress through their grade level while also addressing the areas where they may need extra help.” 

Mastery learning allows students to progress at a pace that’s right for them under the watchful eye of expert teachers who make decisions about instruction. 

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. 

The impact of learning disruptions is clear:
84% of teachers say their students need more help than they would have needed before the pandemic
59% of teachers say their students mastered content they needed last school year

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.”

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 grade. If you’d like to see the full survey findings, please email to receive a PowerPoint report.

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