THEORY OF MASTERY AND ACCELERATION
Siegfried Engelmann Engelmann-Becker Corporation
The theory of mastery holds simply that children's learning performance and motivation or responses to new learning are affected by the extent to which children master material. This orientation is suggested in the Theory of Instruction by Engelmann and Carnine ( 1982). The basic assumption is that children learn about learning and how to learn just as they learn other skills. Initial examples require more time and a greater number of trials to learn than later examples. If we present a naive learner with the task of learning different "classes," such as the class of things that are furniture, the class of vehicles, the class of zoo animals, the class of common containers, and others, we will discover that the number of trials required for the naive learner to master the first class presented is far greater than the number required to master the sixth class presented or the ninth. This pattern obtains regardless of which class is presented first and which is presented sixth. This pattern further confirms that the learner learns how to learn.
According to the Theory of Instruction, this acceleration occurs because the learner has learned what is the same about all the instances. In addition to learning about the specific content presented (e.g., the names of the things in the class of appliances, and the fact that these things are not in the class of animals), the learner learns the structural details that are the same from one class to another. Once the learner learns this structure, the learning of subsequent classes requires less learning than the first class, because the learner is not required to relearn the common structural details. Other savings in what is logically required to learn the various classes occur