Bloom is Brilliant

Rereading Ben Bloom’s 1968 “Learning for Mastery” I¬†am once again impressed and humbled by his ability to cut straight to the absolute core of the issue. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard these points made more clearly or more persuasively. Absolutely inspiring.

If students are normally distributed with respect to aptitude for some subject (mathematics, science, literature, history, etc.) and all the students are provided with the same instruction (same in terms of amount of instruction, quality of instruction, and time available for learning), the end result will be a normal distribution on an appropriate measure of achievement. Furthermore the relationship between aptitude and achievement will be relatively high…

Conversely, if the students are normally distributed with respect to aptitude, but the kind and quality of instruction and the amount of time available for learning are made appropriate to the characteristics and needs of each student, the majority of students may be expected to achieve mastery in the subject. And, the relationship between aptitude and achievement should approach zero…

Carroll’s (1963) view [is] that aptitude is the amount of time required by the learner to attain mastery of a learning task. Implicit in this formulation is the assumption that, given enough time, all students can conceivably attain mastery of a learning task. If Carroll is right, then learning mastery is theoretically available to all, if we can find the means for helping each student.


2 thoughts on “Bloom is Brilliant”

  1. Hi David, as you know, I love and share your work in many ways, and I am almost always well aligned with your heroes, but I’m not convinced about Bloom. He lived in a time, and in an environment (one that hasn’t changed in any measurable way in the U.S.) where math, science, reading, writing, and a few more narrow disciplines were and are the most highly valued “subjects.” Mastery of those subjects was (and is) measured with standardized testing and one’s ultimate aptitude, is a measure of one’s place in the capitalist system. While I admire the idea that learner-driven pedagogy may be used to accommodate aptitude and achievement, I continue to hold deep concern about the value many place on the subjects lauded in our U.S. capitalist society. Societal motivation for these masteries (whatever the pedagogic path to achieving them) still seems to uphold a rich owner, well-educated worker system that is in a tremendous state of imbalance for the worker. While we have our toolkit out for busting outside the box openly and pedagogically, I would love for us to consider the discipline-value box we have built and knock a few holes in it as well.

  2. I’m with you. The more I read and think about competency-based models (in which the time to learn is the variable and the outcomes are held constant) the harder it is for me to accept anything else. It is as if the systems we use today were designed and are employed primarily for sorting, rather than for producing learning. Teachers and other educators are my heroes, but we’ve got to liberate the learners and the professionals form a time-based system that is destined to be more traumatic and less productive. Thanks, David, for posting this concise argument for CBE.

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