Purpose: Competency-based education requires individualization of instruction. Mastery learning, an instructional approach requiring learners to achieve a defined proficiency before proceeding to the next instructional objective, offers one approach to individualization. The authors sought to summarize the quantitative outcomes of mastery learning simulation-based medical education (SBME) in comparison with no intervention and nonmastery instruction, and to determine what features of mastery SBME make it effective.
Method: The authors searched MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, ERIC, PsycINFO, Scopus, key journals, and previous review bibliographies through May 2011. They included original research in any language evaluating mastery SBME, in comparison with any intervention or no intervention, for practicing and student physicians, nurses, and other health professionals. Working in duplicate, they abstracted information on trainees, instructional design (interactivity, feedback, repetitions, and learning time), study design, and outcomes.
Results: They identified 82 studies evaluating mastery SBME. In comparison with no intervention, mastery SBME was associated with large effects on skills (41 studies; effect size [ES] 1.29 [95% confidence interval, 1.08-1.50]) and moderate effects on patient outcomes (11 studies; ES 0.73 [95% CI, 0.36-1.10]). In comparison with nonmastery SBME instruction, mastery learning was associated with large benefit in skills (3 studies; effect size 1.17 [95% CI, 0.29-2.05]) but required more time. Pretraining and additional practice improved outcomes but, again, took longer. Studies exploring enhanced feedback and self-regulated learning in the mastery model showed mixed results.
Conclusions: Limited evidence suggests that mastery learning SBME is superior to nonmastery instruction but takes more time.