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The Bloom Effect & Equity

Amid the day-to-day dilemmas of higher education, instructors are forced to manage a more global struggle: the problem of equity. How can teachers drive their students toward comparable benchmarks of achievement when they’re so—well—different? In any classroom, native speakers engage with second language learners; students from underfunded high schools must keep pace with classmates from accelerated programs; and everyone, no matter their background, learns at a markedly different tempo.

These student-to-student disparities were the subject of an influential 1984 paper by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom—and the findings were more encouraging than not. Bloom concluded that the right educational environment could aid any student in achieving equitable growth—no matter their deficits or strengths. The “Bloom Effect,” as it was termed, relied upon a method called “mastery learning” to enhance student success and deliver consistent results. Students, paired with one-on-one tutors, were assessed for their prior knowledge and allowed to proceed at their own pace. Tutors, using a technique called “spaced practice,” would repurpose old material in different formats, anchoring it in the student’s long-term memory.

Needless to say, the prospect of achieving equity was enticing to a great many educators and seemed to have larger implications. In “leveling the playing field,” Bloom’s methodology indicated a rosier future—one that might heal the great disparity between learners of different races, backgrounds, and income brackets. But how to make it feasible? After all, could schools really pair every single student with an individualized tutor?

Arriving when it did, before the advent of the Internet Age, Bloom’s research was deemed impractical; nevertheless, in 2019, its time has arrived.

Learn more about how technology has the power to help realize Bloom’s research en masse.