Supported by grants from EDUCAUSE, funded through
Next Generation Learning Challenges, and the U.S. Department
of Education - Institute of Education Sciences

About U-Pace

There are two components to the U-Pace instructional approach: the Amplified Assistance component and the mastery-based learning component.

U-Pace's Core Components

The Mastery-based Learning Component

The mastery-based learning component of U-Pace allows students to progress to new content only after they have mastered the concepts in a module (equivalent to half a chapter), as evidenced by achieving at least a 90% on a corresponding multiple-choice quiz.  Students have six minutes to complete each 10-question quiz. This time limit, based on empirical testing, has been validated with quiz times from more than two thousand students. Students receive an immediate quiz score, but are not told what questions they got wrong since the goal is for them to master the critical concepts in the module rather than learn the answer to specific questions. The quiz questions assess understanding beyond rote memorization and were developed using Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy1 as a framework. To earn at least 90% on each quiz, students must be fluent with the concepts and have a deep understanding of the material. As in most mastery-based approaches to learning, students can retake quizzes an unlimited number of times without penalty, but they do not get the same questions on retakes and must wait at least an hour (to study the material further) before attempting a retake. For this reason, there are about 80 questions in each of the 24 quiz banks. A sample quiz question appears below:

To test whether exercise would reduce the symptoms and severity of depression, researchers randomly assigned depressed participants to 0, 10, 20 or 50 minutes of daily exercise, and two months later measured the number and severity of their symptoms.  

In this study, _______ was/were the dependent variable(s).

  1. exercise
  2. people with depression
  3. number and severity of symptoms
  4. number of minutes of daily exercise

1. Lorin W. Anderson and David R. Krathwohl (Eds.). (2001). A Taxonomy for Learning,Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives. New York, NY: Longman.

The Amplified Assistance Component

Instructors use information recorded in the learning management system (LMS), such as the quiz scores, number of quiz attempts, and time elapsed since last quiz attempt, to determine when Amplified Assistance (conveyed through email) should be given and the type of assistance needed. Amplified Assistance is accomplished most often by tailoring templates found in the U-Pace Instructional Manual that:

  • powerfully communicate to students that they can be successful even if unsuccessful at the moment; and
  • provide personalized help with the concepts students have not yet mastered.


As shown in the example below, Amplified Assistance messages provide students with both tailored feedback on concepts they have not yet mastered and constructive support and encouragement.

The message below was sent to John, a student who had consistently worked on the course, but had stopped after he did not achieve a 90% after four attempts on quiz 3.  The LMS record suggested that John might be giving up on quiz 3.  By using a template in the U-Pace Instructional Manual and examining the questions John got wrong, the instructor was able to create this Amplified Assistance message to help John.  

Hi John,
I know you are capable—you earned As on quizzes 1-2. I also believe you are a student who is motivated or you wouldn’t have attempted the quizzes multiple times. Show me, and most importantly yourself, what you can do when you decide to do it. Believe you can do it. When you believe you can, your behavior will follow and you will do it. I will be checking your progress on Monday night.

Here’s some concepts to go over:
-How is a message transmitted across a synapse?
-Focus on the difference between aphasia and apraxia.
-Learning the functions of the different brain structures is a very important part of this quiz. You might try the online review activities to help you practice with them.

GOOD LUCK!!! I can't wait to see you pass this quiz :-)

Your Instructor,

After receiving this Amplified Assistance, John took two more attempts to successfully complete quiz 3 and continued to work consistently on the course.

Amplified Assistance enhances the learning experience for students by supporting and encouraging them, reinforcing their persistence, and letting them know the instructor is with them each step of the way. Amplified Assistance also helps students figure out why they are falling short of 90% mastery and what they can do to turn the situation around. Amplified Assistance with learning may occur in conventionally taught courses, but in U-Pace instruction Amplified Assistance is provided to all students at least weekly, and as often as needed, rather than periodically to the few students who request help.

As a consequence of receiving this instructor-initiated Amplified Assistance, students perceive the instructor has a strong belief in their ability to succeed. Although all students receive Amplified Assistance, the U-Pace instructor proactively intervenes (without students having to ask for help) when it appears students are struggling with concepts or giving up. Instructors adapt templates found in the U-Pace Instructional Manual to praise students’ accomplishments (completing a quiz by earning at least a 90%) and, importantly, also their efforts toward mastery (quiz attempts). The focus is on shaping students’ behavior to achieve academic success and increasing students’ perception of control over their learning. As students’ perception of control over their learning deepens, they attend more to coursework laying the foundation for greater learning. This deepening sense of control allows students to persist in the face of academic challenges.

U-Pace’s two components, Amplified Assistance with learning and mastery-based learning, work in concert with one another.  Amplified Assistance directly supports students’ efforts to achieve mastery, and progress in the course, by providing instructor-initiated feedback on concepts not yet mastered, and the critical support and encouragement needed when students question whether they can be successful. The high performance standard (i.e., scoring at least a 90%) required of students on each quiz, helps them learn the level of study necessary to succeed in college, strengthens study skills, and fosters the development of strong study habits.  Further, by receiving Amplified Assistance and by focusing on mastering one unit at a time, students perceive greater control over their learning.