As STEM Majors Rise, MasteringChemistry Gives Students an Edge

In the last decade, the number of college students majoring in STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—has increased rapidly. According to Inside Higher Ed, STEM majors in the U.S. increased by 48 percent between 2007 and 2011. Today, approximately 40 percent of male college graduates and 29 percent of female college graduates earn a degree in one of the STEM disciplines. These areas of study offer students practical and applicable skills upon entering the professional world and also create significant economic opportunity. Major companies are increasingly looking for recent graduates with a STEM background, and according to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the three majors with the highest starting salaries out of college are in the STEM fields.


Product launched


Number of US students using MasteringChemistry every year


Number of new registered users for MasteringChemistry since 2012 with an additional 5% in the US to date this year

MasteringChemistry is an online tutorial and problem-solving platform for students to practice and reinforce their understanding of college-level chemistry—a vital tool for any successful STEM major. Learners benefit from self-paced tutorials featuring specific, wrong-answer feedback and hints that emulate the tutor. The product launched in 2004 and today is used by about 350,000 students every year in the United States and 50,000 more in 60 countries around the world. MasteringChemistry uses personalized instruction to improve competency in chemistry and prepare students for success in chemistry courses.

New content and features have been added to increase student achievement and retention. For example, new Dynamic Study Modules help students study on their own more effectively, with adaptive algorithms adjusting content to meet each student’s needs to master the concepts. Learning Catalytics also accompanies MasteringChemistry and is accessible anytime via smartphones and tablets as a means of increasing engagement in the classroom and beyond, which can lead to greater knowledge transfer.

"The feedback on questions was very helpful...sometimes I figured out a way to get the right answer but did not understand the process and that was very helpful."

Erika Carlson, student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Intended outcome 1

Learners have access to learning, remain engaged in the course, and complete coursework on time.

Over the past 10 years, 18 out of 21 studies completed by instructors that have adopted MasteringChemistry have reported increases in student engagement and higher grades and course passing rates following the adoption of  MasteringChemistry.

Pearson has partnered with instructors and institutions who have provided information about student engagement and achievement with MasteringChemistry. Pearson has collected these descriptive reports from state universities, private colleges, and community colleges. Overall, there is a clear trend in these results: instructors see a benefit for student engagement and achievement when they adopt MasteringChemistry. To build on this work, Pearson has commissioned the independent research firm SRI International to complete a rigorous quasi-experimental study that will compare course engagement, retention and completion among college students who do and do not use MasteringChemistry. In addition to comparing the achievement of users with a matched sample of non-users of MasteringChemistry, SRI will collect information about the different ways that MasteringChemistry is implemented at each institution and the characteristics of instructors and students in order to analyze how the combination of implementation factors and students’ characteristics and prior academic achievement impact students’ interactions with the Pearson product to produce positive learner outcomes related to course completion, academic achievement and progression. Initial results from the study will be available in December 2016, and will provide greater insight into the effectiveness of MasteringChemistry among college students at different post-secondary institutions.

Intended outcome 2

Learners improve in competency and expertise in chemistry.

In 2007, an independent study analyzed the effectiveness of MasteringChemistry in a general chemistry course of 95 students at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis.

The study found high scores on assignments through Mastering Chemistry were correlated with above average scores on the American Chemical Society (ACS) general chemistry tests administered in the course. For students who scored below average on ACS tests, however, the study found no correlation between their performance on MasteringChemistry assignments and their final ACS scores.1 The study showed some initial promise about the potential of MasteringChemistry, and Pearson is planning to conduct further studies to determine the overall effectiveness of the product across different types of institutions and with students that enter general chemistry with different levels of prior achievement in science.

1 Huesgen, B. D. (2012). Impact of an online homework program on the achievement of college students enrolled in the first semester General Chemistry (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Missouri­-St. Louis, St. Louis, MO.

MasteringChemistry students scored above average on ACS (American Chemistry Society) tests

MasteringChemistry gives professors and instructors the ability to assign and grade classwork efficiently and address student issues with course materials.

"By redesigning General Chemistry and implementing MasteringChemistry, we are able to provide our students with immediate feedback and individualized online tutoring...we have reduced instructional costs by 32 percent, increased the efficiency of the grading process, and are providing students with different learning resources."

Klaus Woelk, MasteringChemistry faculty advisor at Missouri University of Science & Technology

Elliot Ennis, a lecturer at Clemson University, also praised MasteringChemistry and the positive impact it has in his classroom.

"Mastering[Chemistry] is the closest online system I’ve found that really mimics the coaching that students receive when they come visit me in my office. There is not a steep learning curve and the user can just jump right in and use it with minimal training."

Eliott Ennis, Clemson University lecturer

Intended outcome 3

Learners have a positive learning experience.

Over the past 10 years, instructors that have used MasteringChemistry have produced 21 Educator Studies describing their use of the product and students’ experiences with MasteringChemistry. In 11 of these studies, educators reported their students had positive experiences while using  MasteringChemistry.

Pearson will be conducting several quasi-experimental studies in the coming year that will systematically measure how MasteringChemistry provides a positive learning experience for students.

A major challenge for higher education instructors, especially in STEM fields, is retention of students. One of the key learner outcomes for MasteringChemistry is to retain chemistry learners through the end of the course.

Intended outcome 4

MasteringChemistry retains learners through the end of the course.

Several Educator Studies conducted by instructors that use MasteringChemistry have reported higher passing rates following the implementation of MasteringChemistry but none have reported on retention rates.

Pearson has commissioned a two-semester quasi-experimental study that will compare the retention rates of students enrolled in courses that use MasteringChemistry with that of similar students who do not use MasteringChemistry. In addition, Pearson is currently conducting  a pilot study of the early alerts tool planned for the the latest version of MasteringChemistry. The tool is designed to predict course completion and progression into the next course by helping instructors identify students who are struggling and in need of additional support.

With MasteringChemistry, students pursuing STEM-related majors have a powerful digital product to guide them toward success. Existing research shows the effectiveness of the program in preparing students, and future efficacy plans will highlight the ways in which MasteringChemistry helps students excel in their chemistry courses.MasteringChemistry has ambitious plans to conduct research that will further demonstrate the impact of the program on learner outcomes. For an overview of these plans, please see the accompanying Impact Evaluation Report below.

In 2013, we announced our efficacy initiative to measure the impact that our products and services have on our learners. We committed to publicly report our findings starting in 2018, and to subject those reports to external audit.  We are pleased to release our preliminary reports to share the work we have done so far and what we have planned ahead. The content in these reports reflects the continued refinement of our approach; while our work continues to advance, we are proud to share transparently what we have learned. We anticipate that we will continue to further refine these reports as we approach our 2018 target.

Age/Stage: Higher Education

Type: Courseware

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