Beyond Content: Strategies for Fostering Effective “Learning Mindsets” Among Students
This web site explains “learning mindsets” as powerful determinants of:
- How individuals approach learning situations
- How they act as learners in the midst of learning situations
- What ultimately they take away from a learning situation
Seen from this perspective, faculty don’t just support student mastery of discipline-based content, but influence — whether purposefully or not…and for better or worse! — the learning mindsets that their students practice and come to develop over time. These learning mindsets, in turn, influence, more or less effectively, the kind of lifelong learners RIT graduates become.
This website presents:
- A brief explication and some guiding assumptions about learning mindsets
- A link to an article providing an in-depth orientation to the concept of learning mindsets, with supporting research
- The output of a Faculty Discussion Series sponsored by Teaching & Learning Services, including a sampling of instructional strategies used by faculty of various disciplines throughout RIT to foster effective learning mindsets in their students
The disciplines we teach — the content areas we expect our students to master — often become barriers among faculty at RIT. Even though we all share the role of teacher and hold a deep commitment to supporting studentlearning, our specializations and academic preparation can easily cause us, as a group, to develop very different approaches to teaching, whether that group means faculty throughout campus, members of our own department, or our colleagues next door.
The premise of learning mindsets is simple: whether we teach textiles or engineering, English or ASL, genetics or philosophy, our instructional goals for students encompass not only helping students master the content of our particular disciplines, but also helping students practice and develop skills and attitudes that will enable them to become more effective learners.
This notion of faculty helping students become more effective learners in ways that will help them succeed not only in our courses but in their careers and lives beyond RIT is captured here as faculty helping students develop more effective "Learning Mindsets".
This article summarizes research related to the concept of Learning Mindsets.
A Learning Mindset refers to an individual’s basic orientation towards the act of learning. It is an attribute more fundamental than whether a person is a "visual" or "tactile" learner, what kind of study techniques a person uses when reading an assigned chapter, or the well-honed nature (or not!) of a person’s time management skills (see Dweck and Sorich, 1999).
Aspects of a person’s Learning Mindset include:
- The attitudes, values, and motivations a person demonstrates about learning
- How a person understands the role of learner
- How a person views challenges and deals with adversity in learning situations
- Whether a person views "intelligence" as an entity that is relatively fixed, or a capacity that can be incrementally developed
- The overall meaning of learning in a person’s life
Assumptions about Learning Mindsets
The content presented here makes these assumptions about Learning Mindsets:
|I.||The Learning Mindsets demonstrated by individual students in our courses are many and varied, and powerfully determine what students actually take from their learning experiences with us — perhaps more powerful even than the quality of our curricular materials or our instructional approaches.|
|II.||Some Learning Mindsets are more effective than others in generating the kind of learning that: |
(1) accomplishes deep understanding beyond rote memory;
(2) reflects original reasoning beyond mimicking the reasoning of others;
(3) is fueled by intrinsic motivation beyond external expectations; and
(4) focuses on "getting smarter" rather than "looking smart.”
|III.||Whether we faculty are purposeful about it or not, what we do with our students — including how we design syllabi, conduct assessment strategies, implement instructional techniques, interact with students in and out of class, etc. — can foster either effective or ineffective Learning Mindsets in our students.|
One PerspectiveOne way to look at more vs. less effective Learning Mindsets is through the prism of "mastery-oriented" learning vs. "helpless-oriented" learning*.
|Learners with a Mastery-Oriented Mindset…||Learners with a Helpless-Oriented Mindset…|
|Thrive on challenges (new opportunities for learning)||Avoid challenges (keep weaknesses hidden)|
|Believe intelligence can be developed through effort ("incremental theory")||Believe intelligence is fixed ("entity theory")|
|Have "learning-oriented" goals (to increase competence; to "get smarter")||Have "performance-oriented" goals (to gain favorable judgment of competence from others; to "look smart")|
|Believe failure in learning is due to lack of effort or need for a new learning strategy||Believe failure in learning is due to lack of intelligence|
|See effort as "tool" for getting smarter||See effort as an indication that you are not smart|
|When encountering failure, remain optimistic about future success||When encountering failure, become pessimistic about future success|
*from Dweck and Sorich, 1999.
"It's Not What You're Teaching… It's What They're Learning"
During the 2006-07 academic year, Susan Donovan, Marie Giardino, Jeff Porter, Sid Roepke, and John Weas conducted a four-part discussion series, "It’s Not What You’re Teaching… It’s What They’re Learning,” sponsored by Teaching and Learning Services. The series included twenty-two faculty and staff participants from colleges and programs throughout RIT.
The series focused on the concept of Learning Mindsets and instructional strategies for fostering those Learning Mindset characteristics that teachers view as desirable, and produced these results:
Ideal Learning Mindset Characteristics
Faculty identified these characteristics and indicative behaviors as demonstrating ideal Learning Mindsets.
|Intellectual and social maturity|
|The Four Ps:|
|Value mistakes and failures|
|Belief in own and others abilities Application of knowledge|
|Help others to learn|
|Successful study habits|
Real Learning Mindset Characteristics
Faculty identified these characteristics of positive and negative learning mindsets from their own experiences.
|Characteristics of Positive Learning Mindsets||Characteristics of Negative Learning Mindsets|
During the workshop, faculty identified classroom strategies that support the development of positive learning mindsets in students.
|Positive learning mindset characteristic||Classroom strategy to support this characteristic||Discipline/Area|
|Seeking challenges and taking risks|| ||Networking|
|Engaging other students|| ||Software Engineering|
|Assign group projects, with students’ grades depending on final group project report and peer-reviews regarding both team-work efforts and contributions to the final report|| ||Networking|
|Valuing mistakes and failures|| ||Robotics|
|Focusing more on the learning process than final answers|| ||Software Engineering|
|Not giving up (perseverance)|| ||Mathematics|
To talk with an Instructional Design Consultant about applying strategies that encourage positive learning mindsets, contact the Teaching & Learning Services team.