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 (Dweck and Sorich, 1999).
Learning mindsets can be powerful determinants of:
- How individuals approach learning situations
- How they act as learners in the midst of learning situations
- What they ultimately take away from a learning situation
Seen from this perspective, faculty don’t just support student mastery of discipline-based content; they also—purposefully or not — influence the learning mindsets that their students practice and come to develop over time. These learning mindsets, in turn, influence the kind of lifelong learners that RIT graduates become.
Effective Learning Mindsets
One way to look at more vs. less effective learning mindsets is through the prism of "mastery-oriented" learning vs. "helpless-oriented" learning (Dweck and Sorich, 1999).
Learners with a Mastery-Oriented Mindset…
- Thrive on challenges (new opportunities for learning)
- Believe intelligence can be developed through effort ("incremental theory")
- Have "learning-oriented" goals (to increase competence; to "get smarter")
- Believe failure in learning is due to lack of effort or need for a new learning strategy
- See effort as "tool" for getting smarter
- When encountering failure, remain optimistic about future success
Learners with a Helpless-Oriented Mindset…
- Avoid challenges (keep weaknesses hidden)
- Believe intelligence is fixed ("entity theory")
- Have "performance-oriented" goals (to gain favorable judgment of competence from others; to "look smart")
- Believe failure in learning is due to lack of intelligence
- See effort as an indication that you are not smart
- When encountering failure, become pessimistic about future success
"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” that included twenty-two faculty and staff participants from 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 behaviors as demonstrating ideal Learning Mindsets.
Intellectual and social maturity
The Four Ps:
Valuing mistakes and failures
Belief in own and others abilities Application of knowledge
Helping others to learn successful study habits
Dweck, C. S. & Sorich, L. (1999). Mastery-oriented thinking. In C.R. Snyder (Ed.), Coping: The Psychology of What Works. New York: Oxford University Press.