One of the most foundational books I’ve read as an online educator of nontraditional adult learners is Carol Dweck’s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Why?
In her book, Carol Dweck posits that all people are of two mindsets: a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. A person with a growth mindset views one’s position, intelligence, talents, and abilities as being controllable and learnable; a person with a fixed mindset views such traits as being unchangeable (Dweck 2008). Encouraging a growth mindset in students is incredibly empowering. Understanding that one’s success is related to one’s own free will more readily allow students to embrace trials, persist when faced with obstacles, and exert effort when challenged (Dweck, 2008). In the college environment an intent to persist is needed, and by promoting resiliency in such a way students are encouraged to understand that their own free will and mindset largely influence their success. Additionally, research asserts that specific practices associated with growth mindset highly impact student motivation, learning, and achievement (Dweck, 2008; Barber, van Oostveen, and Childs, 2019). Due to the strong positive impact growth mindsets have on student success, using practices that support this mindset are instrumental in the online environment.
At the online university where I work, students are introduced to the idea of growth and fixed mindsets upon entrance to college programming; furthermore, research indicates that multiple direct and indirect exposures to growth mindset interventions result in statistically significant positive attitudinal changes (Chambers, Lowe, and Muldrow, 2022). Because growth mindset teaching practices have been proven so effective, and multiple exposures to growth mindset strengthens learners, I have subscribed to the practices listed below that support a learning environment rich in encouraging growth mindsets despite seeing my students later in their first-year college programming. Overall, my top three recommended practices include: self-regulating strategies, video-based learning, and formative assessments.
Simple self-regulating strategies
In an article based on the review of more than 40 studies that capture the disparity between the popularity of online learning and low persistence rates of online learning, teaching students to self-regulate is one of the top recommended strategies (Muljana & Luo, 2019). At their core, self-regulating strategies naturally support growth mindsets in the way they encourage independent learning practices. To help students self-regulate their learning, I encourage my students to embrace simple tools such as Siri, Alexa, or Focus To-Do to set up reminders for due dates; I also encourage apps such as ScreenZen, which has a Pomodoro function and blocks or limits social media account usage to encourage focused learning sessions. Finally, I encourage the use of Motivation, a motivational app to stay inspired. An additional study highlighted the importance of self-regulation in student success noting that simple reminders and tools to aid in submitting work on time and to participate are essential to student success (Ting, Teh, and Wee, 2022). By offering such resources and tips, I model best learning practices and empower students to own their learning in personal ways supportive of a growth mindset.
Valuable video-based learning strategies
Another way to empower autonomous learning and growth mindsets in adult learners is to provide audiovisual tutorials, overviews, and mini lessons. Video-based learning is a powerful tool for many reasons; one study even notes that “well selected online educational video lectures advance students’ communication on the discourse level, critical thinking, deep learning, and future employability” (Elgeddawy, 2018, 726). I often use Screecast-O-Matic or Skype to capture my creations and send them to students. I post the recordings, including transcripts in announcements, assignment directions, discussions, and in personal communications. Such creations are intentionally made to address common learning questions and pain points while conveying an approachable and upbeat tone. When recording I always include a video of the screen and myself as this dual approach has a more positive effect on learner outcomes than a static picture of the instructor (Zhang and Yang, 2022). By modeling expectations and offering tips, I empower students and encourage a growth mindset; most importantly, I am giving students the tools they need to succeed on their own merit.
Formidable formative learning strategies
A final strategy of empowerment and growth mindset is the use of formative assessments. As humans, we all crave validation, and formative assessments provide such insight on students’ understandings of concepts. Formative assessments are low-stakes or no-stakes learning opportunities where students receive feedback on their progress. Such assessments nurture the idea of growth mindset inherently by not penalizing students for learning but instead by building confidence. When creating formative assessments, I often use programs such as Kahoot, PlayPosit, or Google Docs to guide learning or clarify key concepts. Such formative assessments substantially increase student academic performance as well as improve student lifelong learning (Nkealah, 2019). Additionally, formative assessments function as an empowering type of self-regulation for students and are predictive of greater student success (Ting, Teh, and Wee, 2022). By giving students the scaffolding to use to acquire conceptual knowledge at their own pace, I empower students to gain a stronger sense of control over their own intelligence and nurture a growth mindset.
There is an old adage that goes, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Giving a student the gift of a growth mindset is like giving a student a fishing pole and lifetime access to the ocean. Dweck (2008) notes that outcomes are all that matter to students with a fixed mindset. To a student with a fixed mindset, if one fails, all effort has been wasted, but to a student with a growth mindset, value is always present regardless of success. By giving students opportunities that expose them to a growth mindset and tools that encourage a growth mindset, I am planting seeds of possibility and empowerment. The power of empowerment cannot and should not be underestimated by instructors who all too often stand as gatekeepers in at-risk learning environments; instead, we as instructors need to embrace the important roles we have in nurturing growth in all ways.
Amy Winger is an online instructor for the University of Phoenix. She holds a BA in English from the University of Iowa and an MEd in English education from the University of Minnesota. For over 15 years, she has taught English and general education courses and enjoys pioneering the use of tech tools. Prior to that, she taught English at the secondary level. Her academic research primarily focuses on multimedia, hypermedia, and social media implementation in the online classroom. She also is a freelance fiction writer.
Barber, Wendy, Roland van Oostveen, and Elizabeth Childs. “Situating Resilience, Grit and Growth Mindset as Constructs of Social Presence in the Fully Online Learning Community Model (FOLC).” Proceedings of the European Conference on E-Learning, January 2019, 65–69. doi:10.34190/EEL.19.012.
Chambers, Brittany, Jaylen Lowe, and Lycurgus Muldrow (2022). “Dissemination of Growth Mindset Principles and Attitudes in the Division of Science and Mathematics at a Liberal Arts College.” Journal of STEM Education: Innovations & Research 23 (1): 35–42.
Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine, 2008.
Elgeddawy, Mohamed (2018). “Impact of Analyzing Open Online Educational Video on University Students’ Academic Performance.” Proceedings of the European Conference on E-Learning, January, 726–30.
Muljana, Pauline Salim, and Tian Luo (2019). “Factors Contributing to Student Retention in Online Learning and Recommended Strategies for Improvement: A Systematic Literature Review.” Journal of Information Technology Education: Research 18 (June): 19–43. doi:10.28945/4182.
Nkealah, N. E. (2019). “Applying Formative Assessment Strategies in the Teaching of Poetry: An Experiment with Third-Year English Studies Students at the University of Limpopo.” South African Journal of Higher Education 33 (1): 242–61. doi:10.20853/33-1-1373.
Ting, Tin Tin, Shi Lin Teh, and Mee Chin Wee (2022). “Ascertaining the Online Learning Behaviors and Formative Assessments Affecting Students’ Academic Performance during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Case Study of a Computer Science Course.” Education Sciences 12, no. 12 (December 2022): 935. doi:10.3390/educsci12120935.
Zhang, Yuyang, and Jing Yang (2022). “Exploring Gender Differences in the Instructor Presence Effect in Video Lectures: An Eye-Tracking Study.” Brain Sciences (2076-3425) 12, no. 7 (July 2022): N.PAG. doi:10.3390/brainsci12070946.