I was scrolling through Linkedin Learning one day, willing myself to fit in some personal development time, and I came across a course by Gary Bolles, lecturer and co-founder of eParachute. It was about developing a learning mindset. “Developing a learning mindset?” I thought. “Surely this is just more yo-yo, mumbo-jumbo.” However, curiosity got the better of me, and I spent the next 30 minutes listening to Gary talk about a learning mindset…

Aafreen, enough with the internal dialogue and tell us what you’re trying to get at!

Alright! Let’s just say Gary surprised me with how integral it is to develop and maintain a mindset in which we’re willing and motivated to learn. 

Change is a part of life. Our environment changes (we end up in a global pandemic that’s bound to transform the way we live). The way we perceive the world changes. Even what we want to be when we grow up can change at the age of 40, when we realise that sales management in IT is not our calling. The fact is, to adapt to our constantly changing lives, we need to be able to learn new things to improve ourselves and, if anything, keep up. Developing a learning mindset can help us do that.

All mindsets stem from a belief system impacted by our environment and experiences. The Mindset Scholars Network, a network built to advance the scientific understanding of learning mindsets, concluded that there were three beliefs that allow people to develop and maintain a learning mindset. 

1. The belief that intelligence “can be developed through strategy and effort” (Growth Mindset)

“Your mindset has a big impact on how you think, feel, behave and perform. Your mindset frames and filters what you notice going on around you, what you focus on and reflect about and the conclusions that you reach. Your mindset also influences your actions; what you approach, what you avoid, and the responses that you make to challenges.”

Dr Miriam Booker

A mindset within a mindset? You’ve got to be kidding me, Aafreen.

I promise it will make sense – stay with me! 

Most of us are aware of the two mindsets discussed when it comes to learning: growth mindset vs fixed mindset. For those of you who don’t, a growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed, while the opposing fixed mindset is the belief that you are born with a certain degree of intelligence and that can’t be changed. Now, as you can probably tell, having a fixed mindset can be quite dangerous. People are less likely to develop new skills and face learning challenges with this mindset. With a growth mindset, however, people are more likely to embrace challenges and new learning goals. 

This is why the first, and I’d argue the most important, pillar of developing a learning mindset is by having a growth mindset. This foundational belief that someone is able to develop and grow their intelligence feeds into the motivation an individual has to learn and develop new knowledge.

2. The belief that the knowledge is valuable and useful because it’s relevant or connected to a larger goal or purpose

Did you know the brain is actually designed to learn? The neurons in your brain group together to form neural networks that store memories. This means that the brain has the foundations of memory retention and storage for you to utilise, and allows you to retain these memories in a number of ways. If you have a strong emotional attachment to a memory, repeat an experience, movement or memory, or correlate the use of one of your senses with a memory, your brain allows you to retain it. This means that the brain is not only giving you storage space, but giving you strategies and techniques to retain memories. 


The brain works like a gardener. It prunes away dead stems and leaves (memories) to make space for new growth and allow healthy stems to absorb more nutrients. This means if you don’t use a memory or piece of information, the brain (like the gardener) will remove it from your memory bank to make space for more pertinent information and help you maintain the memories you use more often.

This is where the second pillar comes into play. If you don’t have motivation or belief in what you’re learning, you’re less likely to use that information, and therefore, less likely to turn that information into knowledge in your memory bank.

3. The belief that one is valued and respected by others 

The last pillar…the most sensitive of the bunch. 

This pillar is a pretty simple one. It’s in our very nature to seek out support networks and find a sense of belonging. It’s widely accepted that a supportive and nurturing learning environment results in a more positive outlook on learning. Therefore, it’s pretty clear why we need these supportive environments to develop and maintain our learning mindsets. 

The Mindset Scholars Network has concluded that students who believe they are valued and belong are more likely to take advantage of learning opportunities and have a more positive outlook on learning.

This flow chart from the Mindset Scholars Network shows how a student’s sense of belonging can shape their learning mindset.

So. What now, Aafreen? What do I do with all this information? 

Well, figure out whether you want to retain it or let your brain gardener prune it to make space for something more important. 

Personally, as facilitators of learning I think understanding how to develop and maintain learning mindsets is incredibly important. Our understanding will have a major impact on the people around us. It will impact how we teach students, and how we work and interact with our colleagues. It will also impact our own outlook on learning. 

By now I’ve gone way over my word count, so I’ll leave you with a few questions to ask yourself. How can you determine whether your students and colleagues are working with a growth mindset? How can you provide valuable knowledge to others – knowledge that is relevant and purposeful? How can you ensure that the environment you’ve created is nurturing and supportive of learning development? 

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