A short online course that changes students’ beliefs about learning can improve their grades in core subjects, new research finds.
High school students who took a 50-minute online course to help them cultivate a growth mindset—the belief that intellectual abilities are not fixed but can be developed—earned significantly higher grades, according to new research by Stanford University psychologists Carol Dweck and Greg Walton.
On average, the grade point averages of students who took the online course increased by 0.10 grade points and the number of students with a D or an F average decreased by over 5 percentage points in comparison to students who did not take the online course. This effect compares favorably with the results from far more costly or lengthy successful school reforms for teenagers, Dweck says.
The findings from the research, called the National Study of Learning Mindsets, appear in Nature.
THE NINTH-GRADE TRANSITION
Dweck has pioneered work on how different mindsets can affect learning. Her previous research showed that students who believe they can grow their intellectual ability tend to perform better academically than students who believe intelligence is a fixed trait, like height or eye color.
The new research, which examined a nationally representative sample of 12,000 ninth-graders in the United States, focuses on how the lessons from Dweck’s research could help students who are making the challenging transition to high school.
“The early research showed that helping students develop a growth mindset could be a new way to help more students succeed,” says Dweck. “Now, as a field we are starting to understand how to do this at scale—and we are understanding the role of supportive learning environments that can maximize the benefits of a growth mindset.”
Students from 76 public high schools in the US were randomly assigned to either complete the 50-minute online growth mindset program or complete an unrelated course of the same length. During the online course, students learned that their intellectual abilities are not fixed and reflected on ways to strengthen their brains by persisting on challenges.
“We spent years developing this short program to contain all the critical ingredients of conveying the growth mindset,” Dweck says. “We’ve had other interventions that yielded meaningful results but this time we wanted to see where this type of intervention works well and where it works less well.”
GROWTH MINDSET IN ACTION
The researchers, from the Mindset Scholars Network, found that both lower- and higher-achieving students benefited academically from the online course, which ninth-graders took at the start of their first year in high school. High-achieving students who took the online course were more likely to take harder math classes the following year.
Lower-achieving students who attended schools where they were encouraged and supported in taking on challenging assignments had the largest improvements in grades as a result of the online course, according to the research.
“Not only did [the study] confirm the effects of the growth mindset in the most rigorous way we could think of, it also showed us how much more there is to learn,” says lead author David Yeager, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. “It marks the beginning of the next phase of mindset research—a phase that will focus on how to make growth mindset truly come alive in learning environments.”
Additional coauthors are from UT Austin, UC Irvine, Northwestern University, Michigan State University, the University of Virginia, the University of Chicago, Project for Education Research that Scales, Paradigm Strategy Inc., ICF, Arizona State University, and Penn State.
Funding came from the Raikes Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, the Bezos Family Foundation, the Character Laboratory, the Houston Endowment, the Yidan Prize for Education Research, the National Science Foundation, a personal gift from A. Duckworth, and the President and Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences at Stanford University.