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Tips to Promote Growth Mindset for Learning

Charlene Williams, PharmD, BCPC, CDE   

Learners’ beliefs about intelligence can affect learning. Individuals with growth mindsets believe that intelligence and abilities are adaptable while those with fixed mindsets believe that these characteristics generally cannot change.1,2 Research has shown that growth mindset positively affects learner motivation, academic performance, engagement, and willingness to attempt new challenges.3 Developing a growth mindset can help one deal with failures and setbacks and process errors effectively.2

People may exhibit qualities of both mindsets as they can shift over time depending on the situation or vary based on which trait is considered. This suggests preceptors have opportunities to help learners transition to growth mindsets. Determining a learner’s motivations for learning, designing educational activities that have intrinsic value to learners, and providing autonomy and choice may be helpful to promote learning.3

Table 1: Comparison of Growth vs Fixed Mindset

[table width =”100%” style =”” responsive =”false”] [table_head] [th_column]Clues to Mindset[/th_column] [th_column]Growth Mindset[/th_column] [th_column]Fixed Mindset[/th_column] [/table_head] [table_body] [table_row] [row_column]Feedback[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Seeks feedback
  • Identifies feedback as a learning opportunity
  • Implements feedback
[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Discouraged or defensive about constructive feedback
  • Believes present state is an immutable truth
  • May feel threatened when “identity” exposed
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]Learner Goals [/row_column] [row_column]
  • Learning-oriented (competency and mastery focus)
[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Performance-oriented (focus on grades, praise, or demonstrating an ability)
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]Motivation[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Intrinsic
[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Extrinsic
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]Response to setbacks [/row_column] [row_column]
  • Bounces back through increased motivation
  • Adapts
[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Gives up easily
  • Self-doubts after failure
  • Views error as a permanent deficiency
  • Makes excuses/blames others
  • May avoid new challenges
[/row_column] [/table_row] [/table_body] [/table]

Table 2: Ten tips to develop growth mindset

(Adapted from JH Cooley et al2)

[table width =”100%” style =”” responsive =”false”] [table_head] [th_column]Tip[/th_column] [th_column]Application[/th_column] [/table_head] [table_body] [table_row] [row_column]1. Determine your own mindset in order to model what you desire to see in learners[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Mindset Works® website has an assessment tool for learners and educators2,5 
  • Consider the mindset you have towards your learners in order to provide equal support for all levels of learners
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]2. Provide instruction about growth and fixed mindset[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Share information on neuroplasticity of brain (ability to form new neural connections4)
  • Instruct learners to write a reflection about examples of when they learned4
  • Ask learners to write a letter to a future learner who may be struggling4
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]3. Share your failures and opportunities for growth[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Give examples of a failure and how you learned from it
  • Share areas of development in process
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]4. Use objective or Socratic questioning to promote critical thinking when the teaching endpoint is known2,6[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Guide learner down a particular clinical reasoning path using structured open-ended questions6
  • Allow learners to demonstrate what they know6
  • Use successively narrow open-ended questions to identify any challenges in reasoning6
  • Avoid use of questioning to point out knowledge gaps6
  • If questioning is pushing learner too hard, switch to questions learner does know and redirect them to do research and revisit topic later6
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]5. Use of pre and post-tests (low stakes) to establish baseline knowledge, establish learning-oriented goals, and reflect on growth at the end of the experience  [/row_column] [row_column]
  • Test common disease states or topics encountered in setting
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]6. Require submission of drafts of assignments/projects with opportunities for feedback and revisions before final submission is due [/row_column] [row_column]
  • Schedule submission of draft 1 week prior to final deadline
  • Divide project into smaller deliverables with frequent opportunity for check-in/feedback throughout
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]7. Label feedback as coaching and mentoring[/row_column] [row_column]
  • “My role as preceptor is a coach and mentor and as such, let’s discuss some information designed to help you learn and grow”
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]8. Be conscious of word choices[/row_column] [row_column]
  • “You struggled through these assignments/ plans and improved”
  • “I like how you selected a more complex patient to challenge yourself”
  • “I appreciate how you incorporated the coaching you received into your presentation”
  • Praise effort, process, and strategies that are connected to outcomes instead of attributes, traits, or intelligence in order to provide focus for learner to know how to overcome setbacks
  • Frame constructive feedback and errors as a necessary and common part of the learning process4
  • Praise learning that comes from mistakes4
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]9. Provide opportunities for incremental progress[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Increase difficulty, complexity, and quantity as learner progresses
[/row_column] [/table_row] [table_row] [row_column]10. Allow learners to work as mentors and mentees with other learners at different learning levels[/row_column] [row_column]
  • Provide learners with a relatable mentor and also opportunity to observe and mentor others as they grow through challenges
[/row_column] [/table_row] [/table_body] [/table]


  1. Dweck CS, Self-theories, their role in motivation, personality, and development. Philadelphia, PA; Psychology Press; 2000.
  2. Cooley JH, Larson S. Promoting a growth mindset in pharmacy educators and students. Curr Pharm Teach Learn 2018; 19:675-679.
  3. Ng B. The neuroscience of growth mindset and intrinsic motivation. Brain Sci 2018; 8(2):20.
  4. Klein J, Delany C, Fischer MD, Smallwood D, Trumble S. A growth mindset approach to preparing trainees for medical error. BMJ Qual Saf 2017; 26:771-774.
  5. Mindset Works. Mindset assessments. Accessed September 19th, 2018.
  6. Weitzel KW, Walters EA, Taylor J. Teaching clinical problem solving: a preceptor’s guide. Am J Health-Syst Pharm 2012; 69:1588-99.
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