Motivate Lab Organizes Summit to Cultivate Productive Learning Mindsets

By Rachel Chapdelaine

At the 2018 Mindset Summit, the University of Virginia’s Motivate Lab and the University System of Georgia teamed up to develop learning mindset programs that support academic achievement rates in Georgia.

Chris Hulleman, Stephanie Wormington and Yoi Tibbetts of Motivate Lab and Tristan Denley, chief academic officer and executive vice chancellor of academic affairs for the University System of Georgia, gather at the steps of the Mindset Summit venue in Atlanta on May 16. From left: Hulleman, Denley, Wormington and Tibbetts.

In the near future, the majority of Georgia’s workforce will be underqualified for the majority of its available jobs.

According to the University System of Georgia, only 47.9 percent of Georgia’s young adults have some kind of college education. This number is not expected to increase much by 2025, when it is projected that more than 60 percent of jobs in Georgia will require candidates to hold a certificate or degree.

In an effort to increase the number of young adults who complete a college degree program, the University System of Georgia (USG) and the University of Virginia's Motivate Lab organized the 2018 Mindset Summit on May 16 in Atlanta to help school administrators learn how to foster learning mindsets.

Yoi Tibbetts, co-director of the Motivate Lab, a part of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the Curry School of Education, defined learning mindsets as “our beliefs and perceptions about learning that shape how we interpret difficulty.”

Research shows that students who hold positive learning mindsets are more motivated, more persistent and achieve a higher level of academic success, which fundamentally impacts their professional opportunities. “Learning mindsets are important because they relate to critical academic outcomes (e.g., grades, retention, etc.), and they are malleable, meaning that small shifts in a mindset can lead to improved educational and occupational outcomes for students,” Tibbets said.

The goal of the inaugural Mindset Summit was to increase awareness of and participation in learning-mindset practices at each of USG’s 26 institutions, which are all four-year public higher-ed schools in Georgia. Motivate Lab plans to regularly visit schools and attend USG meetings to further support learning mindset programs after the summit.

“Schools want a better understanding of how to define and measure a productive learning mindset, as well as best practices and advice on how to cultivate these learning mindsets on campus,” Tibbetts said.

Teams from all 26 USG schools, with five to six representatives per team, attended this year’s event—the first time an entire state-wide network of higher-ed institutions has gathered to explore how leveraging learning mindsets can improve student outcomes, according to Tibbetts.

To help teams learn how to develop their own learning mindset programs, researchers from the Motivate Lab shared learning mindset strategies and research, including findings from data collected within USG in the past year.

The summit featured two keynotes and three breakout sessions. In the first breakout session, attendees were divided into groups of three to learn about a specific learning mindset: growth mindset, purpose/value or social belonging. Then, attendees were sorted by their professional roles to plan practical next steps for integrating learning mindset practices at their respective schools. In the last session, each school’s team discussed how to align mindset-supportive practices across their institution.

“During these sessions, we explored how learning mindsets can be applied to issues salient within USG’s system and shared methods of infusing learning mindsets into existing educational practices,” Tibbetts said. “We wanted to facilitate an inter-institutional conversation about how to implement this work in a way that conveys consistent messages within and across USG institutions.”

For example, attendees learned how to implement a value writing intervention—a student writing exercise that helps students identify the purpose and value of course work by prompting them to make connections between course content and their own lives. When students complete this activity one or more times a semester, they begin to form deeper, more meaningful connections between what they are learning in school and their personal interests and goals, Tibbetts said.

The researchers used the activity examples to educate teams on the application of learning mindset practices and encourage them to adapt activities to better work within the contexts of their schools. Together, the teams began to build a framework for learning mindset programs across Georgia.

This is a challenging task, as these practices are relatively new in higher education. “There’s a pretty large divide between the research around learning mindsets and how it’s integrated (or not integrated) into teaching practices at the higher-ed level,” he said. “I think most educators see the value of cultivating productive learning mindsets, but there aren’t a lot of best practices to abide by.”

According to Tibbetts, both researchers and educators can benefit from working together. While researchers offer the principles of motivation theory, educators offer the knowledge needed to identify areas where learning mindset work can make the most impact in real-world settings.

“By collaborating with USG, we can begin narrowing the gap between research and practice by leveraging findings from research, along with the experience and institutional knowledge of higher-ed practitioners, to develop, test and scale learning mindset supportive practices,” he said.

Tibbetts hopes that each team left the summit with the strategies and enthusiasm for fostering a productive learning mindset at their school and, ultimately, helping Georgia’s young adults achieve the education required for personal success—and for the success of Georgia’s future workforce.