Student Experience Research Network Blog

Can learning mindset programs be effective at scale? Mindset Scholars David Paunesku, Greg Walton, Carissa Romero, David Yeager, Carol Dweck, and their colleague Eric Smith designed a study to test whether brief, online programs could improve academic outcomes for large groups of high school students.

Previous research finds learning mindset programs can be especially effective for low-performing students. Therefore, the researchers hypothesized that if mindset programs could be designed to be implemented on a larger scale, underperforming students could disproportionally benefit, potentially reducing achievement gaps.

The researchers tested programs that target two different underlying mindsets: students’ beliefs about whether intelligence is malleable and the extent to which students believe their schoolwork is connected to a purpose that is bigger than themselves. They recruited 13 economically and geographically diverse high schools to participate and collected data from over 1,500 participating students in grades 9-12.

Students in the study were randomly assigned to one of four conditions: the growth mindset program, the sense-of-purpose program, a combined program (that integrated both the growth mindset and sense-of-purpose programs), or a control condition.

Study Results

  • All three programs significantly raised previously low-performing students’ grade point averages (GPAs).
  • Low-performing students who completed learning mindset programs were more likely to receive satisfactory grades in their core academic classes.

Implications for future research, policy, and practice

This study suggests that these programs can effectively improve previously low-achieving students’ academic performance by changing the way these students interpret academic challenges they encounter. This finding has been replicated in another more recent study that provided students with mindset programs during their transition to high school, providing further evidence for the effectiveness of these online exercises.

The research team plans to release a free, publicly available version of the program in Spring 2017 through the Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS) at Stanford University.

It is important to note that these programs are not implemented in a vacuum. While this study provides evidence for more widespread use of learning mindset programs in schools, new research by members of the Student Experience Research Network is examining how these programs interact with diverse contexts to understand for whom and under what conditions they are most effective. This will allow practitioners and policymakers to make decisions based on data that speak to the specific needs of the individuals they serve.

For further information on this study, check out our brief or the full paper.


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