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Need for Cognition

The topic for this post comes from what I discovered about Need for Cognition (NFC) during my Educational Psychology studies in late 2013. I found this topic area quite interesting and I wanted to share some of the research findings from the journal articles that I read.

What is Need for Cognition?

John Cacioppo and Richard Petty proposed that NFC was “the tendency for an individual to engage in and enjoy thinking” (1982, p.116). For Cacioppo and Petty, NFC was about the level of motivation towards cognitive activity (the process), rather than achieving cognitive clarity (the outcome). In addition, people high in NFC are characterised by active exploring minds that reach out and draw information from their environment.

Measuring NFC

According to Cacioppo and Petty, variations in individuals NFC were conceptualised as falling on a continuum from low to high need or, to put it another way, people who are cognitive misers to those who are chronic cognizers. The word ‘need’ in this context refers to a likelihood or tendency as opposed to a biological or sensory need. In order to measure one’s NFC, they developed the Need for Cognition Scale (1982). Across a series of studies, Cacioppo and Petty developed a 45-item NFC Scale and found that test anxiety and social desirability biases did not affect the outcome. Examples of items from the scale include:

I am very optimistic about my mental abilities

Learning new ways to think doesn’t excite me very much

I think primarily because I have to

Over time, shorter versions of the NFC Scale have been developed e.g. an 18-item scale which was used in several articles.

Several researchers have studied the relationship of NFC to other constructs:

NFC and Personality

In a study conducted by Fleischhauer, Enge, Brocke, Ullrich, Strobel & Strobel (2009), they investigated the relationship of NFC and personality. The five-factor model (FFM) of personality describes five broad dimensions of human personality, which are:

  1. Extraversion – the tendency to experience positive emotions, be assertive, sociable and talkative.
  2. Agreeableness – a disposition of compassion and co-operation.
  3. Conscientiousness – a tendency to show self-discipline, be organised and dependable.
  4. Neuroticism – the tendency to experience unpleasant emotions easily.
  5. Openness – being open to experience, adventure, unusual ideas and curiosity.

Results showed that “NFC is not only related to open-minded, goal orientated, conscientious ad emotionally stable behaviour but a general tendency to actively invest cognitive resources independent of context” (p.90).

NFC and Intelligence

Fleischhauer et. al. (2009) conducted a second study that investigated the relationship between NFC and intelligence. They examined NFC and fluid intelligence (gF) which is the ability to solve novel problems and also crystallised intelligence (gC) which is intelligence accumulated over a lifetime. The results showed positive correlations both gF and gC and higher correlations with gF than gC.

In another study into NFC and intelligence, Hill, Foster, Elliott, Shelton, McCain & Gouvier (2013) also found positive correlations between gF and gC.

In addition, Hill et. al. (2013) also examined the relationship between NFC and working memory (WM) which they define as the “cognitive ability to hold information in mind for a short period of time for the purpose of mental manipulation and processing” (p.23). WM has been linked to higher levels of general intelligence, particularly gF. However, this study found that NFC was not related to WM at all.

NFC and Complex Problem Solving

Nair, U. K. and Ramnarayan (2000) investigated the relationship between NFC and the ability to solve complex problems. They defined complex problems as “mostly non-routine and for which well-defined solutions do not exist” (p.307). The participants for this study were managers spanning seven-hierarchy levels and across six functional areas of a metal-processing plant.

They found that an increased NFC lead to more effectiveness in solving the complex problem and for those with higher NFC, problem solving became easier.

NFC and Decision-Making Competence

Carnevale, Inbar and Lerner (2011) wanted to find out if NFC and leadership experience were moderators of leaders susceptibility to bias when making decisions. They examined for dimensions of decision-making competence:

  • Susceptibility to framing which is when two equivalent problems produce a different response due to variations in the language used to present the problem.
  • Confidence calibration which is the extent to which confidence matches accuracy across various judgements.
  • Consistency in risk perception which is the way in which people perceive the level of risk when making decisions.
  • Sensitivity to sunk costs which is the amount of willingness to continue with a course of action once resources are invested.

Results showed that leaders high in NFC were less affected by task framing and less swayed by sunk costs than those low in NFC. There was no correlation with better confidence or more consistent risk perception.

What causes variations in NFC from person to person?

In reviewing the journal articles that I have found many of them look to examine and measure adults in order to determine their level of NFC on the scale i.e. somewhere between low and high. The articles do not necessarily investigate how people developed their level of NFC.

How this motivation is developed or is where is may have come from remains unclear. However, Cacioppo, Petty, Feinstein and Jarvis (1996) suggest that intrinsic motivation is an antecedent (a preceding circumstance or event) to assist with understanding NFC and literature on intrinsic motivation would be a useful starting point. They also suggest that motivation towards learning via observation and experience and an ability to cope with problems through reasoning could be developed in childhood years.

One theory of motivation that may be useful in examining NFC is Ryan and Deci’s self-determination theory (SDT). According to SDT, engaging in activities for their inherent satisfaction and that are enjoyable are said to be intrinsically motivating (Ryan and Deci, 2000). Unlike other motivation theories, extrinsic motivation (engaging in activities that lead to a separable outcome) is not a single construct; it exists in four distinct forms according to the extent to which the motivation for the behaviour emanates from one’s self. In other words, extrinsic motivation can be viewed by the degree to which it is controlling of one’s behaviour (external) or allows one’s behaviour to be more autonomous (internal).

SDT proposes that all humans require the satisfaction of three basic psychological needs (Ryan and Deci, 2000), namely:

  • Competence (a sense of being able to do something i.e. being competent),
  • Autonomy (a sense of being in control and having freedom), and
  • Relatedness (a sense of being associated or connected to others).

Contexts that satisfy all three basic needs will help support people’s actions, resulting in more sustained motivation over time and positive outcomes. Therefore, conditions that assist with the internalisation of motivation towards engaging in cognitive activity can help develop need for cognition in individuals. Cacioppo et al. suggest that the development of NFC may be enhanced by “the construction of contingencies that foster both cognitive development and feelings of enjoyment, competence and mastery thinking” (1996, p.246). This is consistent with the SDT approach to motivation.

What are the implications of NFC for learning and development?

In terms of NFC and learning and development, the research into the implications is virtually non-existent. However, there may be benefits from the creation of conditions that stimulate individual’s intrinsic motivation for thinking and reflecting. All too often, courses are streamlined to reduce time away from working and while necessary could be a source of frustration for those high in NFC. In order to cater for these individuals, perhaps additional material or access to additional resources should be provided so those high in NFC can still have their need satisfied.

NFC

References

Cacioppo, J. T. and Petty, R. E. (1982). The need for cognition. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 42(1), 116-131.

Cacioppo, J. T., Petty, R. E., Feinstein, J. A., Blair, W. and Jarvis, G. (1996). Dispositional differences in cognitive motivation: The life and times of individuals varying in need for cognition. Psychological Bulletin, 119, 197-253.

Carnevale, J. J., Inbar, Y. and Lerner, J. S. (2011). Individual differences in need for cognition and decision-making competence among leaders. Personality and Individual Differences. 51, 274-278.

Fleischhauer, M., Enge, S., Brocke, B., Ullrich, J., Strobel, A and Strobel, A. (2009). Same or different? Clarifying the relationship of need for cognition to personality and intelligence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 36(1), 82-96.

Fleischhauer, M., Strobel, A., Enge, S. and Strobel, A. (2013). Assessing implicit cognitive motivation: developing and testing an implicit association test to measure need for cognition. European Journal of Personality. 27, 15-29.

Hill, B. D., Foster, J. D., Elliott, E. M., Shelton, J. T., McCain, J. and Gouvier, D. (2013). Need for cognition is related to higher general intelligence, fluid intelligence, and crystallized intelligence, but not working memory. Journal of Research in Personality. 47, 22-25.

Nair, U. K. and Ramnarayan, S. (2000). Individual differences in need for cognition and complex problem solving. Journal of Research in Personality. 34, 305-328.

Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology. 25, 54-67.

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2013: My Blog Writing Rookie Year

I’ve never kept a diary or journal before and I’ve never been one to write on a regular basis, let alone make it publicly available on the internet. If you had told me in April (when I posted for the first time) that I would have written 26 posts by the end of the year I probably would have laughed and said “I don’t think I’ve got that much to say”. But, by taking the time to reflect on my experiences and document what I’ve learned along the way, it turned out that I had a bit to say after all.

I’ve found that writing this blog has helped me organise my thinking on a number of different topic areas (motivation, gamification, instructional design, cognitive architecture and PLNs) and the feedback and comments I’ve received have both challenged and consolidated my ideas, so I’m all the better for both. Its also helped me to become a better writer – although I’ve still much to learn.

My top posts for the year based on views are:

  1. Letting go of Learning Styles
  2. Integrating Motivation with Instructional Design
  3. Working with Cognitive Load
  4. Video Games and Motivation
  5. 25 Tips for Successful Online Facilitation

2013

I’d like to thank everyone who has read, commented on or shared any of my posts throughout the year. It means a lot that people have found a post personally useful or thought it was worth sharing with others who may find some value in it.

In trying to improve my writing and also to learn from others in the field, I started reading and subscribing to other blogs – another first for me. There’s a lot going on in the learning field and there are plenty of different perspectives that shine through from the blogs I read. While I don’t believe that there are necessarily good blogs and bad blogs as every writer has their own unique style and point of view, the following posts (in no particular order) were memorable to me as I think back over the year:

Finally, I’ve been fortunate enough to interact, connect with and learn from many amazing learning and development people over the course of the year. Thank-you all for inspiring, challenging and supporting me during 2013.

Merry Christmas and cheers to a happy, healthy and educational 2014!

 

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Letting go of Learning Styles

I’ve been thinking about writing this post about learning styles for a while now. It’s an area that I’m sure everyone in the training and learning industry has had contact with at some point. The idea of learning styles has been around for 40 years and I first came across them when completing my training and assessment qualification back in 2007. We discussed visual, auditory and kinaesthetic (VAK) learners and also Kolb’s learning styles. To me it made sense that people would have a preference for the way in which they like receive information. It’s equally logical that if we matched instruction to learning styles, it would result in better learning.

This all changed when I came across a journal article that said this:

LS Quote

How could this be after all this time? I was surprised, so I investigated further. I found that at last count there were over 70, yes 70, different learning styles models. These have been used in schools, higher education, vocational education and the workplace to categorise people as a particular type of learner. The popularity of learning styles shows no signs of slowing down. It seemed that the more I looked for evidence that supports learning styles, the more I found that the research just doesn’t support the theory. On reflection, there was a definite lack of critical thinking on my part.

I can see the appeal of learning the style movement:

  • It sounds logical so it’s easy to understand
  • It’s easy to teach
  • It’s been marketed and sold very well

I like Steve Wheeler’s description of the learning styles myth as a convenient untruth.

What I also find troubling is that in Australia, the minimum qualification for trainers and assessors and many learning and development professionals is the Certificate IV in Training and Assessment. Units within this qualification still refer to having knowledge of learning styles. This means that subsequent generations of learning practitioners are learning about something that has no evidence to back it up.

Yoda quote

Given that learning styles isn’t helpful, we should as Jane Bozarth wrote, unlearn it. While it may be harder than learning, learning styles is something we need to unlearn. Yes, learners have different characteristics but we need to focus on evidence-based methods of instruction. Take Will Thalheimer’s Decisive Dozen as an example. These 12 factors are based a synthesis of years of research undertaken in learning and instruction.

We shouldn’t focus on things that sound logical or are popular or are just accepted. If we want to be taken seriously as learning professionals we need to use theories, methods and techniques that are grounded in research and actually get results.

References

Riener, C & Daniel Willingham, D. (2010): The myth of learning styles. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 42 (5), 32-35.

Rohrer, D, and Pashler H. (2012) Learning styles: where’s the evidence. Medical Education, 46. 630-635.

Scott, C. (2010) The enduring appeal of ‘learning styles’ Australian Journal of Education, 54 (1), 5-17.

Vorhaus, J. (2010) Learning styles in vocational education and training. Vocational Education and Training – Teaching and Learning, 376-382.

 
27 Comments

Posted by on November 10, 2013 in Theories

 

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Improving Learner Motivation for eLearning

Motivation has been and continues to be a widely studied area across many of life’s domains. Motivation is the energising force that initiates and sustains behaviour and ultimately produces results. Many motivation theories focus on the amount of motivation, with a larger quantity said to result in improved outcomes. However, as educators we shouldn’t focus on generating more motivation from our learners but instead focus on creating conditions that facilitate the internalisation of motivation from within our learners.

Self-determination theory (SDT), an empirical theory of motivation by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, focuses on the degree in which behaviour is self-motivated and self-determined. According to SDT, engaging in activities for their inherent satisfaction and that are enjoyable are said to be intrinsically motivating. Unlike other motivation theories, extrinsic motivation (engaging in activities that lead to a separable outcome) is not a single construct; it exists in four distinct forms according to the extent to which the motivation for the behaviour emanates from one’s self. In other words, extrinsic motivation can be viewed by the degree to which it is controlling of one’s behaviour (external) or allows one’s behaviour to be more autonomous (internal).

SDT Continuum

Ryan and Deci, 2000.

Organismic Integration Theory (OIT), a sub-theory of SDT, places the four types of extrinsic motivation along a continuum of relative autonomy, depending on the level of control or autonomy. As can be seen in the diagram (from left to right), the types of motivation along the continuum relate to increasing levels of internalisation and autonomy and lower levels of control. Progression along the continuum is not necessarily linear and is subject to contextual factors. However, greater internalisation “is critical for effective psychological and academic functioning at all education levels” (Niemiec and Ryan, 2000, p.138).

How can we help learners to internalise their motivation?

SDT proposes that all humans require the satisfaction of three basic psychological needs, namely:

  • Autonomy (a sense of being in control and having freedom),
  • Competence (a sense of being able to do something i.e. being competent), and
  • Relatedness (a sense of being associated or connected to others).

Contexts that satisfy all three basic needs will help support people’s actions, resulting in more sustained motivation over time and positive outcomes. Learners are not always motivated to complete eLearning modules/courses – it might be a requirement of their job or as part of a qualification. But, if we can use strategies to support their competence, autonomy and relatedness needs we can assist learners to internalise their motivation of these types of externally regulated activities.

What do these support strategies look like in practice?

Here are some strategies that you can apply to your eLearning that can help improve learner motivation by satisfying their basic psychological needs:

Autonomy:

  1. Allowing learners to make meaningful choices that have consequences
  2. Providing learners with more than one way to reach their end goal
  3. Allowing learners to customise their environment e.g. choosing a character
  4. Encouraging learners to take risks and be creative during the eLearning module/course

Competence:

  1. Making the rules and goals for learners clear and structured
  2. Allowing multiple opportunities to complete parts of the eLearning module/course to allow learners to build their competence
  3. Requiring learners to frequently make decisions to keep the eLearning module/course moving forward
  4. Measuring learner performance in multiple ways
  5. Increasing the difficulty as the learner progresses through the eLearning module/course
  6. Linking progression (the reward) to learner competence
  7. Providing learners with constant and varied feedback and support
  8. Allowing learners to review or replay earlier parts of the eLearning module/course
  9. Recognise learner achievement e.g. experience points or badges

Relatedness:

  1. Providing space/areas for learner interaction and discussion e.g. forums
  2. Providing opportunities for learner collaboration e.g. a group quest or challenge

Motivation plays an important role during eLearning experiences and our challenge is to create eLearning that our learners want to engage in. As educators, we have an opportunity to assist learners with the internalisation of motivation in the way we design and deliver learning experiences. While it’s not always easy, we need to use strategies that help satisfy the competence, autonomy and relatedness needs of our learners if we want to improve their motivation towards the module or course they are completing.

References:

Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (2008) Facilitating optimal motivation and psychological well-being across life’s domains. Canadian Psychology. 49 (1), 14-23.

Kapp, K. M. (2012) The Gamification of Learning and Instruction. Pfeiffer/ASTD

Niemiec, C. P & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence and relatedness in the classroom: applying self-determination theory to educational practice. Theory and Research in Education. 7 (2), 133-144.

Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000) Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology. 25, 54-67.

Also, check out this website for more information on self-determination theory: http://www.selfdeterminationtheory.org/

A similar version of this article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine, October 2013 Vol 40 No 5, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development and eLearn Magazine, October 2013.

 

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Working with Cognitive Load

When I first started working as an e-Learning instructional designer I became interested in the learning process and how people learn. I figured that if I knew more about information processing and learning, I could hopefully design more effective courses. I came across a book called Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load by Ruth Colvin Clark, Frank Nguyen and John Sweller. In this book I discovered – among other things – Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) which is based on studies of human cognitive architecture – how we process and organise information.

In our brains, we have two types of memory. One is our working memory, which we use to process new information. The capacity of our working memory is quite limited so it can only handle so much before it becomes overloaded. The second is our long-term memory, which is where we store information from our working memory and where we retrieve that information from later. Within our long-term memory, information is organised into schemas, which are organisational frameworks of storage (like filing cabinets). Not exceeding working memory capacity will result in greater transfer of information into long-term memory.

CLT proposes that there are three types of cognitive load:

Intrinsic: this is the level of complexity inherent in the material being studied. There isn’t much that we can do about intrinsic cognitive load; some tasks are more complex than others so will have different levels of intrinsic cognitive load.

Extraneous: this is cognitive load imposed by non-relevant elements that require extra mental processing e.g. decorative pictures, animations etc. that add nothing to the learning experience.

Germane: these are elements that allow cognitive resources to be put towards learning i.e. assist with information processing.

The three types of cognitive load are additive so according to the theory, for instruction to be effective:

Intrinsic load + Extraneous load + Germane load < Working memory capacity

To assist learners in transferring information from their working memory to their long-term memory, we need to present the information in such a way that it reduces extraneous cognitive load (non-relevant items) and, if possible, increases germane cognitive load (items that assist with information processing). Note: I’ve found that much of the literature tends to focus on reducing extraneous cognitive load.

CLT

Mayer and Moreno (2003) conducted research into ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Their research, built on CLT, was based on three assumptions:

  1. Humans possess separate information processing channels for verbal and visual material (Dual Channel).
  2. There is only a limited amount of processing capacity available via the visual (eyes) and verbal (ears) channels (Limited Capacity).
  3. Learning requires substantial cognitive processing via the visual and verbal channels (Active Processing).

They found that designers should do the following to assist learners in processing information:

  • Present some information via the visual channel and some via the verbal channel.
  • Break content into smaller segments and allow the learner to control the pace.
  • Remove non-essential content – this includes background music and decorative pictures that don’t add value.
  • Words should be placed close as possible to the corresponding graphics.
  • Don’t narrate on-screen text.
  • Synchronise visual and verbal content i.e. don’t place them on separate screens.

As instructional designers, we need to be aware of the cognitive requirements our designs impose and ensure that our learners can meet those requirements. We must also ensure that all aspects of our design focus on adding value to the learning experience.

References:

Efficiency in Learning: Evidence-Based Guidelines to Manage Cognitive Load (2006) by Ruth Colvin Clark, Frank Nguyen and John Sweller. Pfeiffer

Mayer, R. E. & Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist. 38, (1), 43-52.

 
 

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Integrating Motivation with Instructional Design

As an Instructional Designer, motivating learners is an important consideration because in reality learners are not always motivated to learn. They are busy, have other things to do, don’t see the course/session as being important or have had a bad learning experience in the past. I’ve written a couple of posts about motivation – self-determination theory and the motivational pull of video games – which are about satisfying autonomy, competence and relatedness needs of learners. I’ve come across Dr John Keller’s motivational design model known as ARCS and thought it was worth sharing.

The ARCS model comprises four major factors that influence the motivation to learn – Attention, Relevance, Confidence and Satisfaction. It’s described as a problem-solving model and helps designers identify and solve specific motivational problems related to the appeal of instruction. The model was developed after a comprehensive review and synthesis of motivation concepts and research studies. Its also been validated in studies across different education levels.

John KellerDr John Keller

The four categories of motivation variables consist of sub-categories along with process questions to consider when designing:

Attention = Capturing the interest of learners, stimulating their curiosity to learn.

  • Perceptual Arousal: What can I do to capture their interest?
  • Inquiry Arousal: How can I stimulate an attitude of inquiry?
  • Variability: How can I maintain their attention?

Relevance = Meeting the personal needs/goals of the learner to affect a positive attitude.

  • Goal Orientation: How can I best meet my learner’s needs? (Do I know their needs?)
  • Motive Matching: How and when can I provide my learners with appropriate choices, responsibilities and influences?
  • Familiarity: How can I tie the instruction to the learners’ experience?

Confidence = Helping the learners believe/feel that they will succeed and control their success.

  • Learning Requirements: How can I assist in building a positive expectation for success?
  • Success Opportunities: How will the learning experience support or enhance the learners’ beliefs in their competence?
  • Personal Control: How will learners clearly know their success is based upon their efforts and abilities?

Satisfaction = Reinforcing accomplishment with rewards (internal and external).

  • Natural Consequences: How can I provide meaningful opportunities for learners to use their newly acquired knowledge/skill?
  • Positive Consequences: What will provide reinforcement to the learners’ successes?
  • Equity: How can I assist the learners in anchoring a positive feeling about their accomplishments?

The following link is to a YouTube video where Dr Keller discusses the ARCS Model, some background in its development and the addition of volition to the model.

ARCS: A Conversation with John Keller

Apart from the motivational aspects of the model, what I really like about ARCS is that it puts the learner at the centre of the design process.

After all, that’s how it should be.

References:

arcsmodel.com

Keller, J. M. (1987) Strategies for stimulating the motivation to learn. Performance and Instruction. 26 (8), 1-7.

 
 

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Do you have a Fixed or Growth Mindset?

mindset

Over the last few of weeks, I’ve been reading Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. Recently, I’ve been tweeting about the differences between a fixed and growth mindset: see #fixedvsgrowthmindset

Dweck’s research over 20 years has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life:

“In a fixed mindset people believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits. They have a certain amount and that’s that, and then their goal becomes to look smart all the time and never look dumb. In a growth mindset, people understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence. They don’t necessarily think everyone’s the same or anyone can be Einstein, but they believe everyone can get smarter if they work at it”.

Some other points that I took away from the book are that people with a fixed mindset:

  • Are measured by failure
  • Blame others or make excuses if they don’t perform well
  • Believe that effort is for people with deficiencies
  • Need to always prove their ability
  • Don’t want to confront their shortcomings
  • Stick with what they know in order to feel smart
  • Lose interest if things get hard

However, people with a growth mindset:

  • Believe their true potential is unknown – you can’t foresee what you can accomplish
  • Learn from their mistakes
  • Direct effort where they feel deficient
  • Enjoy challenges – they want to be stretched
  • Can develop their abilities through learning
  • Deal with failures and learn from them

Dweck also says that praising intelligence leads to a fixed mindset whereas praising effort leads to a growth mindset. Your background, upbringing and life experiences all help to shape your current mindset.

It’s likely that you’ll have a different mindset in different areas of your life. The good news is that you can change your mindset. It isn’t easy, you need to work at it but it’s worth it. The first step is knowing about the two mindsets and the differences between them. You can see from the above list how limiting a fixed mindset is compared to the growth mindset.

The second is making a conscious decision to think in a growth mindset when faced with challenges or setbacks or new situations. You should also use a growth mindset when giving feedback to or interacting with colleagues or staff in the workplace and family and friends in general. Your actions can help to shape the mindset of others.

Your mindset can have a powerful effect on your life. So, what mindset are you?

Reference:

Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. Constable & Robinson Limited.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on June 12, 2013 in Motivation, Theories

 

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