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Is Learning Mindset Really Just Growth Mindset?

Wendy Tan
Author, Keynote Speaker & Managing Partner of Flame Centre | Future Skills Institute


A Google search on learning mindset will list 9 out of 10 items on Carol Dweck’s work on Growth Mindset. This is the belief that we can grow our capabilities or even our intelligence based on effort and thereby motivating us to learn. The opposite is a fixed mindset, that one’s capabilities and intelligences are pre-determined and therefore additional effort would not make much difference. Dweck makes a strong persuasive case with many studies amongst students, musicians and adults. I am much in awe of the dedication she has put into this body of work.

Yet, the question remains, does learning mindset equate to growth mindset?

Is it sufficient to attribute one’s learning to just growth mindset. I love asking this question to my audience, many of whom are working adults, human resources professionals and learning experts. Invariably, like the image you see above, the overweight is on growth mindset, we think the belief that we can grow is sufficient.

Really? What about humility, perseverance, courage to make mistakes, a sense of curiosity and just being proactive? Surely these matter too?

I conducted a quantitative survey with 340 working professionals on learning attitudes influencing learning outcomes like growth in capabilities, expansion in one’s identity and positive outcomes like happiness and more career options etc.

Here are 2 findings:

1. Significant positive correlation between attitudes like curiosity, courage, humility, perseverance, proactive with learning outcomes.

Beyond growth mindset, there are other attitudes associated with learning. A curious person seeks to find answers to new questions. A humble person seeks out mentors. Someone with courage is willing to take risks or make mistakes in the learning process. A perseverant person persists despite not understanding new concepts and spends another hour to nail them. A proactive person takes action to engage in learning activities. All these attitudes are related to learning. Not just growth mindset.

2. Proactive initiative is the significant predictor of learning outcomes.

Among all these various learning attitude factors, which one(s) are most important? I measured these factors and performed regression analyses to identify the predictors of learning and growth outcomes. The results were surprising. Growth mindset did not emerge as a significant predictor. Instead it was proactive initiative. I examined it more closely and still got the same result.

I scratched my head and realised. Perhaps a possible explanation is the belief we can grow with effort is similar to the belief that exercise is good for us. However, just having this belief alone does not mean we actually exercise. We need to actually exercise. This is where proactively taking actions for our learning, whether it’s attending a workshop, applying and experimenting or seeking out mentors, results in concrete learning outcomes. Without these learning actions, belief alone is useful, but insufficient. This is a logical explanation why proactive initiative is predictor to learning outcomes over growth mindset.

Therefore, contrary to popular belief, learning mindset is just not growth mindset.

So do not try to cultivate learning by simply having people develop growth mindset. It is insufficient. Instead focus on proactive initiative and a broader range of learning attitudes, like curiosity, courage, perseverance and humility. This will be more effective to help people build capabilities and increase career options.

If this topic is useful to you, let’s schedule a chat. Feel free to share this blog with others in your network. Thank you!


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