What’s Grit Got to Do with Learning?

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What’s Grit Got to Do with Learning? was previously posted on the AACE Review (Rogers, 2017)


In terms of education, ‘grit’ is a combination of your passion for learning, perseverance at task, and purposeful activities. Volition and conation are synonyms for grit. During his AECT 2017 keynote, Thomas Reeves, professor emeritus at the University of Georgia and AACE Fellow since 2003 tackled the topic of grit. He stated that the conative domain is the missing piece for learning and placed it beside the affective and cognitive domains as the triad for intelligence, as was the case in Aristotle’s day.

Reeves and other scholars point out that grit/conation is not new to education. He referenced Snow’s (1992) Academic Aptitude Model, Carroll’s (1993) model of school learning that included perseverance, and Kolbe’s (2002) work on the conative domain (motivational-volitional). Looking at the literature, many prominent psychologists, past and current, recognize non-intellectual factors in learning performance.

Grit Research

Grit is important because it can boost life-long academic achievement (Abuhassàn & Bates, 2016). Here’s how other scholars describe it: industrious, conscientiousness, personality trait (Roberts, Lujeuz, Krueger, Richards, & Hill, 2014), passion, and perseverance (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, & Kelly, 2007). Critics of Duckworth et al.’s take on grit as a trait for success question the validity of their study’s findings (i.e., generalizability, confounding variables) and wonder whether participants who quit a grueling West Point Cadet initiation program also used grit to do so (Denby, 2016).

Duckworth and Reeves both mention Dweck’s (2009) theory on the growth mindset, as a way to help students develop grit. If you want to delve deeper into Grit, also take a look at Deci and Ryan’s (2009) self-determination theory since it addresses one’s ability to complete a task through willingness, volition, and endorsement of an activity.

The important message for learners is that grit is not solely about your ability/potential/talent per se. Grit is up to you!

Grit and Me

As a first-generation college graduate raised in situational poverty by a single parent, my perseverance has paid off. My grit is based on my openness to experience and conscientiousness, which you might recognize from the Big Five Personality Traits. I recently experienced grit during a gaming workshop, where I couldn’t hear the presenter or see the presentation clearly and my computer was running slow, but I persevered and learned the lesson. For me, it’s that point where I’m embarrassed by my ineptitude and faced with the fight-or-flight feeling. For my grit to kick in, it needs to be a challenging and purposeful activity.

Do you have grit? Take Duckworth’s Grit Scale to find out.


Abuhassàn, A., & Bates, T. C. (2015). Grit: Distinguishing effortful persistence from conscientiousness. Journal of Individual Differences, 36(4), 205-214. doi:10.1027/1614-0001/a000175

Deci, E. & Ryan, R. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. doi:10.1037110003-066X.55.1.68

Denby, D. (2016, June). The limits of grit. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-limits-of-grit

Duckworth, A. L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D., & Kelly, D. R. (2007). Grit: Perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9(6), 1087-1101. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.92.6.1087

Dweck, C. (2009). Developing Growth Mindsets: How Praise Can Harm, and How to Use It Well. [Presentation]. Paper presented at the Scottish Learning Festival, Glasgow. Retrieved from http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/video/c/video_tcm4565678.asp

Kolbe, K. (2002). The conative connection: Uncovering the link between who you are and how you perform. New South Wales: Pow Wow Events International.

Roberts, B. W., Lejuez, C., Krueger, R. F., Richards, J. M., & Hill, P. L. (2014). What is conscientiousness and how can it be assessed? Developmental Psychology, 50(5), 1315-1330.

Snow, R. E. (1992). Aptitude theory: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Educational Psychologist, 27, 5-32.

Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D

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Planned Interactions and Technologies for Online Learner Engagement


A wordcloud in the shape of a Rubik's cube with these main words from the blog on active learning: learning, students, course, provide, can, and UDL.
This is a WordCloud based on my blog post on active learning.

Active Learning Defined

Active learning engages students directly in the learning process through instructional activities with differing degrees of interaction that is student-centered, whereas passive learning occurs indirectly and without interaction. The latter is often, but not always, teacher-centered. Student-centered learning emphasizes learner control and manipulation of information, so students can actively use what is learned. Students respond well when they have a participatory voice in their learning. Additionally, active learning is preferred because it triggers cognitive functioning. This is based on the cognitivist (with constructivism as a subset) educational learning paradigm.

Examples of active learning include the following:

  • Studio model with a teacher or student observations and feedback (e.g., writer’s workshop, art production, portfolios)
  • Problem-solving,
  • Group work (e.g., business proposals, case studies, mixed media presentations)
  • Debates,
  • Gaming and simulations,
  • Metacognitive strategies to monitor self-learning,
  • Transference of knowledge to new problems and situations, and
  • Assessments that require analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

These can be configured to the hybrid and online environments via videoconferencing tool for synchronous conversations, forum tool for asynchronous discussions, shared drive and collaborative documents, media hosting platform, and portfolio or other platforms to share student work. Besides the general activity description and assessment piece, these digital activities require clear guidelines for interacting with each other, the content, the teacher, and the tools (e.g., group roles, peer review criteria, schedule, samples, tool guides).  

What does active learning look like online?

Active learning can take on different formats, levels of engagement, and levels of complexity in setup. For example, active learning can be individually or collaboratively assigned. Online educators use the community of inquiry (COI) framework to ensure students are engaged with the content, each other, and the instructor to maximize learning. Social presence (SP), cognitive presence (CP), and teaching presence (TP) are the essential elements to the communication loop for an online COI (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). This means that online learners are involved in cognitively challenging activities for CP (i.e., analysis, synthesis, evaluation), are able to interact with classmates for SP (e.g., discussions and projects), and that the teacher or student moderator is present in some way through communication, guidance, and feedback for TP. This document covers various instructional strategies and the digital tools to engage students online through active learning as structured through the course’s primary interactions (e.g., lecture, discussions, assignments, assessments, feedback, and guidance).

Set the Stage for Active Learning

Tell your students what you expect of them in the online course. A best practice is to provide a ‘Getting Started’ folder with your syllabus, schedule, pertinent documents, and protocol for interactions (Quality Matters, 2014). For example, share course requirements for the online environment and address learning values such as the growth mindset versus the fixed mindset.

Dweck (2009) described those who underestimate their ability to learn as possibly having a fixed mindset, while those who believe that they can learn by establishing attainable goals and applying effort to learn as having a growth mindset. Students with a growth mindset want to be corrected; their ego is not tied to learning. Conversely, those with a fixed mindset do not pay attention to corrective feedback. They believe that learning should not take any effort because it is tied to their intelligence; their ego influences how they learn. Students with a fixed mindset may be resistant to active learning. See the blog post to Focus on the Process to Support the Growth Mindset of Students.

Make sure students know how to use the learning management system (LMS) prior to high-stakes assignments to reduce anxiety and to reduce the cognitive load for the overall task. Here are some useful tasks to help familiarize students with the LMS:

  • Student acknowledgment form submission/assignment (i.e.,, course expectations),
  • ‘Getting Acquainted’ discussion,
  • Syllabus quiz to ensure students have read it, and
  • Poll practical experience on the course topic to better understand students’ prior knowledge on the subject and drive instruction to meet students’ needs.

Content Delivery

The lecture, demonstration, or direct instruction of a skill is a passive learning event unless students are provided ways to interact with the content. Consider using EdPuzzle, PlayPosit, or Camtasia Studio to engage learners while watching a video lecture or demonstration with questions to answer before preceding to the next segment; these third-party premium tools provide instructors with learner analytics.

Instructional strategies. Strategy election depends on various affordances and constraints such as time and resources. For example, an activity-centered lesson is based on an interactive task and requires collaborative tools and student groupings. Content-centered lessons are passive tasks where the student generally only interacts with the content, the exception being discussions of content. Experience-centered activities require a hands-on approach to developing something or serving/working with others. The learner-centered activity provides the learner with more autonomy over their pursuit of knowledge and includes metacognitive actions for self-regulation of learning; the affordances and constraints for this type of activity are highly dependent on the task. Overall, the best practice is to utilize a variety of instructional strategies to address learner preferences. Here is a list of online instructional strategies for each type.

Activity-Centered Content-Centered Experience-Centered Learner-Centered
·        Analysis of case studies

·        Critically review an article

·        HyperInquiry* team project

·        Academic controversy** assignment

·        Develop a book trailer on topic

·        WebQuest


·      Pretest/Posttest

·        Write a literature review

·        Complete modules on topic in computer-adapted lab/program

·        Write essay

·        Make a presentation

·        Discuss content with peers and instructor


·        Develop questionnaires

·        Develop a personal model of topic

·        Participate in a simulation

·        Develop a workshop

·        Develop a wiki on topic

·        Produce a podcast on topic

·        Develop a how-to guide on a procedure

·        Write a blog post on topic

·        Serve others as a mentor, tutor, or volunteer on topic

·        Curate an art exhibit

·        Peer-review of papers or projects

·        Students create m/c questions for review

·        Design a project

·        Evaluate a program

·        Write an autobiography of your interaction with topic

·        Complete self-evaluation

·        Develop a personal learning network

·        Capture reflections in journal, audio, or video

·        Curate digital books and articles on topic for lifelong learning

Notes. *HyperInquiry is like a Webquest but at a deeper level of inquiry (Dempsey & Litchfield, 2001). **Academic controversy is a debate where students eventually take on both sides of an argument.

Learning strategies. Learning strategies are ways students can engage with the course readings and other content to monitor their learning. Cognitive learning strategies include concept mapping, mnemonics, overlearning, metaphors, and similes. Embed these learning strategies into your instructional activities to build students’ brain schema on the topic and its relation to other subjects for long-term memory. Share this list of cognitive strategies with students. The difference between cognitive and metacognitive being concreteness versus meta-awareness respectively. Most students are likely familiar with the structurally cognitive ones such as concept maps but may not be familiar with the others. Share this Student Learning Organizer of Metacognitive Strategies. Tying learner strategies to your instruction will make it more inclusive.


Discussions can have well thought out open-ended questions provided by the instructor, student-generated questions, or no questions at all. For example, one instructor has had great success without providing questions in his online discussions. Instead, he tells students the purpose of discussions and that they will find suggestions for these by listening to his podcast or video lecture for that unit.

Roles. Provide structure and student agency to discussions by assigning roles (e.g., starter, responder, wrapper) and rotating those roles during the course. Additionally, this will prevent the same students posting first and everyone else waiting to reply. Student-moderated discussions provide social presence to the online community of inquiry (COI). See blog post on how to plan for an online COI.

Media. Use the audio or video recording features to share responses besides the text-based option to provide novelty and multiple means of representation. Ask students to provide a visual created by the student that illustrates their learning along with their reflection. See Google Drawing illustrating a students’ understanding of reading regarding semiotic domains. This provides both teaching presence and social presence for the online COI. The exchange of media will close the psychological distance between you and your students.

Monitor. For equity, a best practice is to create a matrix of teacher-student interactions to track your response efforts over the course of the semester. Monitoring your discussion posts will curtail various biases and ensure consistency. Set up a spreadsheet to do this and include personal information shared in the ‘Getting Acquainted’ discussion to provide a more personalized context to interactions with each student.


Highly effective tasks are those which are situated within the actual task (authentic or simulated) or end goal for your course for near transfer of information to long-term memory. This is in contrast to far transfer tasks that are related but not exact. Situated learning occurs through different modes of co-participation based on situational factors (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Learning in one situational context may not transfer to another unless it closely mirrors it and the learner is properly prepared; therefore, authenticity is crucial to the learning situation (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989).

Groupwork. Student-led projects provide student agency in the design of their own learning. Provide the parameters, team roles (e.g., team leader/organizer, researcher, writer, & presenter), and peer evaluation forms to ensure everyone participates fully. Include expectations for group grade such as everyone provides proofreading of assignment prior to submission. Encourage student groups to set up their own ground rules for group meetings and task sharing. Monitor group work by asking to be added to the document workspace such as a shared Google folder.

Presentations. As for hybrid courses, maximize the face-to-face meeting by asking students to present their work to each other during seminar sessions in their level one courses. This is referred to as flipped learning when you use class time for student activities instead of teacher-centered activities. For fully online courses, students can share their media presentations (e.g., narrated PowerPoints saved as MP4 files, podcasts, video projects) with other students in a media hosting site that allows students and teachers to provide feedback, as well as tags, titles, and captions.


How can students demonstrate mastery besides multiple-choice tests? These are still useful for testing recall. However, to engage the learner in higher-order thinking skills, we should provide alternative assessments such as project-based learning, essays, portfolios, performance, products, and presentations. These do not need to be end-of-term projects. Formative assessments can be formal or informal (practice tests, digital exit tickets, polls), which serve as comprehension checks and subsequent student feedback during the course. This is in contrast to summative assessments that test your cumulative knowledge on a topic at the end of the term. Formative assessments promote fairness by gathering evidence of students’ understanding throughout the course, which can be used to better inform/modify your instructional practices to meet students’ needs.

Testing is a learning event. Consider setting tests for multiple attempts to help students achieve mastery. This triggers new learning and/or review of content, as student revisit content for answers. Tolerance for error in course assignments also makes it more inclusionary. To prepare for a test, ask students to use the free tool PeerWise to create questions on the topic of study for each other to answer. Some instructors ask their students to submit questions for actual tests. In this scenario, students develop questions from the content according to its structure and importance.

Feedback & Guidance

Learning requires differing feedback loops offered at intervals throughout the course, hopefully, with just-in-time guidance. Feedback can come from intelligent tutors through computer adaptive programs, instructors, teaching assistants, peers, and subject matter experts from the professional field. Formats for feedback loops vary from discussions, recommended edits on a paper, rubrics, and assessments.

Rubrics. Rubrics establish the criteria and scale for various tasks such as discussions and assignments and make the expectations explicit. Rubrics provide consistency and speed with grading. Some electronic rubric features allow you to provide feedback at the criterion level and for overall performance. Additionally, you can tag your departmental student learning outcomes to these rubrics to help students understand why the task is important.

Scaffolded instructional feedback. Scaffolding instruction provides content in meaningful and manageable chunks of information. This entails providing visuals for structure, context, direction, and just-in-time definitions. For example, segment a lecture at viable points and ask reflective questions. For writing, break large tasks such as research papers into point-based phases of the writing process (e.g., outline, literature review with five citations, rough draft, final paper). Consider the universal design for learning and design for tolerance for error by providing space to practice (e.g., mock interviews/comps/presentations, tutorials, simulations).

Peer feedback. It is critical to provide guidelines and criteria for peer feedback tasks. This involves establishing roles, a clear project description, rubric, and instructions for tools used. For writing, assign a peer review of draft papers utilizing MS Word tracked changes or Google Docs suggested edits. Instructors can request access to the documents for review.


In summary, for active learning, students need the following:

  • Preparation for learning events,
  • Situated learning environments for near transfer,
  • Planned multimodal interactions that are cognitively challenging,
  • Cognitive strategies,
  • Feedback loops, and
  • Metacognitive strategies to monitor their learning.


Brown, J., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32–42.

Dempsey, J. V., & Litchfield, B. C. (2001). Surfing below the surface of the Web: HyperInquiry. In B. H. Kahn (Ed.), Web-Based Training (pp. 229-234).  Englewood Cliffs, NY: Educational Technology Publications.

Dweck, C. (2009). Developing Growth Mindsets: How Praise Can Harm, and How To Use it Well. [Presentation]. Paper presented at the Scottish Learning Festival, Glasgow. Retrieved from http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/video/c/video_tcm4565678.asp

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education 2(2-3), 87-105.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Quality Matters™ Rubric Standards. (2014). Higher education rubric, fifth edition. Quality Matters Program (QM). MarylandOnline, Inc. Retrieved from https://www.qualitymatters.org/rubric

How do you engage your students online? 

Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D.

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Dear First Generation College Student,

Dr. Rogers shows participants the various learning activities provided in StudyMate program

Dear First Generation College Student,

Decades ago, I was you. Specifically, I was first-generation low-income (#FLI). Now, I have a doctorate and teach and train others. As an undergraduate, this was not my goal, as I simply pursued a single college degree and a good job. Math, science, and writing were difficult topics for me due to poor reading skills and lack of academic vocabulary. Why? Several variables lead to poor reading and vocabulary, some of which may apply to you. These insights are based on my past experience as an FLI college student and work experience as a developmental reading instruction specialist:

  • Lack of prior practice reading (e.g., no library visits or books around the house due to lack of funds, free time, or low priority/value);
  • Lack of K-12 homework help (e.g., no available time with a parent, parent unable to tackle homework or no funds for tutors);
  • No direct instruction of reading skills and strategies in secondary school (i.e., generally secondary schools focus solely on writing skills in English class); and
  • Peer or family pressure for the practical status quo.

Lacking academic vocabulary is a snowball effect because, with each scholastic year, more vocabulary is taught or otherwise required of you. Don’t fret, with a lot of effort and a growth mindset, you can decrease the gap between you and your high-achieving peers. Tackle your reading assignments early by previewing (skimming and scanning) and looking up unknown words. Keep a log of useful words to reuse in your writing assignments. Use software applications such as electronic flashcards and Grammarly.

Here are some reading comprehension strategies & study aids:

  • Use this online form to review, summarize, study, and think about your reading assignment: Student Guides & Strategies
  • SQ4R: Interact with the text by following the SQ4R strategies: survey, question, read, respond, record, and review. This originated from Robinson’s (1970) SQ3R study method of survey, question, read, recite, and review.
  • Cornell Note-Taking was developed by Walter Paulk at Cornell University in the 1940s and is still used today. Download Cornell’s PDF to use.
  • Learn how to read a scientific article with these Study Guides & Strategies.

This presentation provides some metacognitive strategies to improve your reading skills for college: (Cook, 1989)

For more information on metacognitive strategies, and to access a student learning organizer, visit my college’s LibGuide on Learning Strategies.


Cook, D. M. (1989). Meta-cognitive behaviours of good and poor readers: Strategic learning in the content areas. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.  

Robinson, F. P. (1970). Effective Study (4th Edition). New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D.

Teacherrogers Products
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Focus on the Process to Support the Growth Mindset of Students

Silhouette of head with different objects floating overhead

Dweck (2009) identified students’ beliefs about learning as their mindsets. Those who underestimate their ability to learn may have a fixed mindset, while those who believe that they can learn by establishing attainable goals and applying effort to learn have a growth mindset. Students with a growth mindset want to know the right answer. They want to be corrected; their ego isn’t tied to learning. They don’t mind revealing what they do not know. They understand that learning takes effort, and they enjoy it. Those with a fixed mindset don’t pay attention to corrective feedback; they don’t want to put forth the effort to learn. Instead, they believe that learning shouldn’t take any effort because it’s tied to their intelligence. It shouldn’t be difficult if they’re intelligent; their ego influences how they learn.

It would be helpful for educators to explain the difference between the two mindsets to students and share the research findings. Then ask them how they could make changes (self-regulate) to a growth mindset if they fall into the fixed mindset category. More importantly, educators need to learn how to provide feedback on student performance so as not to endanger a learner’s growth mindset. For example, praising a student for being smart doesn’t build their self-esteem. Instead, students must acquire self-esteem from their own effort and from overcoming struggles. Therefore, educators should praise persistence, acknowledge struggles, and identify students’ selection of challenging material/tasks. Focus on the process, not the product when providing feedback.

Whatever mindset a person has will mold their motivation to learn (Dweck). A person’s personal belief of their ability to complete a task is explained in the self-determination theory posited by Deci and Ryan. According to Deci, this theory states that personal control and autonomy (willingness, volition, endorsement of activity) affect your motivation to learn.  There is intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Deci explained how extrinsic motivation can hinder the motivation to learn. For example, if you pay students for something they already enjoy doing intrinsically, this could cause them to rely on the extrinsic payment. If the extrinsic reward is removed, the student may become unmotivated to do the same task. This is because, with extrinsic rewards, the learner does not maintain control nor autonomy of their learning. Extrinsic motivation is coerced. However, Deci explained how some extrinsically motivating events can become internalized as intrinsic. For example, helping the teacher with cleaning the classroom to earn a reward becomes something the student realizes is important for the good of the class.

Deci, E. What is self-determination theory? [Presentation]. Retrieved from Social PsyClips http://vimeo.com/30754832

Dweck, C. (2009). Developing Growth Mindsets: How Praise Can Harm, and How To Use it Well. [Presentation]. Paper presented at the Scottish Learning Festival, Glasgow. Retrieved from http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/video/c/video_tcm4565678.asp

This article was written by Dr. Sandra Annette Rogers.