The relationship between one’s sense of agency and one’s learning engagements

Principal Metaphors

Mindset offers a contrast between those who see their learning-related traits as fixed/pre-given and those who see them in terms of growth and expansive possibility. Each is associated with distinct clusters of metaphors:
Fixed Mindset Growth Mindset
  • Knowledge is … knower-independent facts (“Entity View”)
  • Knowing is … applying, repeating
  • Learner is … a passive agent
  • Learning is … gaining
  • Teaching is … trait-focused
  • Knowledge is … horizon of possibilities (“Incremental View”)
  • Knowing is … broadening, elaborating
  • Learner is … an active agent
  • Learning is … growing
  • Teaching is … effort-focused




Mindset is focused on the relationship between learners’ conceptions of themselves and their attitudes toward learning. It distinguishes between two types of mindset, fixed and growth. Learners with a fixed mindset typically see ability as fixed and learning in terms of a performance that reflects that ability. Learners with a growth mindset typically see ability in more expansive terms, defined at least in part by the effort put forth.


It is not clear whether Mindset offers distinct categories or poles on a continuum. Commentators who interpret the theory in terms of distinct categories typically accuse it of being reductive – and yet another way of assessing and categorizing children. More troubling, the discourse appears to have been used to displace blame for poor teaching onto learners (who, according to the discourse, are occupying the wrong mindset or not trying hard enough).

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Carol Dweck

Status as a Theory of Learning

Mindset is more of a description of a psychological phenomenon than a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Mindset is perhaps more appropriately construed as a theory of teaching than a theory of learning or learners. It offers extensive commentary and advice on the connection between teachers’ emphases and learners’ mindsets.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Although tremendously popular within education, Mindset does not have the empirical base that is commonly assumed. Significantly, Dweck’s original research on Mindset has not been replicated.

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Mindset” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.

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