By Sharon Kelly, Teaching Faculty Member and Degree Advisor, Faculty of Management/Educational Counsellor, Student Affairs, VIU

brain-exercisesI believe in people’s ability to grow, change and develop over time – it was something my mother taught me.  This great potential for growth is why I love working as an educator and why I also love the topic of metacognition.  The summary I appreciate regarding how to teach metacognition goes like this:  teach students that their ability to learn is mutable; teach goal setting and planning skills; teach students to monitor and adjust their learning strategies to better meet their learning goals (Lovett, M., 2008, Educause Learning Initiative). This first post in the 5x5x25 challenge will address the notion that learning is mutable.


Several people’s work and ideas have influenced my own thoughts regarding the mutability of learning.  Carol Dweck, world-renowned researcher and author of the popular book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success has been the most recent as well as influential.  The idea, which she developed over several decades of research, is that people hold either a fixed or growth mindset and that holding a growth mindset can set a person up for higher levels of motivation, productivity and success. It is an influential idea regarding beliefs about learning.  Those with a growth mindset believe that their basic abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication.  Talent in any arena is just a starting place.  Moreover, talent can be developed through a love of learning and resilience in the face of setbacks. People with a growth mindset pay attention to feedback regarding their errors and how to improve or change strategy when not successful in order to figure out a better approach for next time.

Resource Videos

Here are 3 of my three favorite videos, which are good resources for learning more about the growth mindset:

Growth vs. Fixed Mindset:

The Power of Belief: Mindset and Success:

This last one is not about the growth mindset per se, but I believe it showcases people who in my estimation must possess a growth mindset:

Life = Risk:  


The burgeoning field of neuroplasticity also supports the idea that the ability to learn is mutable.  Exercise aerobically for instance, get our hearts pumping for the recommended 20 minutes, and our brains will produce brain-derived neurotropic factor, BDNF for short.  BDNF is like “Miracle Gro” for our brains and it encourages the growth of neurons. Then, when we challenge our brain with complex analysis or by simply memorizing new vocabulary or learning a new dance step, new neural pathways are established.  As John Ratey (2008) states in his book SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, “The evidence is incontrovertible: aerobic exercise physically remodels our brain for peak performance”. Indeed, in a 2007 study of humans, German researchers found that people learn vocabulary words 20% faster following exercise than they did before exercise, and that the rate of learning correlated directly with levels of BDNF  (Ratey, 2008, p. 45 in SPARK).

If we want to encourage brain growth, we can encourage students (or ourselves for that matter) to take breaks from study to run stairs, skip a rope, play squash and spawn new neurons (and relieve stress).  Then, the challenge of learning something new will help those new cells survive.  Caution: one cannot learn complex new material while exercising, but as soon as one stops, the blood flow shifts back to the brain and this is prime time to focus on a task that requires sharp thinking or complex analysis. Bottom line, there is a direct biological connection between movement and cognitive function.

Want to learn more from Dr. John Ratey?  Listen to a recording of him speaking at the Neuroplasticity and Education Conference in Vancouver (2013):

Teaching students that their ability to learn is mutable is the first important lesson in encouraging students to become self-regulated learners.