Mindset and the Learning Landscape

The Learning Landscape provides a way to recognise and develop a learner’s Mindset.

In many ways, a learner’s Mindset is a reflection of how well they understand the Learning Landscape and their capacity to move through it.

A learner with a Growth Mindset understands they are free to roam the Learning Landscape, exploring the furthest reaches and highest peaks. They realise that the journey may not be easy, especially as they climb higher, and they know they may not currently be sufficiently prepared for it. But they take their backpack and are prepared to fill that backpack with the necessary tools (their Habits of Mind) for the journey. 

A learner with a Growth Mindset recognises they are not meant to know their way through the Learning Landscape. They appreciate the need for guides. They also know that, even with the help of guides, mistakes will happen. They use these mistakes to find their way and become better learners.

A learner with a Growth Mindset understands that any limits or boundaries they encounter are temporary, not permanent. They know they are free to explore any part of the Learning Landscape they choose and to climb as high into the mountains of expertise as they want. Of course, they also recognise that such exploration is not free or easy. It will cost them time, energy and resources in the form of effort. But they are free to choose to invest these resources if they want to explore higher.

On the other hand, a learner with a Fixed Mindset believes their journey through the Learning Landscape is restricted. They see fences and boundaries that keep them in one part of the Learning Landscape, prohibiting them from exploring others. This kind of learner believes their backpack contains all the tools they will ever have. It is a fixed size; there is no more room for new tools. As a result, there are challenges this learner will never be able to master, with limits to how high they can climb.

Learners who see boundaries tend to avoid those areas of the Learning Landscape. Because they see their backpack as limited, they may only take on challenges they know they are equipped to succeed at. These learners see mistakes as evidence that they aren’t suited to that part of the Learning Landscape. They feel restricted and limited in the choices they can make. They consider some parts of the Learning Landscape as fenced off to them, the province of other people. As a result, there are some challenges and parts of the Learning Landscape they feel they will never be able to reach. Regardless of whether they want or need to explore those parts, no amount of effort will be sufficient.

As educators, our role is to nurture students along the Mindset Continuum. We must help them to develop an increasingly growth-oriented Mindset and understand their capacity to develop their most basic characteristics.

As educators, our role is to nurture students along the Mindset Continuum. We must help them to develop an increasingly growth-oriented Mindset and understand their capacity to develop their most basic characteristics.

One way teachers can do this is by consistently using the metaphor of the Learning Landscape in the classroom. Every time we teach something new, learners are actively exploring the Learning Landscape. Each time a learner fails, we help them move past their limits by teaching them how to fill their backpacks with the Habits of Mind. Each time a learner is confused, they are simply lost in the Learning Landscape and in need of signposts to reach their goal.

With the Learning Landscape, we help students recognise the types of challenges they take on and identify whether they are Uphill, Downhill, Performance or Learning Challenges. Are they gaining height in the Learning Landscape? Are they filling their backpacks so they can go higher?

Every time we admire someone for their achievement, perhaps because they are standing atop a mountain of expertise, we help students recognise the journey they have taken. We explain that at the start of their journey, their backpack wasn’t any fuller than our learners’ backpacks are today. Their expertise was as far from them then as it is for our learners today.

But we also explain to learners how the expert continued on their journey, slowly filling their backpack. At each step of their journey, they were at their (current) best, but always getting better, always climbing higher.

By consistently referencing the Learning Landscape and the process of learning it describes, we help students better understand themselves as learners. By presenting them with Learning Challenges, by filling their backpacks with the tools to succeed, we help them experience themselves as learners. And, as we teach them to take charge of the learning process, to fill their backpacks, recognise their Learning Zone, embrace challenges, use mistakes and tailor feedback, we help them become better learners.

All of which helps them more deeply understand their own capacity for learning, nurturing a more growth-oriented Mindset in each and every learner.


James Anderson is a speaker, author and educator who is passionate about helping fellow educators develop students as better learners. James’ work combines Growth Mindset with Habits of Mind and Practice to create Learning Agility. He puts the growth back into Growth Mindset. And through creating and describing the Mindset Continuum, he provides the cornerstone for effective Growth Mindset interventions.

James is a Certified Speaking Professional and speaks regularly at conferences around the world. He has published several books including Succeeding with Habits of Mind, The Agile Learner, The Mindset Continuum and The Learning Landscape.

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