Why a Positive Attitude Matters for Online Students
December 20th, 2011 by Dr. Bruce Johnson
Have you considered how your mindset influences your work as an online student?
Think about the last time you felt a negative reaction – whether it was a result of feedback received that wasn’t what you expected or a grade that you thought should have been higher. Did that experience influence your self-belief and cause you to doubt your ability to do well?
Henry Ford summed up the power of our thoughts best when he stated: “Whether you think that you can, or that you can't, you are usually right.” What you believe about yourself and your capacity to learn has a direct impact on how well you perform in class because you will try harder to succeed if you believe you can or you will eventually give up if you don’t hold that belief.
It can be challenging at times to maintain a positive mindset, especially if you are a working adult with limited time. A positive state of mind becomes especially important for online students because they are not physically connected to other students or their instructor through a traditional classroom. Some students are naturally self-motivated and have an attitude of “I want to learn” – and they are rarely discouraged, unless their instructor is not actively present in the class or does not provide support for their progress. Other students develop a positive frame of reference when they find sources of inspiration, such as the class, course topics, or their instructor. What will also determine your attitude is the self-belief you hold and the power of your ability to stay focused on your goals.
Sources of Inspiration
I’ve found that the class becomes a source of inspiration when students are provided with an environment that is conducive to interactive learning. Class discussions serve as the primary form of interaction and as an instructor I can establish a supportive tone for dynamic discussions by encouraging students to be involved and share their thoughts and ideas. During discussions students explore the diverse experiences and knowledge of other students and as a result they discover new perspectives, alternatives, and ways of viewing the topics. This environment establishes a positive tone for the class and creates a sense of partnership in the process of learning.
The course topics also inspire students when the material is brought to life and they understand how the theoretical concepts apply to the real world. During discussions I share professional examples and experiences from my background, and I extend that discussion by asking students to develop their own ideas, solutions, and projects that can be tested in the workplace. This helps to develop a positive attitude about the process of learning because it becomes real to students and they realize that it is possible to affect changes in the workplace based upon what they’ve learned.
Just as important to students is the feeling of inspiration they experience when I encourage them to believe in themselves. While providing feedback I start with an upbeat note, acknowledging something they’ve done and the effort that has been put into completing the assignment. It is easy to look at the negative aspects of feedback first and allow that to discourage your progress. If you are aware of positive aspects of your progress and feel hopeful about what you can do, you are likely to continue putting in your best effort because you are inspired to do so. I’ve found that students who believe their instructor is supporting their progress develop a positive state of mind about their capacity to learn. When students participate in the process of learning from that perspective, they are usually completing their assignments successfully, making progress, and developing a strong sense of self-motivation.
Students’ beliefs include what they hold as truth about their ability and their potential to learn. Your beliefs are subconsciously held, which means you don’t spend time analyzing why you believe what you do and instead you seek confirmation of these beliefs through your interactions in class. If you subconsciously believe that your instructor doesn’t care about your progress, you will look for evidence to support it. This in turn determines your attitude about the class, along with the amount of time, energy, and effort you’ll devote to the process of learning. My approach is to create a meaningful learning environment that encourages self-discovery. I encourage students to consider what they believe and I help them find techniques that provide a source of motivation and result in a positive experience.
The Power of Focus
To me, teaching students to develop a positive mindset occurs when I help them develop self-motivation and determination.
One technique I’ve taught is called a positive mindset focus, which involves watching short inspirational videos. Simple Truths, a source of motivational books and products for students and educators, has an email newsletter that provides links to videos that I’ve recommended for students. Students find that when they experience negative reactions, moments of discouragement or frustration, or they need an attitude tune-up, they will watch a video to cause a shift in thinking. This is similar to another approach I recommend – visualization.
Students develop an ability to stay focused on their goals, which includes personal, professional, and academic goals, when they write down those goals and visualize what it will feel like to experience completion of those goals. For example, are you completing a degree to make a career change or develop new career options? Whatever your goals may be, write them down in very descriptive terms, imagine what they will look like and feel like when completed, and keep the list handy so you have a source of self-motivation. If you can find methods of keeping your focus you will likely experience a much better disposition about the process of learning.
Why do you need a positive attitude? Because as an online student it is up to you to maintain momentum and keep your progress going forward – without the benefit of direct contact with your instructor or other students. Your attitude is a reflection of your self-belief and a negative attitude can quickly derail your efforts. To create a positive belief about yourself and attitude about learning, look for sources of inspiration and motivation, stay focused on your goals, and visualize completing everything you have set out to accomplish.
How do you develop a positive attitude? Let me know @DrBruceJ
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