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Building Resilience in Learners: 10 Things Any Educator Can Do

Successful learners manage negative emotions and persevere through difficult times by demonstrating a high level of resilience. At RSVP Design, we aim to make learning a joyful and stimulating process and the feeling of having achieved something worthwhile brings its own rewards. However, we also know that learning can be a stressful experience, associated with a whole raft of negative emotions, self-doubts and frustrations.

I am using the term resilience to mean the ability to overcome adversity and obstacles. Learning is a risky undertaking. It risks failure and can incite criticism and lack of acceptance from peers, perhaps with a backlash from those who believe new learning negates previous beliefs and accepted practices. And sometimes learning is just plain difficult, making self-discipline hard unless there are powerful motivational forces driving us on. So how do we help learners of all ages to become more resilient, more able to persist with problems and with a higher tolerance for not knowing? Here are ten things to focus on.

1.) Create a safe environment.

People learn best in an environment that is clearly pro-learning, where the critical mass of people is interested in learning and the risk of humiliation for learning well and achieving is minimal.

2.) Create a culture in which learners are taught to forget about their own ideas of how able they are.

Concepts such as talent, ability, intelligence and aptitude all suggest to learners that learning ability is fixed and that their performance reflects something about their level of capability that is unchangeable. Instead, encourage them to believe that almost anyone can learn virtually anything if they persist long enough.

Student using Images of Resilience 3.) Develop attention by increasing the novelty and stimulation of learning through the use of multi-sensory, challenging activities.

Vary the learners' perspective in relation to the stimulus through shifting viewpoints or by rewarding a curious, questioning approach to the world and its problems and opportunities.

RSVP Design produce specifically designed activities to help build resilience in learners, for example, Images of Resilience (in Education), Building Personal Resilience Coaching Cards, and our Resilience Module.

4.) Allow learners to experience difference.

In terms of learning, human beings are set up to perceive differences and to make sense of what is being perceived: to seek meaning. We need to allow learners to experience, and reflect upon, difference. This may mean trying out new behaviours or testing an unusual hypothesis. During the ‘experiencing difference’ time try to involve learners through activity or intrigue. An effective activity for this would be our Challenging Assumptions puzzle.

Students using Challenging Assumptions5.) Use problem-based learning.

Encourage learners to build resilience not only to try to solve problems but to seek out further problems and challenges to overcome. Follow this with information processing, discussions, evaluation of outcomes and critical thinking about the usefulness and application of the learning.

6.) Use collaborative working in which learners take responsibility for part of the learning.

First learners learn, then they teach it to others. This requires a deeper level of understanding. Modern learners can be ‘data rich but experience poor’. Encourage critical curiosity and help learners to “know what to do when you don’t know what to do” (Guy Claxton: Claxton, G. (I 997) Hare Brain Tortoise Mind, London Fourth Estate.) Our Critical Curiosity Module is an engaging workshop to help develop these skills.

7.) Explore creative learning strategies with learners.

Resilient learners go beyond accurately perceiving events and obstacles around them to developing creative ways to utilise these experiences. Resilient learners not only lead their own learning, they become their own self-mentors. Educators can help by encouraging reflection on individual learning strategies, accepting some mistakes and being prepared to wait for answers until the learners have found successful ways of working things out for themselves.

8.) Create situations of uncertainty. Resilient learners are willing to ‘have a go’ and are able to tolerate the uncertainty of not knowing.

As educators, be prepared to offer ambiguity. The task does not always need to be absolutely clear and the solution may not be immediately obvious even when it is found. Be prepared to hold learners in a degree of discomfort while they work out for themselves what is needed for success.

9.) Make connections.

Create the need for learners to connect new learning to things they already know, look for patterns in information, transfer learning from one situation to another and connect the new learning with the achievement of future goals.

10.) Visualise a successful learning process.

Imagination and visualisation have a positive effect on performance. However, it is not sufficient just to imagine a problem solved or overcome. In a study on visualisation methods regarding studying, one group of students were asked to visualise themselves studying while another group were asked to visualise themselves having obtained a high mark. Visualising yourself studying increased performance. Concentrating on obtaining a high mark had negative effects (Taylor, Pham, Rivkin & Armor 1998). Mental rehearsal of the process of learning seems to be more important than rehearsing collecting the prize!

At RSVP Design, we are committed to help you help your learners! Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like advice, have any questions, or would like more information about our experiential activities.

In the meantime, browse our experiential learning activities which will help build resilience in your learners!