Situating Resilience, Grit and Growth Mindset as Constructs of Social Presence in the Fully Online
Learning Community Model (FOLC)
R. van Oostveen
Ontario Tech University, Oshawa, Canada
Royal Roads University, Victoria, Canada
Abstract: Current research has indicated that resilience, grit and growth mindset are psychological
characteristics beneficial to learning (Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews & Kelly, 2007; Kamtsios &
Karagiannopoulou, 2012; Yeager & Dweck, 2012). This paper addresses a significant gap in the literature,
that being that little research has connected the concepts of resilience, grit and growth mindset to online
learners, and to elements specific to the online learning environment. Dweck (2008; 2015) discusses the
difference between fixed and growth mindsets, and indicates how a growth mindset can help students
persevere and develop grit in the face of challenge and adversity. She reveals that the difference between
a fixed and growth perspective lies in whether the individual believes that his/her intellectual ability is
static and fixed, or whether it can grow and change. The perspective held by the learner is a key factor and
has “profound effects on their motivation, learning and school achievement” (Dweck, 2015, p. 49). The
authors attest that this tenacity appears to be even more important for students in digital environments,
and that the development of social and cognitive presence, while allowing for self-directed and student-
centred pedagogical approaches, can have a direct impact on academic success and attrition rates.
Using a theoretical framework based on the Fully Online Learning Community Model (FOLC) (vanOostveen
et al, 2016), the authors address how social and cognitive presence, as evidenced by collaborative work in
problem-based learning environments, can facilitate the development of resilience, grit and growth
mindset in individuals and in communities. We argue that the factors contributing to the development of
these learner characteristics emerge through social interaction, collaboration, and a strong social
interactive presence amongst members of the community. As a result, the deliberate cultivation of an
online learning space that allows for learners to fail within a socially supportive network, can begin to build
resilience, grit and growth mindset, and also address issues of attrition in online learning situations.
Hochanadel and Finamore (2015) indicate, “students must develop those psychological qualities of grit and
tenacity and internalize a mindset that includes persevering, and universities are in a position to help” (p.
49). This paper provides an overview of the connections between, resilience, grit and growth mindset as
they relate to online learning in the FOLC.
Keywords: Resilience, Grit, Growth Mindset, Online Learning
The growth of online learning and the ensuing environmental shift in education to include digital learning
platforms has caused educators to look closely at the way students experience and create learning
opportunities (Weegar & Pacis, 2012). The fourth industrial revolution, complete with its infusion of
technology, is blurring the lines between the physical and digital realms of education and, as such,
educational researchers have been compelled to examine the technological and human characteristics of
online learning, which contribute to the pedagogical effectiveness of online learning environments
(Weegar & Pacis, 2012).
While online learning is readily accessible in diverse digital platforms, allowing students to study at their
own pace and on their own time (Blackmon & Major, 2012), pressures placed on adult online learners are
compounding as students often juggle their education with commitments such as family, full-time
employment and work deadlines (Blackmon & Major, 2012). Smart and Cappel (2006) found online
learning brought with it time pressures for completing modules, and provided inadequate opportunity for
human interaction, a factor deemed necessary for establishing peer support and developing in-depth
group discussions on subject matter. Other pressures were identified including learner motivation, time
management, comfort level with online technologies, as well as technical problems, a perceived lack of
sense of community, time constraints, and difficulties understanding online course objectives (Hassenburg,
2009; Song, Singleton, Hill & Koh, 2004).
In order to address these issues, the authors argue that building resilience in online learners, and in online
learning communities, can be a potent antidote to issues of attrition. Current research has indicated that
hardiness, resilience, grit and growth mindset are psychological constructs beneficial to learning
(Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews & Kelly, 2007; Kamtsios & Karagiannopoulou, 2012; Yeager & Dweck,
2012). Furthermore, success in online learning, which may involve a combination of factors such as
attrition rate, development of online community and significant psychological constructs of individual
learners, may be mediated by various concepts related to the characteristics of individual learners, how
they approach the online learning experience, and how they deal with emerging problems and challenges
in digital learning environments.
Beyond individual learning, this paper situates these concepts of resilience and grit within a Fully Online
Learning Community (FOLC) model. The authors postulate that the support and challenge offered by
acquiring a sense of belonging to an online community can begin to address issues of perceived isolation or
attrition in online learners, and that the FOLC model can provide an environment that facilitates academic
success for online learners.
2. Definitions of Resilience, Grit and Growth Mindset
Numerous authors have described the concepts of resilience, grit, and hardiness, and distinctions among
the terms are as follows. Yeager and Dweck (2012) refer to resilience as “any behavioural, attributional, or
emotional response to an academic or social challenge that is positive and beneficial for development,
such as seeking new strategies, putting forth greater effort, or solving conflicts peacefully” (p. 303). They
refer to non-resilient behaviours as those that result in a negative response to a challenge, and not
beneficial, such as quitting, cheating, or ineffective aggression or retaliation. Seligman (2013) refers to
resilience as “optimism, appraising situations without distorting them, thinking about changes that are
possible to make, and bouncing back from adversity, cognitive or otherwise” (Seligman, 2013, in Perkins-
Gough, 2013, p. 1.) Grit can be defined as having the perseverance and passion for long term goals
(Bashant, 2014; Duckworth, Quinn, & Seligman, 2009), and maintaining “a definite goal which will not be
given up no matter how stressful things get” (Maddi, Matthews, Kelly, Villarreal, Gundersen, & Savino,
2017, p. 356).
Dweck (2008, 2015) discusses the difference between fixed and growth mindsets and indicates how the
latter can help students persevere and develop grit in the face of challenge and adversity. She reveals that
much of the difference between these orientation lies in the belief that their intellectual ability is not static
but that it can grow and change. The perspective held by the learner is a key factor and has “profound
effects on their motivation, learning and school achievement” (Dweck, 2015, p. 49). Dweck believes that
a growth mindset can be taught to faculty, students and parents. Growth mindset is
changing a student’s thinking that intelligence level is not a fixed number and can change.
Grit in education is how one can achieve long-term goals by overcoming obstacles and
challenges. Duckworth and Dweck collaborated, conducting studies to determine how a
fixed belief that failure is permanent could prevent students from achieving academic
success. (Hochanadel & Finamore, 2015, p. 49)
Further to this, Yeager and Dweck (2012) shape their theories of how students approach learning as either
an entity approach or an incremental approach. In the entity theory, students see themselves in a more
static way, approaching ability as defined and distinctly measurable, based on a performance or result on a
discreet task, often measured by a test or exam at a specific time and date set by the instructor. In
addition, when learning situations are framed in an entity approach the learner’s response to adversity is
not seen as an opportunity for change and growth. In contrast, the incremental theory views learners as
responsive and persistent, using effort as a response to challenges and threats, thereby seeing obstacles,
feedback and criticism as a way to improve and continue working at problems. Online learning can present
numerous challenges, technically, cognitively, socially or emotionally, and an incremental approach to
digital learning can empower students to take a more growth-centred mindset.
The challenge facing educators in online environments is this: how can we facilitate and create learning
environments that address issues of learner resilience, grit, and a growth mindset, and what types of
pedagogical strategies can facilitate the development of these psychological constructs online, in
individuals and in communities. We argue that a FOLC model, based on concepts of Problem-Based
Learning, is an ideal format within which learner resilience, grit and growth mindset can be cultivated.
3. Overview of the FOLC model
In general, the FOLC Model integrates elements of more foundational theories guiding practice in distance
and online education, including the Theory of Transactional Distance (TTD) (Moore, 1993) and the
Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). The CoI framework, in
particular, recognizes three presences essential to supporting distance education: Social Presence,
Teaching Presence, and Cognitive Presence.
Figure 1: Fully Online Learning Community Model (FOLC) (Van Oostveen et al, 2016)
Lin and Lee (2006) state that “the online community can be defined as a social relationship aggregation,
facilitated by internet-based technology, in which users communicate and build personal relationships” (p.
480). Wenger and Synder (2000) believe that “online communities facilitate virtual collaboration among
community members with the potential of transforming the activities of off-line into an online context” (in
Lin & Lee, 2000, p. 480). While this social element of online learning remains a predominant challenge to
educators, effective online pedagogy relies on how skilled the instructor is at developing and sustaining a
sense of belonging to the digital community. By combining problem-based learning and a strong sense of
community, educators can become adept at helping students become independent autonomous learners
who are capable of solving the complex problems facing 4th Industrial Revolution learners. Instead of taking
the power role normally assumed by the teacher, instructors become equal members of the community,
bringing unique strengths and learning needs themselves. In this way, instructors blend into the
community, become one with the background. By being present on a level playing field with students, the
teacher’s role in the community disappears, and reappears as something completely different – as
facilitator, lurker, guide and co-learner.
It is clear that the development of social capital can be a key element for creating a sense of belonging, a
safe and challenging learning environment wherein feedback from a critical other enriches the learning
experience. Students are challenged to select and collaboratively solve problems. Kearney et al (2012)
attest that learning “is a situated social endeavor” (p. 1). In our work we find that within the FOLC model,
students invest a great deal of time in developing social networks within their courses, many indicate that
they also create a LinkedIn or Facebook group to supplement their contact with peers, following Twitter
feeds on their mobile devices outside of scheduled class time. Kearney et al (2012) reiterate that “this
socio-cultural view of learning takes into consideration both technical characteristics as well as social and
personal learning processes” (p. 2). LittleJohn, Beetham and McGill (2012) agree that the social elements of
learning are being embraced by students, and that “learners are responding to the new technical and social
opportunities with little help from the formal education system” (p. 551).
The pedagogical strategies that underpin the implementation of the FOLC model provide insight into how
this FOLC environment can facilitate the development of resilience, grit and growth mindset. By creating a
strong social presence and cognitive presence, learners are encouraged to take risks, and thereby have
opportunities to strengthen resilience. A Problem-Based Learning (PBL) environment aligns closely with
Dweck’s (2015) ideals of growth mindset, and Yeager and Dweck’s incremental learning theory (2012),
since it allows for learners to question previously held notions about overcoming challenges and obstacles,
to struggle collaboratively, produce diverse solutions, and create new ways to address learning challenges
(vanOostveen, et al., 2016).
4. Role of PBL in Developing Resilience, Grit and Growth Mindset
The pedagogical foundation upon which the FOLC model rest is that of problem-based learning. We believe
that this orientation, towards a learner-centred and problem-centred approach, allows a social
constructivist approach to learning, wherein resilience, grit and growth mindset are cultivated. Savin-
Baden (2007) states that there are several key features of problem-based learning, including 1. A focus on
complex real-world situations that have no one ‘right’ answer; 2. Students work in teams to confront the
problem, to identify learning gaps, and to develop viable solutions; 3. Students gain new information
through self-directed learning; 4. Instructors act as facilitators; 5. Problems lead to the development of
clinical problem-solving capabilities.
As McNeill, Gosper and Xu (2012) state, “universities increasingly acknowledge the value of skills such as
problem solving, critical thinking and creativity, yet the curriculum needs to be designed to support and
scaffold development of these skills. (2012, p. 283). We argue that educators must move beyond the
curriculum, and create environments within which students choose the curricula they need to solve the
complex problems they find/create, as such, they need to be creative problem-finders as well as problem-
solvers, willing to readily accept failure, and develop a growth mindset and the resilience to persevere.
McNeill, Gosper and Xu (2012) go on to state that “academics who were likely to introduce the
development of student creativity in their curriculum found that confidence emerged as a key
characteristic” (2012, p. 284). Students in these PBL/FOLC environments develop skills in collaboration, the
ability to come to a variety of workable and diverse solutions, and they also acknowledge that each
member of the community, while possessing different skills, has an important and valuable place in the
group. These are critical skills for anyone working in the knowledge economy. LittleJohn, Beetham and
McGill (2012) indicate that the nature of the workplace has changed, and digital forms of information are
changing the meaning of what it means to work. They state that these changes are being exacerbated by
First, workplaces are being transformed such that production and practice are
increasingly knowledge driven. Second, work problems are becoming more complex and
third, people are regularly and repeatedly transitioning into new roles and careers,
necessitating life-long learning. (2012, p.547)
Clearly, a problem-based learning approach allows learners to select the problems they choose to solve, to
collaborate together, to co-design learning tasks, and to come up with diverse and creative solutions. As
the nature of work continues to change, higher education in digital contexts must also move pedagogy
towards more student-centred, problem-based approaches, in order to prepare them for the real world of
work and life beyond the digital classroom. In fact, it is the challenge, critical feedback and measured
adversity that are inherent in the FOLC model that create environments within which online learners can
develop resilience, grit and growth mindsets. Yeager and Dweck concur that “what students need most is
not self-esteem boosting or trait labelling; instead, they need mindsets that represent challenges as things
that they can take on and overcome over time with effort, new strategies, learning, help from others, and
patience” (2012, p. 312).
It is clear that there is a significant gap in the literature involving grit, growth mindset, resilience and
hardiness as they pertain to online learners and digital learning environments. Building resilience, grit and
growth mindset are essential components of learning environments that promote the development of
academic success in online communities. In fact, students need these qualities and characteristics to
function and learn in a digital world. This is what Littlejohn, Beetham and McGill (2011) refer to as “the
capabilities required to thrive, in and beyond education, in an age when digital forms of information and
communication predominate” (p. 547). Kaufman concurs that “school is not simply about tests and
‘checking boxes’ of topics and assignments. Rather, schools today should have a mission of developing
students as individuals and igniting their creativity” (2013, p. 79). Voogt et al (2013) also attest that it is
generally agreed upon that “collaboration, communication, digital literacy, citizenship, problem-solving,
critical thinking, creativity and productivity are essential for living in and contributing to our present
societies” (p. 404).
While research on grit and resilience in online learning is in its infancy, this paper raises issues about how
the development of resilience and grit in online learners, as situated within the FOLC model, can have a
significant effect on attrition and academic success in digital environments.
Bashant, J. (2014). “Developing Grit in Students: Why Grit is Such a Desirable Trait, and Practical Strategies
for Teachers and Schools”, Journal of Leadership and Instruction, Fall, 2014, pp. 14-17.
Blackmon, S.J., & Major, C. (2012) “Student Experiences in Online Courses: A Qualitative Research
Synthesis”, The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Vol. 13, Nol 2, pp. 77-85.
Duckworth, A.L., Peterson, C., Matthews, M. D. & Kelly, D. R. (2007). “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for
Long-term Goals”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 92, No. 6, pp. 1087-1101.
Duckworth, A. L., Quinn, P. D. & Seligman, M. E. (2009). “Positive Predictors of Teacher Effectiveness”, The
Journal of Positive Psychology, Vol. 4, pp. 40-547.
Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Random House Publishing, Inc., New York:
Dweck, C. S. (2015). “Growth”, British Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 85, pp. 242-245.
https://doi.org/10.1111/bjep.12072 Retrieved Dec 10, 2018
Dweck, C.S. (2016). “Managing Yourself: What Having a Growth Mindset Actually Means”, Harvard
Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2016/01/what-having-a-growth-mindset-actually-means
Garrison, R., Anderson, T., & Archer, (2000).” Critical Inquiry in Text Based Environments: Computer
Conferencing in Higher Education”, The Internet and Higher Education, Vol. 2, No. 2-3, pp. 87–105.
Hochanadel, A. & Finamore, D. (2015). “Fixed and Growth Mindset in Education and How Grit Helps
Students Persist in the Face of Adversity”, Journal of International Education Research, Vol. 11, pp. 47-50.
Kamtsios, S., & Karagiannopoulou, E. (2012). “Conceptualizing Students’ Academic Hardiness Dimensions: A
Qualitative Study”, European Journal of Psychology of Education. doi:10.1007/s10212-012-0141-6
Kearney. M., Schuk, S., Burden, K. & Aubusson, P. (2012). “Viewing Mobile Learning from a Pedagogical
Perspective”, Research in Learning Technology, Vol. 20(14406). doi: 10.3402rlt.v2010.14406
Lin, H. & Lee, G. (2006). “Determinants of Success for Online Communities: An Empirical Study”, Behavior
and Information Technology, Vol. 25, No. 6, pp. 479-488.
Littlejohn, A., Beetham, H. & McGill, L. (2012). “Learning at the Digital Frontier: A Review of Digital
Literacies in Theory and Practice”, Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, Vol. 28, 547-556. doi:
Maddi, S. R., Matthews, M. D., Kelly. D. R., Villarreal, B. J. & White, M. (2012). “The Role of Hardiness and
Grit in Predicting Performance and Retention of USMA cadets”, Military Psychology, Vol. 24, 19-28, DOI:
McNeill, M., Gosper, M. & Xu, J. (2012). ‘Assessment Choices to Target Higher Order Learning Outcomes:
The Power of Academic Empowerment”, Research and Learning Technology, Vol. 20(17595) doi:
Moore, M.G. (1993). Theory of Transactional Distance. In Keegan, D. (Ed.) Theoretical Principles of Distance
Education. New York: Routledge.
Perkins-Gough, D. (2013). “The Significance of Grit: A conversation with Angela Lee Duckworth”,
Educational Leadership, Vol. 71, 14-20.
Savin-Baden, Maggi. (2007). "Challenging models and perspectives of problem-based learning."
Management of change: Implementation of problem-based and project-based learning in engineering
(2007): pp. 9-30.
Smart, K.L., & Cappel, J.J. (2006). “Students’ Perceptions of Online Learning: A Comparative Study”, Journal
of Information Technology Education: Research, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 201-219. Retrieved from
Song, L., Singleton, E.S., Hill, J.R., & Koh, M.H. (2004). “Improving Online Learning: Student Perceptions of
Useful and Challenging Characteristics”, The Internet and Higher Education, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 59-70.
vanOostveen, R., DiGiuseppe, M., Barber, W., Blayone, T. & Childs, E. (2016). "New conceptions for digital
technology sandboxes: Developing a Fully Online Learning Communities (FOLC) model." In EdMedia+
Innovate Learning, pp. 665-673. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), 2016.
Weegar, M.A. & Pacis, D. (2012). “A Comparison of Two Theories of Learning-Behaviorism and
Constructivism as Applied to Face-to-Face and Online Learning”, In Proceedings e-leader conference,
Yeager, D.S., & Dweck, C. (2012) “Mindsets that Promote Resilience: When Students Believe that Personal
Characteristics can be Developed,” Educational Psychologist, Vol. 47, pp. 302-314, DOI: