EOTP - Helping Students Persist in Their Studies



Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems (Gever Tulley).

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer (Albert Einstein).

Learning Objectives

To help students persist in meeting academic challenges in your online course, we will discuss practices you can use to:

  • Share research on growth mindset
  • Assign activities and assignments that address growth mindset
  • Normalize academic struggles and mistakes
  • Send messages that recognize student progress
  • Help students overcome imposter syndrome
  • Establish peer-to-peer support
  • Hold both individual and group virtual office hours
  • Provide resources for students
  • Assist students in using campus or online resources


Download Download a skeletal outline to take notes on the key practices included in this module

Course Demonstration

The videos below feature instructors implementing practices shown to increase student persistence in working to overcome academic challenges by building  growth mindset, increasing a sense of belonging, and offering choice. Helping students embrace the concept of growth mindset forms a foundation for perseverance upon which students can build. Therefore, please watch the video addressing growth mindset and at least one, or preferably both, of the other videos to inform your work to inspire student perseverance in overcoming academic challenges.

Building Students’ Growth Mindset

#Download the transcript for this video.

Increasing Students’ Sense of Belonging 

#Download the transcript for this video.

Offering Choice to Increase Persistence

#Download the transcript for this video.

Expert Insights

In this video, José Bowen, a scholar in online teaching and learning, shares compelling thoughts about the best practices for increasing student persistence in overcoming academic challenges.

Download the transcript for this video.

Common Challenges & Misconceptions

In this section, you’ll read about some common challenges and misconceptions associated with teaching practices designed to help students persist in overcoming academic challenges.

Read each challenge or misconception and give a thumbs up  if it is a challenge or misconception you have encountered or thumbs down  if it’s not.

CHALLENGE : I have a few students who seem to give up within the first few weeks of the course, usually after a low grade on an early assignment. I expect them to take the feedback from early assignments and apply it to later assignments to improve but some just seem to give up.

Have you encountered this misconception? Yes No


Feelings of discouragement can set in as early as the second week of a course as the assignment requirements and due dates start to feel overwhelming and beyond the students’ available time (Conrad & Donaldson, 2011). Students who are falling behind or struggling in the course can be encouraged by a personal and supportive email from the instructor (Stavredes, 2011) acknowledging what they have done and encouraging them to continue. Sharing information with students about the benefits of a growth mindset, and reinforcing a flexible mindset in our communications with them, will also help (Darby & Lang, 2019).


Send messages early in the course or with the feedback that you provide on early assignments that express confidence in the student’s ability and your willingness to support them (Darby & Lang, 2019). You can frame this in your discipline, such as, “James, I know you will make an excellent mathematician, but I noticed you struggled on our last three quizzes. You have made growth with identifying the formula to use with each quiz and I am sure we can work together to develop a plan so you can succeed on the next set of quizzes. Please schedule some time with me or drop by virtual office hours to talk.”

When offering feedback or working with students to improve, be sure to include a focus on the growth or progress they are making by referring to the specific improvements you have seen in their work (Nilson & Goodson, 2018).

Frame these messages in terms of learning objectives or personal goals (Nilson & Goodson, 2018). So instead of writing, “Your posts were late,” you can send, “In order for you to show growth on objective X you need to make sure you post a reflection that integrates evidence from the reading by the assigned date. I noticed you missed the last deadline and the class didn’t get to benefit from your insights.”

CHALLENGE : I understand the importance of choice and the positive impact of persistence. However, I have a syllabus to follow and content to cover, so it’s not possible to provide students with lots of choice in what and how they learn in my course.

Have you encountered this misconception? Yes No


Having choice leads to increased motivation to engage with you, your material, and other students in the class (Darby & Lang, 2019). Students tend to take more ownership of their learning and perform better when they are offered choices in assignments and tasks. While it’s important to avoid overwhelming students with too many options and not enough guidance, providing them with the opportunity to choose among topics or assignments that you select can be an inspiring experience.


While it may be challenging to identify areas where you might provide students choice, some possibilities include offering students the option to respond to their choice of discussion prompts or assignment topics. Providing a variety of formats (videos, readings, audio resources) that can be used to study course content can provide choice as well. Also, you might share your support for creative responses using video blogs, podcast posts, or infographics for data-rich tasks (Bowen & Watson, 2017). You could even provide the opportunity for students to select their own group for small-group work.

CHALLENGE : I teach a launched, online, asynchronous course, and I am not sure how I can implement any of the module practices.

Have you encountered this misconception? Yes No

While you may not be able to implement the practices associated with learning outcome #3, which involves offering choice and/or points where appropriate to increase persistence, consider the opportunities you do have to implement some of the other module practices designed to help students persist in online learning. For example, share the research on growth mindset by sharing a Ted Talk. or create your own short video about the importance of a growth mindset. See below for additional ideas on how to implement practices from this module.

  • Before starting a module, if relevant, create a short video in which you share your own struggles connected to the content students will be engaging with and how you overcame them. You may also share where previous students struggled and offer resources to help them meet those challenges.
  • After an assignment or test, share the common errors or mistakes that multiple students made. This helps students to see that they are not the only ones who struggled with a particular concept.
  • Use the “message students who…” feature in your LMS to send emails to students who are meeting your expectations. Thank them for their hard work and congratulate them on their success. To increase a growth mindset, be sure to comment on the effort they must be putting into their work.
  • Use the same feature to message students who are falling short. Share what you have noticed, being sure to include both the successes and the challenges. For example, comment on missed assignments, poor exam grades, great participation in discussion forums, etc. Ask if there is anything you can do to help and offer to meet with them to discuss a plan.
  • Office or student hours are a great way to increase your presence in the course. Post “open office hours.” Explain that you will just be in your online classroom and that students can drop in at any time during your open hours. They can come alone or bring a friend.

For additional suggestions on how to implement the practices highlighted in this course, please see the implementation resources.


In this Observe and Analyze (OA) section, you’ll view a video depicting developing practice where an instructor implements some of the module practices effectively, while other practices may need slight adjustments. Analyze the strategies Dr. Hirsch uses to connect students’ efforts with their progress and help them feel they belong in the program.


#Download the transcript for this video.


  • Online Instructional Practices
  • F2F Instructional Practices
  • Additional Resources

This section includes resources to support your implementation of the practices presented in the module.

Download the online instructional practice implementation resources for this module.

Build students’ growth mindset

Share research on growth mindset

By the time students are in college or university courses, many have developed an understanding of intelligence as something that is fixed and cannot be changed. Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset asserts that this isn’t the case. Ensuring students are aware of this research and showing that they can make themselves smarter through persistence and hard work can help them understand that any setbacks in learning are simply temporary.

Download a resource on sharing research on growth mindset.

Click here for a document you can share with students on growth mindset.

Normalize academic struggles and mistakes

Students who understand that intelligence is not fixed but can be increased by putting in the time, making the effort, and sometimes changing strategies are more likely to do so to overcome challenges and ultimately succeed. A growth mindset can be further developed by providing opportunities for students to explore their academic background and engage in assignments designed to explore growth mindset.

Download a document on assigning activities and assignments that address growth mindset.

Assign activities and assignments that address growth mindset

Sharing your own academic experiences with your students can help them understand that it is not uncommon to struggle periodically when learning new skills and content. In addition, making mistakes can be an important part of the learning process if we reflect on and learn from those mistakes.

Download a resource on normalizing academic struggle and mistakes.

Send messages that recognize student progress

Carol Dweck’s research on growth mindset demonstrates that students with fixed mindsets tend to view feedback as a reflection of their value or worth (Dweck, 2016). As instructors, we can help students accept feedback as an opportunity for learning and development by focusing on their growth or the progress that they have already made, along with offering specific feedback on areas for growth with opportunities to improve.

Download a resource on sending messages that recognize student progress.

Increase students’ sense of belonging

Help students overcome imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome can be defined as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evidence of success. Though the concept of imposter syndrome was identified decades ago, it is not always well understood—especially by students (Corkindale, 2008). Mitigating imposter syndrome can go a long way toward motivating students, calming anxieties of not belonging, and increasing overall student success.

Download a resource on helping students overcome imposter syndrome.

Establish peer-to-peer support

Requiring students to collaborate or team up with other students can create a support system that is helpful to all students and can be critical for students who need additional support, particularly in an online environment (Roper, 2007).

Download a resource on establishing peer-to-peer support.

Hold both individual and group virtual office hours

Since many online courses are asynchronous and can sometimes be isolating, virtual office hours are a good way to give students an opportunity to connect with you and their peers to create a supportive learning environment (Nilson & Goodson, 2018).

Download a resource on holding both individual and group office hours.

Use choice and points when appropriate to increase persistence

Offer choice in course resources

There are multiple opportunities and resource types for offering students choice. One of the benefits of online learning is the ability to provide varied resources for sharing content with students. Readings, videos, websites, audio files, and podcasts can provide the same content in different formats.

Download a resource on offering choice in course resources.

Offer choice in assignment type

Choice is motivating. Students tend to take more ownership over their learning and perform better when they are offered choices in assignments and tasks.

Download a resource on offering choice in assignment type.

Offer options in assignment submissions

Allowing students to choose how they will submit assignments can be engaging and can encourage students to try different approaches.

Download a resource on offering options in assignment submissions.

Offer points to incentivize students to do the work of learning

Use points to encourage the types of learning activities or practices that you recognize as having a positive effect on student success in your course.

Download a resource on offering points to incentivize students to do the work of learning.

This section includes additional resources to support your implementation of these and similar practices in a face-to-face course.

Implementation Resources

Download or print the following resources to practice our techniques for helping students persist in their studies:

Below are additional resources to further explore the module topics.

Video Resource

Resources for Further Reading

  • Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. How we can learn to fulfill our potential. New York, NY: Random House.
  • Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: Rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Consult a comprehensive list of references for this module.

Community Connections


Whitney Afonso, PhD
Associate Professor of Public Administration and Government
UNC School of Government
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

LaWanda Baskin, PhD, FNP-C
Assistant Professor of Nursing
School of Leadership and Advanced Nursing Practice
The University of Southern Mississippi

Kathy Berlin, PhD
Associate Professor; Director of Undergraduate Program
School of Health and Human Sciences
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Tena Boehm Morgan
Adjunct Accounting Instructor
myCareer, Library, and Center for Teaching and Learning (mCLCTL) Division
South Mountain Community College

Liza Bondurant, PhD
Associate Professor of Math
Delta State University

Julie Candio Sekel
Adjunct Instructor
School of Humanities and Global Studies
Ramapo College of New Jersey

Gina Chambers, PhD
Associate Dean, College of Education and Health Professions
School of Education
Park University

Alisa Cooper, EdD
English Faculty
English, Reading, Journalism & Creative Writing Department
Glendale Community College

Angel Herring, PhD
Associate Professor of Child and Family Sciences
School of Child and Family Sciences
The University of Southern Mississippi

Kevin Kelly, EdD
Lecturer, Department of Equity, Leadership Studies and Instructional Technologies
San Francisco State University

Kelly Lester, EdD, MFA
Director, Center for Faculty Development and Professor of Dance
The University of Southern Mississippi

April E. Mondy
Instructor in Management
Division of Management, Marketing, and Business Administration
College of Business and Aviation
Delta State University

Jennifer Whitley, PhD
Lecturer of Mathematics
Department of Mathematics
Park University

Lindsay Wright, PhD
Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator, Child and Family Sciences
School of Child and Family Sciences
The University of Southern Mississippi

José Antonio Bowen, PhD
Former President, Goucher College
Former Dean, Miami University and Southern Methodist University
Author, Teaching Naked 

Allen, D. (2015)
Getting things done: The art of stress-free productivity (2nd ed.). Penguin Books.

Bennett, J. (2020, June 11)
How to overcome ‘imposter syndrome.’ New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/guides/working-womans-handbook/overcome-impostor-syndrome

Boettcher, J. V., & Conrad, R.-M. (2016)
The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips (2nd ed.). Jossey-Bass.

Braxton, J. M. (Ed.). (2008)
The role of the classroom in college student persistence. Jossey-Bass.

Conrad, R.-M., & Donaldson, J. A. (2011)
Engaging the online learner: Activities and resources for creative instruction. Jossey-Bass.

Corkindale, G. (2008, May 7)
Overcoming imposter syndrome. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2008/05/overcoming-imposter-syndrome

Cost, P. (2012)
Building relationships in online classes by incorporating letter writing, buddy systems, and teaching and utilizing proper netiquette. National Social Science Journal, 38(2), 16–19.

Crissman Ishler, J. L., & Upcraft, M. L. (2004)
The keys to first-year student persistence. In M. L. Upcraft, J. N. Gardner, & B. O. Barefoot (Eds.), Challenging and supporting the first-year student: A handbook for improving the first year of college (pp. 27–46). Jossey-Bass.

Dweck, C. S. (2006)
Mindset: The new psychology of success. Random House.

Friedman, J. (2017, April 4)
U.S. News Data: The average online bachelor’s student. U.S. News and World Report. https://www.usnews.com/higher-education/online-education/articles/2017-04-04/us-news-data-the-average-online-bachelors-student

Hart, C. (2012)
Factors associated with student persistence in an online program of study: A review of the literature. Journal of Interactive Online Learning11(1), 19–42.

Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007, March 1)
The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112. https://doi.org/10.3102/003465430298487

Morrow, J. A., & Ackermann, M. E. (2012, September)
Intention to persist and retention of first-year students: The importance of motivation and sense of belonging. College Student Journal46(3), 483–491.

Nilson, L. B., & Goodson, L. A. (2018)
Online teaching at its best: Merging instructional design with teaching and learning research. Jossey-Bass.

Pink, D. H. (2009)
Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Riverhead Books.

Roper, A. R. (2007, January 1)
How students develop online learning skills. EDUCAUSE Quarterly, 30(1), 62–65.

Stavredes, T. (2011).
Effective online teaching: Foundations and strategies for student success. Jossey-Bass.

University of Michigan, Center for Research on Learning & Teaching [CRLTeach]. (2014, February 26)
Eric Mazur, Harvard University. Peer instruction [Video]. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8UJRNRdgyvE

Wieman, C. (2013, November)
Motivating learning. Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative at the University of British Columbia. http://www.cwsei.ubc.ca/resources/files/Motivating-Learning_CWSEI.pdf