How Yoda Got It Wrong: Growth Mindset in Experiential Learning

Monday, April 9, 2018Elizabeth Sanders

Elizabeth Sanders, MLIS

LS 102 Coordinator, Reference/Instruction Librarian at Sims Memorial Library, EL Team Member


One of the worst pieces of “wisdom” I have ever seen is also one of the most famous. You know the one. Luke Skywalker, struggling Jedi in training, isn’t certain he can lift the heavy X-Wing fighter lodged in Dagoba’s mud. He knows that he’s been able to lift stones with his mind, but trying to lift something else that’s way bigger? He’s just not sure. All the same, he indicates that he’ll try.     

Yoda’s response?

Quote 1


Jedi Master he may be, but good pedagogy he has not.

While Yoda’s ultimately correct that the X-Wing can be lifted, his advice drives me crazy as a teacher. There most certainly is ‘try,’ and it’s an integral part of learning, especially experiential learning. Before learners can know or master, they first have to try.

Yet, we see that many students don’t try. They don’t ask questions in class when given the chance, even though we know they have questions. They avoid answering questions we ask, preferring to say ‘I don’t know,’ even when they do know. They don’t want to submit their work for critique of any kind, whether to a classmate or to a potential publisher, even if the experience could improve their technique (and grades).


I blame Yoda. Or, more specifically, I blame the mindset that Yoda promotes. Yoda’s mindset is fixed. You either can or can’t. Other characteristics of a fixed mindset can be seen in the infographic below:


If students have a fixed mindset, it’s easy to see why they wouldn’t try. Asking questions or answering questions incorrectly shows everyone they are stupid. Challenges of any kind are hated because they carry the risk of failure. Flaws in their work or rejection show they will never meet their goals. There’s no point in putting forth effort because, no matter what, they will always be as good or bad as they are right now.

However, there is another mindset that students could have instead. This mindset believes abilities can strengthen over time, that mistakes can be valuable teaching moments, and that feedback helps reach goals. This is the growth mindset.

The poster teacher for the growth mindset is Ms. Frizzle of The Magic School Bus. Her motto?

Quote 2

The focus here is on trying. It acknowledges that learning is not a simple or clean process, so mistakes are to be expected and analyzed rather than avoided. Effort is rewarded with improvement, so it’s worthwhile to ask questions and to tackle challenges. Confidence and self-awareness increase.

All of these characteristics of the growth mindset dovetail with experiential learning. For example, the National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE)’s Eight Principles of Good Practice for All Experiential Learning Activities include preparation and planning, reflection for self-growth, and monitoring for continuous improvement. In each of these, the underlying expectation is that through experience--through ‘trying’--students will improve their understanding. It isn’t a static characteristic but a fluid one, one that can grow.

In short, Yoda got it wrong. There is a ‘try,’ and it can be more powerful and enriching than simply accepting ‘do or do not.’


Holmes, N. (2016). Two Mindsets [Infographic]. Retrieved from

National Society for Experiential Education. (2013). Eight Principles of Good Practice for All Experiential Learning Activities. Retrieved from

Further Resources on Growth Mindset

Delaney, S. (2016). How can I encourage the growth mindset with three simple tips? [Video file]. Available from:

Dweck, C. S. (2017). Mindset. London: Robinson.

Paff, L. (2016). How does grit team with a growth mindset to cultivate lifelong learning? [Video file.] Available from: