Learned Helplessness and the Classroom

 Quick Video to Summarize  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q35FtODk64g

In this course, we learned about the phenomena of learned helplessness which is defined by our textbook as a decrement in learning ability that results from repeated exposure to uncontrollable aversive events. Created by Seligman and Maier the experiments "theorized that the dogs became helpless because they had learned during exposure to inescapable shock that any attempt to escape was useless" (Powell et al, 2017). So when these same dogs when confronted with shock in a new situation they felt helpless and gave up. 

In regards to children, teachers should be aware of potential learned helplessness in their students. Learned helplessness can look like a refusal to accept help, frustration leading to easily giving up, little self-worth, and lack of motivation. Students could have developed these from previous grades where their teachers refused to help them or made them feel isolated from the rest of the classroom. Or from their home environments where they don't receive much praise or where their parents are behind their backs showing them how to walk "on their tip toes". 

Educators should be conscious and aware of these signs mentioned above and help students move away from feeling helpless or unable to succeed in anything. Educators should normalize and celebrate failure, model an optimistic mindset, and work with students to achieve "bite-size" goals. 

Guiang-Myers, G. (2021, November 17). How to counter learned helplessness. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/how-counter-learned-helplessness/


  1. Dear Stephanie,
    Great blog and writing. Learned helplessness was actually something I only thought older adults got in later life when there body start to get old and not work as well. I am very lucky to never have/had a teacher who straight up refused to help me but I can only imagine the damage it has on a young impressionable student. I completely agree that educators need to be more conscious and aware to help students who might be suffering from learned helplessness and they should absolutely normalize failure and make it less negative and punishing. Great post.


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