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What are learning conditions? (Ascend)

Learning conditions refers to the factors or circumstances that exist in students’ classrooms that support or hinder their ability to learn. How students experience their classrooms’ learning conditions significantly impacts student achievement.

A. What learning conditions are measured in Ascend? 

Ascend helps educators understand the extent to which students experience critical learning conditions:

  • Belonging Certainty: the extent to which students perceive that interpersonal and situational cues in their learning environment signal that they belong.

  • Identity Safety: the extent to which a learning environment signals that a student’s identity is valued. 

  • Institutional Growth Mindset: the extent to which students perceive that their instructor believes that their abilities are malleable and can be improved with effort, feedback, and using effective strategies for learning.

  • Self-Efficacy: having confidence in and estimation of one’s abilities.

  • Social Belonging: the extent to which students perceive that they belong in their learning environment.

  • Social Connectedness: the creation of bonding relationships in the learning environment.

  • Trust and Fairness: the extent to which students perceive that faculty members treat them fairly in interactions, grading, and other forms of evaluation.

For a description of each learning condition as well as specific measures, visit:
B. How do learning conditions impact student achievement?

Students are more engaged, more persistent, and more successful in class when they experience supportive learning conditions—for example, when educators provide critical feedback in an affirming way and establish supportive relationships that help students experience identity safety and belonging. 

Numerous rigorous studies show that learning conditions influence students’ motivation and also their ability to effectively engage and learn. When supportive learning conditions are present, students learn more and learn more equitably. For a review of pertinent research see: Murphy, M., & Destin, M. (2016). Promoting inclusion and identity safety to support college success.

College instructors can use Ascend to measure these learning conditions

C. Why measure learning conditions in college classes?

In many college courses, students of color and financially stressed students are far less likely to experience identity safety, belonging, or instructors who effectively communicate confidence in their potential. This experience gap contributes to the broader opportunity gap because—as research shows—these affirming experiences are crucial for students to fully engage and successfully persist in college.

Even when educators are committed to creating engaging learning experiences for their students, doing so can be hard without feedback—without hearing students’ perspectives. For example, we might think students feel safe, connected, and supported. But we can’t actually know until we ask students. 

Ascend is designed to help educators learn what their students are experiencing and how to make those experiences more equitable. 

D. How does PERTS determine which learning conditions to measure?

PERTS, along with our research partners, considers multiple factors when deciding which conditions to measure: 

  • Is there scientific evidence that the learning condition affects learning? The condition must have a well-established relationship to student success.

  • Can educators directly influence the learning condition? Many conditions affect whether students can learn effectively. Some of those conditions, like hunger and sleep deprivation, can be difficult for educators to directly influence. Other learning conditions can be influenced in powerful ways by educators’ decisions.

E. How does Ascend measure learning conditions? 

College instructors can use Ascend to measure these learning conditions.

When instructors implement Ascend, students are asked to complete a 5-10 minute survey with carefully designed questions that have been developed and tested by leading researchers. The questions help educators identify how students’ experiences in the classroom could be supporting or getting in the way of learning. This enables educators to take targeted actions to influence these experiences and, thereby, improve learning conditions over time. We recommend that instructors survey their students 3 times per semester so that they can monitor how conditions are changing over time and make real-time adjustments based on student feedback.

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