Learning Principles

Module 11 

Explanatory Style

An individual’s explanatory style is the general way in which the individual interprets daily events and consequences. There are two basic styles

It is important to remember that these two style exist on a continuum, not a dichotomy. Therefore, individuals are not exclusively one or the other, but tend to a certain style in most situations.

Mastery Orientation: These individuals attribute accomplishments to their own abilities and efforts.

Learned Helplessness: These individuals attribute their success to outside and uncontrollable factors and believe that failure reflects a lack of ability.


Jerry is an enthusiastic, energetic learner. He enjoys working hard at school activities and takes obvious pleasure in doing well. He is always looking for a challenge and especially likes to solve the "brain teaser" problems that his teacher assigns as extra credit work for the day. He can’t always solve the problems, but he takes failure in stride and is eager to try the problem the following day.


Jason is an anxious, fidgety student. He doesn’t seem to have much confidence in his ability to accomplish school tasks effectively. In fact, he is always underestimating what he can do; even when he has succeeded, he doubts that he can do it again. He seems to prefer filling out drill-and-practice worksheets that help him practice skills he’s already mastered rather than attempting new tasks and problems. As for those daily brain teasers, he sometimes takes a stab at them, but he gives up quickly if the answer isn’t readily apparent.

Mastery vs Helpless

Mastery oriented students tend to: