Going Beyond Predictive Analytics in Higher Education

Higher education has evolved to be a data informed industry. Many institutions have implemented data analysis for decision-making after having been an anecdote driven industry for decades. It’s a great evolution in higher education’s data journey. Even with predictive analytics in place, however, that’s not enough to know how to support students.   Predictive analytics … Read more

Why Mindset Matters Most

Today’s consumers demand personalization, and learners are no different. Schools and colleges often use demographic data to personalize learner engagment, but that rarely provides a truly personalized experience for students 


Demographic data doesn’t tell the whole story. It provides important context about a person’s life and surroundings but doesn’t tell us who a person is on the inside. Mindsets, on the other hand, do. Using mindset and behavioral data allows you to humanize your dataset and offer learners a truly personalized experience.  


Mindsets are beliefs and attitudes we hold about the world and ourselves that affect our decision making and behavior. Public discourse is now more focused on acknowledging people’s demographic identities and experiences. While important to understand a social context through demographics, growing evidence suggests it is not enough.  


Why demographics don’t tell the whole story  

Mindset data can often tell us more about people than demographics can. In one study, researchers found that mindsets were twice as predictive of test scores when controlling for all other factors. Students with a highly motivated mindset who attended schools with low performance outcomes achieved similar outcomes to students who attended high performing schools. This mindset had a similar effect to vaulting into a higher socioeconomic bracket. Mindsets clearly play a powerful role in a student’s life.  


TikTok research is also showing us that mindsets transcend demographics. TikTok consumer research on the European sector showed that actions and mindset were more important than age in predicting user behavior. They identified four mindsets of TikTok users that transcended demographic categories. Using demographics in data has been the primary strategy for many data-driven decision makers, but Head of Europe, Global Business Solutions at TikTok says that “In reality, we are really just ascribing them [people] to all sorts of traits and behaviors that could apply to anyone.” In our everevolving social world, mindsets can tell us more than just demographics can.  


Many mindset challenges can also be present across demographics. A growth mindset–the idea that skills and abilities are developed over time instead of being stagnant–is found in people across all demographic categories, as is procrastination. And psychological phenomena like imposter syndrome or stereotype threat can be more common among underrepresented groups like women and people of color. Even so, they occur across these demographic groups. 


Demographics don’t tell the whole story because they overlook the individual. People can be from the same demographic group and still think and behave differently.  


Why mindsets matter 

Mindsets offer insight on people’s values and help us understand them on a deeper level. Demographic categories can’t fully explain why people interpret events the way they do in the same ways mindsets can 


Take a pair of identical twins—they grew up in all the same demographic categories but have distinct mindsets, so each sibling will approach situations differently. If Twin A’s has a growth mindset and Twin B’s mindset is anxious, how we encourage each of them to take advantage of tutoring resources will differ. The table below exemplifies how messaging differs by mindset.  









Twin A  


Growth mindset 


Need help sharpening your skills? Sunset College’s peer tutoring program is a great resource to help you work on topics that are challenging for you. Make an appointment with a tutor here.  


Twin B 




It can feel overwhelming when you’re struggling with a topic in class. That’s ok. Sunset College’s peer tutoring program can pair you with a student who can guide you through your challenges. You can make an appointment here.   


Despite being from the same demographic categories, these twins feel very differently about their challenges in a class. Demographics based, one-size-fits-all messaging misses key differences between the two individuals, but mindset based messaging gets to the core of how they feel and behave.  


Using demographic data is also increasingly complicated because people can defy stereotypes or assumptions that go along with these demographics. Increasingly, our idea of what a demographic group is like is not nuanced enough.  


Mindsets, on the other hand, are not tied to one demographic group. Mindsets explain what motivates an individual, what keeps them from doing something, and shed light on their perspective. They provide key data that informs how to effectively communicate with someone.  


Carol Dweck’s game-changing research on mindset is a prime example of how mindset can transcend demographics and provides personalization. In one case study, students across various demographic groups such as income level, race, and English learner status were exposed to growth mindset lessons. Those with a growth mindset reported higher standardized test scores and growth. Embracing mindsets and behavior humanizes data and avoids the oversimplifications of demographics. To put it simply, mindsets truly explain the “why” of human behavior. 


Humanizing data driven decision making  

Data driven decision-making is the right way to go, but it’s important to focus on the right kind of data. Mindsets are powerful and can say more about an individual person than just their demographics can. Humanizing data by using behavioral and mindset data unlocks a new level of understanding that can help learners get closer to meeting their goals.  

How AI Enhances Advisors’ Ability to Support Students

It’s easy to feel that academic, financial, and career advisors in higher ed could be replaced by AI, especially with all the talk about ChatGPT and generative AI. As more colleges and universities adopt technology to help achieve desired student outcomes, this future seems more like an upcoming reality.   But the adoption of AI should … Read more

Why Behavioral Data is Better Than Demographic Data

Data is essential to understanding today’s learner. What type of data is used is equally important.  


Education has made the shift from anecdotal and descriptive data to a more predictive data focused approach over the past decade, but more needs to be done to embrace different types of data and analytics approaches that enable better understanding, support, and connections between instructors and students. That’s where behavioral data comes in.  


What is behavioral data?  

Behavioral data is data on a person’s engagement with websites, resources, a school campus, and more. Most of these data are currently collected through a customer relation management (CRM) platform, websites, LMS and automated systems, among other sources. Behavioral data is dynamic—it represents what a person does while they are engaged in their learner journey. Demographic data, on the other hand, is stagnant data that segments people into different groups based on demographics such as age, gender, race, sexual orientation income, and zip code.   


What demographic data does  

Demographic data can be useful for generating insight into a person’s circumstances–it can tell you about their age, where they live, or what their gender identity is, for example. Demographics can provide additional contextual awareness of a student and what she may be experiencing in her individual learning journey. This type of information can also help understand high level group experiences 


But demographic data also has downfalls. Some demographic data serves as a proxy for information without truly telling you about a person or digging deep into the diversity of a large group. Gender, for example, can serve as a proxy for preferences. Using traditional demographic approaches could lead marketers to advertise baby products to middle-income women ages 20-35. Even with disaggregating the data, they could end up wasting their time and money advertising to women who don’t have children or are not interested in having children. If these same marketers used behavioral data instead, they could advertise to people who have shown interest in baby products and target older women with children, current or future fathers, and non-binary parents. Behavioral data digs deeper into the diversity within demographic groups.  


Demographic data can also perpetuate bias. Data is simply a quantitative representation of our world, so inequities in our society can easily be replicated. Even without using data on protected groups like race or disability status, some demographic data can serve as a proxy for this sensitive information and perpetuate inequities. As an example: zip code data can appear neutral at first, but given that systemic inequities have pushed certain groups into particular neighborhoods, that data can lead to similar results as having used race or socioeconomic status data.  


Why behavioral data is better 

Behavioral data, on the other hand, represents patterns in people’s behavior and give insight on their mindsets and decisions. Where demographics tell the “who”, behavioral data tells you “why” and “how”.  


Implementing behavioral data in your student success efforts is better than just using demographic data because it gives a more holistic view into your students. Behavioral data gives greater context into who your audience is, especially when combined with demographic data. With behavioral data, you can understand the causal factors of the decisions people are making and how those decisions affect their outcomes instead of just knowing people’s characteristics.  


Using behavioral data also allows your institution to create a better connection with students. You can understand how students are engaging with material, what motivates them to continue their education, and what is keeping them from progressing. Empowered with this information, you can provide scalable and one-to-one personalized messaging and support to help each student with exactly what they need. Much like the personalization engines driving value for many consumer facing apps (Uber, Spotify, Netflix), properly applied behavioral data fosters a better connection between students and the institution.  


Why using behavioral data is important  

Personalization, connection, and belonging are more important than ever in the education sector, and using behavioral data can help you foster that for better results. This year, just 12 percent of college students reported feeling a strong sense of belonging at their institutions, an essential component of student success. Connecting with students of all ages and levels is crucial during the post-pandemic recovery, and using the right data can help. Using behavioral data allows you to create a more personalized experience for learners at a time when students are seeking connection in ways that demographic data alone can’t.  


Using behavioral data to support students and learners allows you to meet them where they are at and better support their needs. Behavioral data offers deep insight into who a person is in the moment. Contact us to learn how we can help you offer more personalized support for your students.