The Asset Model: An Approach to Teaching and Education

Dec. 12, 2023

A value of the asset model is that it stimulates the mindset of lifelong learning.
A value of the asset model is that it stimulates the mindset of lifelong learning.
Source: iStock
Traditionally, teaching models approach education from the deficit model, which is based on the mindset that students are lacking knowledge, and it is the teacher’s job to pour the missing knowledge into the students’ minds. 

While this approach was the standard for many years, it is no longer best practice. There is a need to move away from the deficit approach and toward a more inclusive approach: the asset model. This model builds on what students possess and allows them to use their strengths to propel themselves forward; it represents a pedagogical shift from “problems” and what is lacking to “possibilities” and what is thriving.  

This article provides an overview of the value of the asset model and how educators can use this approach when working with students and mentees.  

The Value of the Asset Model 

The deficit model can often perpetuate exclusion and bias, while the asset model fosters a sense of belonging and prioritizes inclusion. The deficit model often assumes students have limitations and focuses on what they cannot do. This kind of approach can demotivate students and may not inspire lifelong or independent learning. Conversely, the asset model (often referred to as the strengths-based approach) works to hone a student’s strengths, rather than weaknesses, thus motivating them to succeed. The question regarding a student’s ability shifts from “What does the student need to work on?” to “How can the student utilize their strengths to advance their learning and development?”

Essentially, the asset approach focuses on what a student brings to the table instead of focusing on what they lack. This works to create lifelong learners and learners that are grounded in their education and knowledge and, thus, are more confident in further developing themselves. Furthermore, research shows that the asset-based model eases and assists with the transitions into higher education. 

Steps to Approach Teaching Through the Asset Model  

Understanding how to use and integrate the asset model into teaching will help instructors educate students inclusively. Leaning on the following tips will guide an instructor in transforming their teaching method into an asset approach.  

Identify Students’ Strengths and Knowledge  

Work to understand what students already know. To do this, instructors can utilize evaluations at the beginning of the course to gain an understanding of what students know. This will help determine how to meet the students where they are. Be intentional when reviewing the evaluations and use the data to identify what students are doing right and their strengths. Once you have this information, leverage it. For example, if your students excel in public speaking and presentations, instead of having them write a report as an assignment, you can offer students an opportunity to present their findings.  

Meet Your Students Where They Are

By meeting students where they are, instead of requiring them to meet expectations that may appear unattainable to them, they will feel supported and understood. This approach will, in turn, increase their sense of belonging and motivate them to learn new skills.  

To meet students where they are, start with getting to know your students and making sure they feel seen. Work to understand who they are, how they are unique and what will make them great scientists and professionals, based on characteristics they currently possess. For example, consider letting students write a discussion board post to introduce themselves to the class. Or consider asking each student to submit a brief paragraph on what each thinks about when picturing a scientist. There is huge value in diversifying the mental picture typically associated with a scientist. The ASM webinar about the documentary Picture a Scientist may help you to brainstorm more ideas on how to empower students to identify what unique skills they bring to the field.

Once you know your students, you will also know how to ensure they have access to opportunities where they can thrive and feel motivated to challenge themselves. Additionally, getting to know your students will create a stronger student-teacher relationship, which enhances prosocial behaviors, reduces stress, increases retention and more.  

The Learner-Centered Approach  

Craft a learner-centered syllabus or learning objectives. Learner-centered objectives, structures, syllabi, etc.  include students in developing the standards and structure of the classroom. Ask your students what they would like to see happen in the classroom and how you can better support them in their success. Engaging your students in the learning process will help you to see the students as an asset for advancing the learning potential of the entire class. Doing this will ensure an instructor knows how to create an environment where students can thrive.  


By working to educate students through the asset approach, students will not only thrive and succeed at a higher level, but they will also cultivate an identity that strengthens their sense of belonging and perceived potential of success.  

The asset approach enhances all students’ learning, especially for students from historically underrepresented groups (HUGs). Dioscaris R. Garcia, Ph.D., explains steps to further leverage an asset approach to better mentor students from HUGs.  

Author: Shaundra Branova

Shaundra Branova
Shaundra Branova is a program officer at ASM who develops and leads strategic projects, programs and initatives dedicated to elevating and embodying inclusive diversity.