Self-Regulated Learning

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by Donya Samadi

Self-regulated learning (SRL) can improve students’ academic outcomes and perceptions of self-efficacy (Zimmerman, 1990). From an information processing perspective, self-regulating learning includes several phases: defining a task, setting goals and a plan to achieve those goals, using study strategies, and making adaptations based on whether standards are met (Winne & Hadwin, 1998; Butler & Winne, 1995). It is important to investigate how teachers can support self-regulated learning strategies in the classroom. Students can learn how to manage their knowledge acquisition and achieve their academic goals by using beneficial study strategies and self-assessing their learning. With the prevalence of technology in classrooms, it would be advantageous to develop techniques of implementing SRL with technological tools or online software.

Self-Regulated Learning to Support British Columbia’s Instructional Goals and Policies

The transition from high school to university can be difficult for students. Some students succeed in high school despite poor studying habits, but soon realize that these strategies do not work in post-secondary, and may face academic challenges. Thus, encouraging and implementing self-regulated learning strategies earlier on in a student’s academic career would be beneficial to their success. It is important to teach students how to set goals prior to a learning task, and how to monitor their use of studying strategies throughout the task to determine whether they are meeting their goals or must alter their methods. Advisory groups involved in developing the new British Columbia (B.C.) curriculum have recommended emphasizing student self-assessment in support of classroom learning (B.C. Ministry of Education, 2012). Teaching students to assess how well they have achieved their learning goals after a study session would enable them to decide whether they should continue studying the same way. Or, if after self-assessment a student realizes their learning goals are not being met, they can readjust by trying a new strategy, or otherwise alter their learning process or environment. Self-assessment is covered under Critical Thinking, which is one of the six Core Competencies outlined in the new B.C. Curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2017).

Specifically, under the third facet in the Critical Thinking Competency Profile (“Develop and Design”), the focus is on students’ abilities to “develop and refine plans, monitor their progress, and adjust their procedures in light of criteria and feedback. They can determine the extent to which they have met their goals” (Ministry of Education, 2017). This description directly aligns with the purpose of self-regulated learning, as will be outlined below. Thus, it is imperative to ensure that students are implementing such practices in their learning tasks, and that teachers are promoting self-regulated learning processes during their lessons. The use of technology is also supported in the new B.C. Curriculum to encourage thinking and communication (Ministry of Education, 2016). Technological tools usually support study strategies but in some situations students aren’t prompted to monitor or evaluate their strategy use (Griffin, Wiley, & Salas, 2013), which is important for self-regulated learning. Introducing some new techniques or tools in instruction and educational technology could enhance the use of self-regulated learning for students during learning tasks, and consequently improve students’ self-efficacy and academic outcomes.

Theoretical Background

Self-regulated learning (SRL) can improve students’ academic outcomes and perceptions of self-efficacy (Zimmerman, 1990). From an information processing perspective, self-regulating learning (SRL) includes several phases and adaptivity: defining a task, setting goals and a plan to achieve those goals, using study strategies, and making adaptations based on whether standards are met (Winne & Hadwin, 1998; Butler & Winne, 1995). When studying, self-regulated learners are metacognitively, motivationally and behaviourally active (Zimmerman, 1986). Metacognitive awareness involves awareness of one’s thinking, knowledge, and strategy use (Ridley, Schutz, Glanz, & Weinstein, 1992). Students’ metacognitive processes include planning, setting goals, and evaluating progress (Zimmerman, 1990). Setting clear goals that present a challenge to the learner to achieve results in higher performance on learning tasks than easy goals or no goals at all (Locke, Shaw, Saari, & Latham, 1981). Setting specific goals is beneficial because it helps to directs students’ attention and effort, heighten persistence, and lead to useful strategy use (Locke et al., 1981). In terms of motivation, self-regulated learners exhibit interest in their task and report high self-efficacy (Zimmerman, 1990). Self-efficacy refers to a student’s beliefs in their ability to conduct a certain task (Pajares, 1996). The more self-efficacy a student has for a task, the more effort they are likely to put into the task, and the longer they might persevere in the task (Pajares, 1996). Self-regulated learners are behaviourally active in that they structure an environment best suited to their learning, seek information as needed, and change their strategy use if judged to be ineffective in reaching their learning goals (Zimmerman, 1990).

Connecting Self-Regulated Learning to Classroom Instruction (Evidence and Practice)

A student who misses assignment deadlines, doesn’t have a clear understanding of what their final product should be, and is using different strategies with no clear objective, is an example of a student who is not regulating their learning. On the other hand, a student who is planning their studying, setting goals, consciously deciding to use certain strategies, and checking their understanding after a study session is regulating their learning. Following are two examples of research areas in which self-regulated learning has been applied in a classroom setting to aid student learning and achievement.

Self-regulated learning in reading and writing instruction

When writing, students should pre-plan their work, brainstorm, re-read, and revise their drafts (Paris & Paris, 2001). However, some students may lack these effective planning and revision skills and consequently produce lower quality writing. When students are taught how to manage their writing and editing and given executive control strategies, they have higher quality revisions (Graham, 1997). Page-Voth and Graham (1999) studied the effects of goal setting on students’ essay writing. They asked students to choose a goal at the outset of the writing task, and then generate a plan to achieve that goal. Findings indicate that compared to a group with no goals, the goal-setting group produced better quality essays (Page-Voth & Graham, 1999). Teachers are not only responsible for providing students with examples of strategies they can use in a learning task, but they must also teach students to recognize when, and why to apply those strategies (Paris & Paris, 2001). In addition, instructors should design a variety of authentic learning tasks to allow students to practice their self-regulated learning and the use of strategies, rather than continuously directing students to use a specific strategy in only one type of learning activity (Paris & Paris, 2001). Open-ended tasks that give students more opportunity to exercise control, make decisions, and set learning goals allow students to construct personal meaning, practice self-regulated learning, and increase their self-efficacy (Paris & Turner, 1994; Turner, 1995). An open-ended task might allow for the use of educational technology as well, in carrying out a writing task, conducting research for the written assignment, and using various online resources (e.g. citation generator, online thesaurus, and plagiarism check, etc.).

Self-assessment in self-regulated learning

In self-regulated learning, assessment can occur when students determine whether their final product aligns with their initial learning goals, and, when students evaluate their learning process and strategies used, deciding whether these were effective or whether they should adopt different strategies next time. This self-assessment can help to advance a students’ future self-regulated learning activities (Zimmerman, 2000). When students are able to self-assess their learning, their self-efficacy increases (Schunk & Ertmer, 2000). Paris and Paris (2001) suggest teachers assign students to create portfolios, which would allow for student self-assessment. Students are able to assess their own work and self-assessment is linked to motivationally aspects such as attitudes, and feelings of success at school (van Kraayenoord & Paris, 1997).

Self-Regulated Learning in Educational Technology

Researchers are exploring ways to aid students with educational technology tools used during studying (Azevedo, 2005). Self-regulated learning is a particularly effective theoretical perspective with which to do research on studying with technology (Azevedo et al., 2010; Greene, Moos, & Azevedo, 2011), especially in online hypermedia environments (in which students can choose to click on links, search for information, etc.) as students who lack important self-regulated learning skills may not learn as much from such open-ended learning environments without some scaffolding (Azevedo, 2005; 2008). Prior research has investigated how to improve students’ SRL strategies in computer-based learning environments (Azevedo & Aleven, 2013), either through a training session before studying on the computer (Azevedo, Cromley, & Seibert, 2004, Azevedo et al., 2009), unprompted strategy-use options (Trevors, Duffy, & Azevedo, 2014) or via human tutors promoting SRL while students learn online (Azevedo et al., 2005).

Teachers are necessary in the classroom to introduce and facilitate self-regulated learning skills to their students. In one study, students who received facilitation of SRL strategies by a human tutor learned more than students who were left on their own to self-regulate their learning (Azevedo et al., 2008). Externally regulated learners activated prior knowledge, self-monitored, and used other effective strategies, while those left on their own used ineffective strategies and didn’t self-monitor as much (Azevedo et al., 2008). This makes a case of the need for teachers to encourage the use of SRL strategies in the classroom. Azevedo and Cromley (2004) wanted to investigate whether students would learn more if provided with self-regulated learning training before a study session using multimedia to learn about the circulatory system. The authors found that the participants in the training condition gained a deeper conceptual understanding of the science topic than those not trained in SRL. Those in the training condition also used more self-regulated learning processes, such as planning, monitoring, and using effective strategies. Those who didn’t receive the training had inefficient planning activities, and overall used ineffective strategies, resulting in lower performance in the post-test compared to the training group (Azevedo & Cromley, 2004).

MetaTutor is an intelligent tutoring system designed to scaffold self-regulated learning in a multimedia environment (Trevors, Duffy, & Azevedo, 2014). There are four agents who instruct students on SRL processes, and give prompts: Gavin the Guide (prompts on the learning environment), Pam the Planner (helps learners activate their prior knowledge), Mary the Monitor (acts as a guide to students in helping them monitor their progress, and how it relates to their goals), and Sam the Strategizer (prompts students to generate summaries). One study explored the interaction of using the four MetaTutor agents to support SRL and note-taking (Trevors, Duffy, & Azevedo, 2014). Findings indicate that without the use of MetaTutor, students with lower prior knowledge took more notes while studying than students with higher prior knowledge, and an increasing quantity of notes was associated with shallow content reproduction. However, with the use of MetaTutor providing SRL prompts, students in the low and high prior knowledge group took a similar quantity of notes, suggesting that the prompting helped decrease ineffective note-taking (Trevors, Duffy, & Azevedo, 2014).

Implementing Self-Regulated Learning in the Classroom with Educational Technology

As evident from the preceding sections, self-regulated learning is a beneficial mode of learning for students studying various topics, and the use of SRL strategies should be implemented and encouraged by teachers for student success. One way to encourage the use of self-regulated learning skills in the classroom is through problem-based or project-based learning (PBL) (Paris & Paris, 2001). When teachers introduce meaningful, authentic real-life problems for students, who must plan how to approach and solve the problem, it promotes use of self-regulated learning processes (Paris & Paris, 2001). Students must assess what they know, metacognitively monitor their comprehension throughout the task, and decide what strategies to use to acquire new knowledge. Blumenfeld, Karjcik, and Soloway (1997) add that the use of technology should be incorporated in these pbl tasks, so students can investigate authentically (i.e. perform a Google search like they might if they were searching for information outside of school) and promote deep understanding. In PBL activities, students can choose what the product of their learning will be, and how they will work to produce it and generate knowledge (Paris & Paris, 2001). The instructor’s role is to present an example of a PBL scenario, and scaffold learners as necessary as they conduct a task on the computer.

Visualizations and Dashboards (A Scenario):

Self-regulated learning via educational technology can occur in the classroom using virtual dashboards. An instructor can develop a password-protected ‘home page’ for each student to access online, and track their assignments and tests. For example, when a student logs in to their homepage, they see an icon for each assignment and test they must complete for a certain course (e.g. English class). Teachers can develop a routine for implementing self-regulated learning skills at the outset of each task.

When students are initially instructed about an assignment, they must first log-in to the dashboard, and type out one or more goals they plan to achieve by the completion of that assignment. The teacher can aid students in the creation of their goals, if necessary (fading out the assistance as the semester or school year advances). The goals can align to learning objectives the teacher has created. After generating a goal(s), the student must develop a plan to achieve that goal, complete with strategies they might use relevant to that assignment. In the English class example, if the assignment was a term paper, then a students’ plan might include brainstorming, searching for scholarly resources using certain databases, and developing an outline of their paper. These plans can either be typed into a blank text box on the screen, or, if the teacher wants to provide more scaffolding, s/he could provide a checkbox and list with relevant strategies a student might use, and the student can check the ones they choose to include in their personalized assignment plan.

Once the goal and plan have been set, students can come back to the homepage routinely to mark as ‘done’ the strategies they have already tried, and to get a reminder of what they have yet to complete. When creating their goal and plan, students set expected dates for completion of each mini-task – to break down the overall assignment and ensure completion in a timely manner. One feature of the dashboard could provide an option to send students notifications – via email, text message, or social media to complete certain mini-tasks and meet their pre-set deadlines. Simply by logging in to the homepage occasionally, students see a visualization in the form of a bar chart, seeing how much they have accomplished and how much is yet to complete for a task. This can aid in tracking progress.

After an assignment is complete, students access their dashboard and rate how well each of their chosen strategies worked for them and whether they would use it again, making note of any changes they might make the next time they use that strategy. They can also compare their final product to their initial goals, to assess their success in meeting those goals, or perhaps decide that for a similar task next time, they would alter their goals.

This sample scenario using educational technology aligns well to the processes of self-regulated learning in several ways. First, students are developing a goal and plan at the outset of the task, identifying strategies they might use during the task. Next, students are continually using the online dashboard to check on their progress, remind themselves of steps they have yet to take, and mark as complete tasks they have already completed. At the completion of their learning task, students rate how well each strategy worked for them, and what, if anything, they might change they next time they use that strategy. In this way, students are assessing their learning product, their alignment of goals with final product, and the suitability of the strategies they used. Furthermore, the use of technology, online visual dashboard, and simple display of tasks, deadlines, and strategies might improve students’ motivation and engagement in SRL activities. These ideas also align with the Critical Thinking Competency in the new B.C Curriculum, as mentioned previously (Ministry of Education, 2017). Thus, finding innovative ways to incorporate the use of technology and self-regulated learning skills in the elementary, high school, and post-secondary classroom would be beneficial for learners in a variety of subject areas. Students will learn, gain skills, and practice using techniques applicable not only to their level of education, but can also transfer these skills to post-secondary, further education, and even the workplace.



Self-efficacy: Self-efficacy refers to a student’s beliefs in their ability to conduct a certain task (Pajares, 1996)

Metacognition: Metacognition is one's awareness of one's own thinking (Wikipedia, 2017)

Metacognitive awareness: Metacognitive awareness involves awareness of one’s thinking, knowledge, and strategy use (Ridley, Schutz, Glanz, & Weinstein, 1992).


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© 2017 Donya Samadi