Learning theories in practice/Self-Regulated Learning

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The construct of self regulated learning has been extensively studies since the late 1970’s, with much more attention in the 1980’s and 1990’s (Paris & Winograd 2001). Still it is relatively new as regards to implementation for improving student performance and achievement in the classroom. Self regulated learning suggests that students engage in their own learning processes on metacognitive, behavioral, and motivational levels (Zimmerman 1986). Within self regulated learning, students are empowered with a common set of self regulating strategies in which they couple those strategies with a set of individually developed skills they have constructed over the course of their academic careers and personal experiences. The aim of self regulated learning is to get students to focus on self-comparisons instead of comparing themselves to the actions of their peers in any learning situation. Self-regulation of learning is a built-in learning process, whereby students develop goals and skills sets as well as apply those skills to a given learning situation, and internalize his or her own behaviors and acts upon those behaviors to increase positive behaviors and reduce their tendencies for negative behaviors.

The self-regulated learning is viewed as a process in which individual students actively and constructively monitor and control their own motivation, cognition and behavior toward the successful completion of academic tasks (Butler and Winne, 1995; DuBois and Staley, 1997; Pintrich, 1995; Valle et al., 2003; Winne, 1995;Zimmerman, 1994).

SELF REGULATED LEARNING STORY (this story of Dwight and his shortcomings will be used to represent SRL strategies throughout the chapter)

Dwight is an eighth grader who has been consistently over achieving since he entered school. Dwight consistently performs well on academic tasks that require students to work independently to achieve a desired outcome, whether it be a research paper, building science models, etc., but he is consistently disrupting class when the teacher models direct instruction. Even though Dwight is an eighth grader, he reads at an eleventh-grade level. Dwight always achieves exceedingly high scores on standardized tests. He stands out in mathematics, but does well in most academic areas. However, Dwight’s least favorite subject is social studies.
Because Dwight is a high achieving student in all academic contents, he has been encouraged by his parents and his teachers to take more demanding classes that will challenge his skill levels to date. Dwight decides to take the class and after a few weeks Dwight begins to have self doubts about his abilities and his cognitive development by saying things like, “you know mom, I’m just not that smart as I once thought” or “I just can’t do it, I’ve never really been that good at social studies even though I always get good grades, I get good grades because the work has always been so easy.” For example, his doubts have even manifested in his school work because he now gives up when he is faced with a difficult question and refuses to participate in guided discussions over the readings pertaining to Manifest Destiny in early America. Because of his poor self-efficacy in social studies, Dwight has failed a test, neglected a research assignment, has convinced himself that he is horrible at social studies, and is considering dropping out of the advanced class. When Dwight does participate, it's when a question is easy.
QUESTION: In what ways can Dwight attain self-regulatory strategies to improve his achievement levels in the more challenging class?


Many researchers agree that self regulated learning is a multidimensional process in which there is a set of three recurring phases, in a general time-ordered sequence, that materialize with the attainment of self regulation skills (Zimmerman 1986).

PHASE 1: Forethought

Phase 1 refers to forethought or the planning beforehand (Reis 2004). Before actual performance can begin, this step needs to be addressed because it facilitates a platform for action. Within this stage students internalize a given problem or desired outcome, create short and long term goals of the learning experience, and create mental maps that help reduce the chances of the unknown manifesting. Students have to ask themselves various questions in the preplanning phase. First it is beneficial for students to know when to start, where to start, and most importantly how to start (Reis 2004). Anxiety manifests itself in learning when a student does not know when or how to begin. A student’s ability to set goals and plan strategically is affected by various personal beliefs. That means, a student’s ability to properly execute this phase depends heavily on his own intrinsic motives for accomplishing that set of goals and his own self-efficacy (i.e., how a student perceives their ability to perform at a desired level). Self-reaction, self-observation, and self-judgment affect student abilities to both set goals and maintain positive self-efficacy (Shunk 1990). That is why the forethought phase of self regulated learning is crucial to a student’s ability to carry out a desires task or conclude a given problem. When the forethought phase is executed properly, students develop a positive outlook towards their academic performance and have some disregard towards extrinsic rewards.

Dwight should be provided help with what he needs to become more successful within the upcoming project for his advanced social studies class. The teacher can schedule a conference with Dwight beforehand, which allows him to discuss his shortcomings and reasons for low motivation. The teacher can discuss with Dwight if he needs more time to complete the project, when would be the most appropriate time for him to complete his work, what the initial steps should be, or if Dwight should be teamed up with a peer that can better assist Dwight in his studies…

PHASE 2: Performance Control

Phase 2 refers to performance control within the learner (Shunck & Zimmerman 1998). Within the performance phase, three strategies to control their performance emerge. The first highlights how students focus their attention. Students must take into account distractions in their learning environments, whether it is from another student or vague instruction. The second strategy is based how students instruct themselves when performing their developed skills. Self-instruction affects their ability to successfully implement their strategies and/or other learning schemes (Paris & Winograd 2001). It is important for student to account for whether or not they are being distracted, to know if a break is needed to regain clarity of thought or reduce frustrations, conditions which are conducive to a productive work environment, and how to push themselves to stay on task in spite of distractions. Self-monitoring is the third strategy. Self-monitoring updates the learner about their progression in concluding a problem or performing a set of tasks. It is recommended that students limit their self-monitoring to important tasks because if they focus too heavily on every little detail, their implementation of strategic processes can be impeded upon (Shunck & Zimmerman 1998).

Dwight has been encouraged to compare the strategies from Phase 1 in his advanced social studies class with the other classes he is currently taking. He becomes frustrated because of how unsuccessful he has become in social studies and because of all the other students completing their projects in the classroom. The teacher recognizes this, gets Dwight to recognize this situation more clearly, and then Dwight asks how he can reduce his frustrations. The teacher, not wanting to give him the answers directly, encourages Dwight to discuss what steps he can take to help reduce his frustrations. Dwight decides that a break is needed when he hits the frustration wall because it will allow him time to reflect on what made him so frustrated. He also decides that his work environment should be taken into account. He is easily distracted and decides to ask if he can work in the library to cut down on the classroom distractions.

PHASE 3: Self-reflection

Phase 3 refers to self-reflection (Shunck & Zimmerman 1998). Within the self-reflection phase, students reflect and evaluate their reactions to performance goals compared to the outcomes. Students assess their achievements or failures, adjust their self-efficacy, make informal attributions, and, during the self-reflection phase, adapt to potential learning. Students need to ask themselves if they have accomplished what they planned to in the forethought phase, how they coped with distractions during the performance phase, and evaluate what conditions facilitated their productive work environments.

In order for students to develop excellent self-regulated learning skills, they must thoroughly monitor their own performance, compare their performance to their goals or objectives by reexamining their findings or through peer feedback, and continuously engage in personal reflective processes (Shunck & Zimmerman 1998). These reflective acts might result from and/or involve changing their learning environments, goal settings, rehearsals, memorizations, or even metacognitive planning (Reis 2004).

Dwight has completed the project and is happy with his final product. Dwight asks himself many questions as to reflect on his overall performance. He asks, “Did the pre-planning conference with my teacher play an important role initially?” “Did the steps outlined in that conference help me complete my final product?” “Did my peer that was assigned by the teacher help me in reducing my frustrations?” “Did the frustrations keep me from doing better in terms of my final project?” “Did leaving the classroom that was full of distractions and moving my work to the library, better allow me to finish my final product?” “What could I have done differently to begin my project, reduce my frustrations, and complete my final project?”


Self regulated learning integrates learning strategies and mental processes that learners consciously engage to help themselves learn and achieve healthier gains academically (Schunk & Zimmerman 1998). Various learning strategies can be employed when promoting self-regulated learning.

Initially, students need to organize their information over their chosen topics. This can be done by outlining, summarizing, highlighting text, rearranging materials, brainstorming, and creating mental maps or web mappings. Once the organizational steps have been implemented, students can then focus more on their overall goals or objectives.

Students can develop goals in a variety of ways. Sequencing steps or delineating a time management schedule will allow students to monitor their progression when concluding a problem or performing a given task. Within a time management plan or the sequencing of steps, student should be encouraged to provide themselves with a student created rubric which details the desired goals. Once a student has created the rubric and completes the task according to the desired goal, she can then proceed to the next step, goal, or set of problems. All of this requires that a student recognize the importance of documentation.

Students can document their progression through note-taking, mark recording, or the creation of a portfolio. Portfolio making is perhaps the best strategy in terms of documentation. The use of a portfolios allow students to keep records of previous drafts which will assist them both in the self-reflection phase by demarcating their progression throughout the entire learning experience and by creating alternative avenues for retention.

Students can also improve their retention of the information through rehearsal. Strategies within these contexts are reciprocal teaching (i.e., when one students teaches another), mnemonic devices (i.e., memory aids in the form of acronyms, songs, rhymes, etc.), or through simple repetition.

Students can also use environmental cues in developing self-regulated strategies. Students can retrieve pieces of information from a library search, the Internet, interviews, re-reading their textbooks, or analyzing previous tests or records.


When teachers apply self-regulated learning, the following list of guidelines should be taken into account:

1. Understand that teachers need to allow students to take responsibility in their learning by emphasizing choice
  • When assigning a research topic or problems to solve, students should be allowed to chose the topic to research or what problems to solve because it is what interests them and will further encourage motivation within the student to do well.
2. Anticipate student to question about their information, strategies, skills, etc.
  • Teachers should also apply their metacognitive abilities in anticipating questions their students may have when introducing these types of activities. The types of questions can include: “When should they start?” “What types of distractions will they be faced with?” “What strategies do I want them to develop or build upon?” By teachers anticipating student questions, they will be better prepared to answer and help facilitate the desired activity.
3. Teachers also need to understand that younger students need guidance when outlining their desired goals
  • For example, most children will set goals like “I promise to work harder,” “I will read more,” or even “I will try my best to solve this problem”, but these goals do not provide evidence on how they will demonstrate meaningful learning or conceptual understanding. The goals listed above are performance goals and once performance goals are set it actually under minds self-regulated learning.
4. Model the desired skills or strategies
  • Teachers must understand the difficulty students will have when trying to understand self-regulated learning. Because of its difficulty, teacher can model appropriate skills like note-taking, controlling emotions, setting goals that are strategic rather than performance based, or even modeling appropriate reading strategies during a class read-aloud so that students have in-depth understanding about the skills or strategies as well as know how to put those skills or strategies into practice.
5. Record students' progressions
  • Teachers often worry about providing the students with too much freedom when applying self-regulated learning within their classrooms. Teachers can monitor their students in a variety of ways. First, teachers can schedule conferences with each student over the course of the assignment period in order to promote further self-reflection within the students. Record keeping of the goals attained, grades received, and progress made at the behavioral level are all strategies teachers can employ; these strategies of giving students performance appraisals, when done correctly, fosters feelings of renewed efforts within their work and even strong feelings of pride for their accomplishments.
6. Encourage and support students when their SRL strategies have been misused or ineffective
  • Students who have difficultly with SRL strategies must be provided with personal and academic support. Teachers should always encourage their students that they can accomplish their goals when their strategies are proven ineffective. Students should be encouraged to use journals that promote self-reflection and self-appraisal and teachers should discuss those journals with their students (Reis 2004). Often times, students who have that support are able to better understand the subsequent steps that need to be taken in order to accomplish their goals for the desired activity.
7. Break tasks down into individual mechanisms
  • Students need to be provided with rubrics delineating what the teacher expects. Teacher should include students in the creation of the individualized rubrics that relate to their unique situation. Such individualized attention provides students with a greater understanding of what needs to be done in order to accomplish their goals. When properly conducted, students take advantage of the choice they have in breaking down all the steps inherent to their personal growth and extended their understanding to their academic performance.
8. Provide positive and negative corrective feedback to students at each step
  • Teachers must provide students with understandable and realistic standards within the activity. Statements of the learning tasks during each phase, not about the learner themselves, on both positive and negative levels, promotes a more conducive learning environment that encourages and fosters the student’s ability to accomplish their goals and promotes greater self-efficacy.
9. Maintain authentic assessments within student performance
  • Teachers should always encourage and model authentic assessment measures. Portfolios are great authentic assessment tools that promote SLR tactics because they can show progression over a given course or even an entire school year. Other means of authentic assessment can be used as well and are not limited to: Shoe box diagrams, collages, presentations, role playing, journals, etc.


To promote personal and academic success, importance and effort must be placed on developing and incorporating self-regulatory capabilities within teachers and students alike. The phases that guide self-regulated learning: forethought, performance control, and self-reflection, are essential in the developmental processes. Self-regulatory capabilities within teachers provide that they continuously model, explain, re-explain, and assist students in their planning, goal setting, performance, and self-reflective stages when necessary. Once self-regulatory skills are developed, students and teachers will benefit by having healthier, more productive learning experiences.


Paris, S. G. & Winograd, P. (2001). The role of self-regulated learning in contextual teaching: principles and practices for teacher preparation. U.S. Department of Education.

Reis, S. M. (2004). Self-regulated learning and academically talented students. National Association for Gifted Children.

Schunk, D. H. (1990) Goal setting and self-efficacy during self-regulated learning. Educational Psychologist, 25.

Schunk, D. H. & Zimmerman, B.J. (1998) Self-regulated learning: From teaching to self-reflective practice. Guilford Press.

Zimmerman, B.J. (1986). Becoming a self-regulated learner: Which are the key sub-processes? Contemporary Educational Psychology, Vol. 11. Pgs. 307-313.

Video clip on this motivation in learning--[1]