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Self-regulated Learning

Self-regulated learning refers to the processes by which individual learners attempt to monitor and control their own learning. There are many different models of self-regulated learning that propose different constructs and processes, but they do share some basic assumptions about learning and regulation.


One common assumption might be called the active, constructive assumption that follows from a general cognitive perspective. That is, all the models view learners as active constructive participants in the learning process. A second, but related, assumption is the potential for control assumption. All the models assume that learners can potentially monitor, control, and regulate certain aspects of their own cognition, motivation, and behavior as well as some features of their environments. This assumption does not mean that individuals will or can monitor and control their cognition, motivation, or behavior at all times or in all contexts, rather just that some monitoring, control, and regulation is possible. All of the models recognize that there are biological, developmental, contextual, and individual difference constraints that can impede or interfere with individual efforts at regulation.

A third general assumption that is made in these models of self-regulated learning is the goal, criterion, or standard assumption. All models of regulation assume that there is some type of criterion or standard (also called goals) against which comparisons are made in order to assess whether the process should continue as is or if some type of change is necessary. The commonsense example is the thermostat operation for the heating and cooling of a house. Once a desired temperature is set (the goal, criterion, or standard), the thermostat monitors the temperature of the house (monitoring process) and then turns on or off the heating or air conditioning units (control and regulation processes) in order to reach and maintain the standard. In a parallel manner, the general example for learning assumes that individuals can set standards or goals to strive for in their learning, monitor their progress toward these goals, and then adapt and regulate their cognition, motivation, and behavior in order to reach their goals.

A fourth general assumption of most of the models of self-regulated learning is that self-regulatory activities are mediators between personal and contextual characteristics and actual achievement or performance. That is, it is not just individuals' cultural, demographic, or personality characteristics that influence achievement and learning directly, nor just the contextual characteristics of the classroom environment that shape achievement, but the individuals' self-regulation processes that mediate the relations between the person, context, and eventual achievement. Most models of self-regulation assume that self-regulatory activities are directly linked to outcomes such as achievement and performance, although much of the research examines self-regulatory processes as outcomes in their own right.

Domains of Self-Regulation

Given these assumptions, a general working definition of self-regulated learning is that it is an active, constructive process whereby learners set goals for their learning and then attempt to monitor, regulate, and control their cognition, motivation, and behavior, guided and constrained by their goals and the contextual features in the environment. Following this general definition, research on models of self-regulated learning have delineated four general domains that learners can try to self-regulate: (1) cognition, (2) motivation, (3) behavior, and (4) the environment.

The cognitive domain includes the various cognitive strategies that learners can use to help them remember, understand, reason, and problem solve. Much of the work in this domain has focused on the learning strategies that students can use in academic contexts to comprehend text, to learn from lectures, to take notes, to solve math problems, to write papers, (e.g., testing their comprehension as they read a text). In addition, research has focused on meta-cognitive strategies that learners can use to plan, monitor, and control their own cognition. In many ways, metacognition is now seen as one part of the more general construct of self-regulated learning. In general, good self-regulating learners use a number of different strategies to control their cognition in ways that help them reach their goals.

The motivation and affective domain includes the various strategies that individuals can use to try to control and regulate their own motivation and emotions. This can include strategies for boosting their self-confidence or self-efficacy such as positive self-talk ("I know I can do this task") as well as strategies to try to control their interest (e.g., making the task more interesting by making a game out of it). Other strategies can be aimed at controlling negative emotions such as anxiety that can interfere with learning. In some research, these motivational and emotional control strategies are called volitional control strategies, but they can also be seen as part of the larger construct of self-regulated learning. As with cognition, good self-regulating learners do attempt to control their motivation and emotions in order to facilitate attainment of their goals.

The third domain includes actual attempts to control overt behavior, not just internal cognitions or motivational beliefs and emotions. This could involve increasing or decreasing effort on a task, as well as persisting on a task or giving up. Help-seeking behavior is another important self-regulatory behavior. Good self-regulators would adjust their effort levels to the task and their goals; they know when to persist, when to ask for help, and when to stop doing the task.

Finally, self-regulated learners can attempt to monitor and control the environment. Of course, they will not have as much control over the general classroom context or academic tasks as they do over their own cognition, motivation, and behavior, but there are some aspects of the context that can be controlled. For example, good self-regulated learners will try to control distractions by asking others to be quiet or by moving to another location. Good self-regulators also try to understand the task demands and the classroom norms and then try to adjust their learning to fit these demands. In other words, they are sensitive to the contextual demands and constraints that are operating in the classroom and attempt to cope with them in an adaptive manner.

The Development of Self-Regulation

There are a host of factors that can influence the development of self-regulation; three are noted here: cognitive development, motivation, and classroom contexts. Given the complexity of self-regulated learning, it is a phenomenon that emerges later in a child's life. There are clear developmental and maturational constraints on self-regulated learning. Although there are obviously aspects of self-regulation in place by the time a young child reaches school, the development of self-regulation for academic tasks takes place over the course of K–12 education. There is not as much research on the development of self-regulated learning as there is on how it operates, but it is probably not until the middle to late elementary school grades (third grade to sixth grade) that students begin to develop some of the important self-regulation strategies. In fact, it is likely that much of the development of self-regulated learning takes place in adolescence, given general cognitive developmental changes as well as the changes in the classroom context in middle schools and high schools. At the same time, there are many students who do not develop self-regulated strategies at all, even some of those more successful ones who go on to college. Accordingly, there is a need to develop explicit instructional strategies and programs to help students learn about self-regulation and develop expertise in regulating their learning.

Self-regulated learning is also time-consuming and quite difficult for some students, even when provided with explicit instruction in self-regulation. Accordingly, it is important that students are motivated to be self-regulating. Research of Paul R. Pintrich (1999) on the role of motivation in self-regulated learning has suggested three important generalizations about the relations between motivation and self-regulated learning. First, students must feel self-efficacious or confident that they can do the tasks. If they feel they can accomplish the academic tasks, then they are much more likely to use various self-regulation strategies. Second, students must be interested in and value the classroom tasks. Students who are bored or do not find the tasks useful or worthwhile are much less likely to be self-regulating than those who are interested and find the tasks important. Finally, students who are focused on goals of learning, understanding, and self-improvement are much more likely to be self-regulating than students who are pursuing other goals such as trying to look smarter than others, or trying not to look stupid. These generalizations have been found in a large number of studies and seem to be fairly robust, but of course there is a need for more research on the role of motivation in self-regulated learning.

Finally, besides developmental and motivational factors, there are contextual factors that play a role in the development of self-regulation. One of the most important is that individuals actually have the opportunity to try to take control of their own learning and are given the chance to try tasks on their own. Of course, it is important that tasks are not too challenging or too easy, but in the students' range of competence. In addition, the modeling and demonstration of various self-regulatory strategies by parents, teachers, and peers can help students learn these strategies. Students also need the opportunity to have guided practice with the use of these strategies, with support and guidance from knowledgeable others, whether they be parents, teachers, or peers. Finally, there should be incentives in the context for the use of these strategies, such that students who are successful in using the strategies are rewarded in terms of praise or more tangible rewards such as better learning and achievement.

Importance of Self-Regulated Learning

In summary, self-regulated learning is an important aspect of learning and achievement in academic contexts. Students who are self-regulating are much more likely to be successful in school, to learn more, and to achieve at higher levels. Accordingly, it is important for schools and classrooms to attempt to foster the development of expertise in self-regulated learning. Of course, there are developmental, motivational, and contextual factors that can facilitate or constrain self-regulated learning, but there are implicit and explicit ways to help foster self-regulated learning. In the twenty-first century and as the explosion of information and multiple ways of learning increase, it will become even more important that individuals know how to self-regulate their learning and that fostering self-regulated learning becomes an important goal for all educational systems.


BOEKAERTS, MONIQUE; PINTRICH, PAUL R.; and ZEIDNER, MOSHE, eds. 2000. Handbook of Self-Regulation. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

PINTRICH, PAUL R. 1999. "The Role of Motivation in Promoting and Sustaining Self-Regulated Learning." International Journal of Educational Research 31:459–470.

PINTRICH, PAUL R. 2000. "The Role of Goal Orientation in Self-Regulated Learning." In Handbook of Self-Regulation, ed. Monique Boekaerts, Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe Zeidner. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

RANDI, JUDI, and CORNO, LYN. 2000. "Teacher Innovations in Self-Regulated Learning." In Handbook of Self-Regulation, ed. Monique Boekaerts, Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe Zeidner. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

SCHUNK, DALE, and ERTMER, PEGGY. 2000. "Self-Regulation and Academic Learning: Self-Efficacy Enhancing Interventions." In Handbook of Self-Regulation, ed. Monique Boekaerts, Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe Zeidner. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

WEINSTEIN, CLAIRE ELLEN; HUSMAN, JENEFER; and DIERKING, DOUGLAS. 2000. "Self-Regulation Interventions with a Focus on Learning Strategies." In Handbook of Self-Regulation, ed. Monique Boekaerts, Paul R. Pintrich, and Moshe Zeidner. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.


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