As teachers, we are always trying to prepare our learners for the future. But we know that one day we will not be able to be there for them – when they move from primary to secondary school, to university or into the workplace. At that point they will have to manage their own learning. However, without careful guidance and practice, many learners do not develop the necessary skills to do this. Fortunately, these skills can be explicitly taught in class and their development has a direct and significant influence on learners’ success. As Zimmerman concluded from his and others’ decades of research in the area: “Students who set superior goals, proactively, monitor their learning intentionally, use strategies effectively, and respond to personal feedback adaptively, not only attain mastery more quickly, but also are more motivated to sustain their efforts to learn.” (2013, p. 135). In the rest of this post we will explore these and other key skills and look at how we can introduce them in class.
The components of self-regulated learning
Self-regulated learning involves a series of stages, as shown in the model below. Working clock-wise from the top left, learners first need to (learn how to) motivate themselves to take responsibility for their learning. Teachers play a key role here by emphasising the importance of self-regulation for lifelong learning and academic success. Next, they need to understand their needs. Most learners are rarely encouraged to do this, instead exclusively relying on test scores and teacher feedback. Of course, our needs change throughout our life times and learners therefore need to be able to re-asses accordingly. Once learners understand their needs, they can learn to set their goals. Teachers can help learners to set appropriate and feasible goals for the time that they have available. This ability is particularly important because ‘research has consistently shown across all educational domains that having meaningful goals helps learners to persist in their studies and leads to greater motivation’ (Schunk and Zimmerman, 2012, p. 16). Whereas goals operate on a high time frame (e.g. several months) and set the general direction, learning plans determine how learners allocate their time over the coming days. It involves guiding learners to asking questions such as
- What can I achieve today / this week?
- What should I do first?
- What resources do I need?
- Where can I get support if I need it?
The different tasks learners engage in can be made more effective by learning how to select the most useful resources, appropriate strategies and knowing how to monitor progress, by asking questions such as
- How will I know I am doing it right?
- Who can help me?
- How can I find out what I need to work on more?
- What made it difficult?
- What’s next?
Finally, self-assessment involves taking a step back and looking at the broader picture of one’s learning, considering questions such as:
- Am I on the right track?
- What motivated me?
- What was not working for me?
- Have my needs and goals changed?
- Can I improve my task regulation?
- What resources do I have to help me find better ways?
Introducing self-regulated learning in class
Integration of self-regulated learning skills in class is most likely to be successful if it is done 1) systematically, 2) gradually, and 3) with increasing responsibility given to the students. Systematic integration involves ensuring that all components of the self-regulated learning cycle are included consistently during a course. For example, although there would be some benefit to teaching learners how to plan a learning activity in isolation, this process will be much more meaningful if learners understand what broader goals they are working towards. One way to ensure this happens is to include each of the elements of the self-regulated learning cycle in your course plans. For example, motivation and needs analysis could be covered in the first week of the course. Goal-setting could happen in week 2 and the development of learning plans thereafter. Task regulation could be practised throughout the rest of the course, followed by self-assessment towards the end.
This approach ensures that students are not overloaded with new information or expected to suddenly change their learning practices. Instead, they gradually get used to thinking about their own learning. Another way to help learners ‘ease into’ taking greater responsibility for their learning is to use the encourage-practise-support-involve model that I introduced in our paper on Using Technology to Motivate Learners. This starts from awareness-raising by encouraging learners to think about the ways in which they go about their learning, by giving examples of successful learners or by talking about the benefits of self-regulation for language learning. Over time, learners can be shown how to engage in self-regulated learning in the classroom and practice this together. You can, for example, show learners a learning plan template and ask them to complete their own, give feedback, and review the plans in a group discussion so everyone can get ideas from the others. In the next stage, learners are given specific tasks to complete on their own, such as monitoring their progress by using learning logs outside of the classroom. You would still give regular feedback and support if needed but the primary responsibility is now with the learners. Finally, once learners develop the necessary confidence and skills they can be expected to involve themselves in self-regulated learning increasingly independently.
See what works best for you in your context. Talk to your learners about their prior experiences and learn from your colleagues about what they have found out works well for them. Whatever you do and however you approach the development of self-regulated learning skills, remember that you are making a significant investment in your students by giving them the keys to unlock their own future.
If you want more best practice advice to help you nurture independent lifelong learners, you can download our recent position paper,
Want to talk to the experts about self-regulated learning?
Reinders, H., Dudeney, G., & Lamb, M. (2022). Using technology to motivate learners. Oxford University Press.
Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (Eds.). (2012). Motivation and self-regulated learning: Theory, research, and applications. Routledge.
Zimmerman, B. J. (2013). From cognitive modeling to self-regulation: A social cognitive career path. Educational psychologist, 48(3), 135-147.
Hayo Reinders (www.innovationinteaching.org) is TESOL Professor and Director of Research at Anaheim University, USA, and Professor of Applied Linguistics at KMUTT in Thailand. He is founder of the global Institute for Teacher Leadership and editor of Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching. His interests are in out-of-class learning, technology, and language teacher leadership. Hayo is the author of our paper on Self-Regulated Learning.