Why More Educators Are Embracing Self-Regulated Learning

January 18th, 2014 No Comments Other

The concept of self-regulated learning has been gaining traction in education over the past few years, particularly in higher education as more students are opt for fully or partially online courses.

For those unfamiliar with the term, self-regulation in learning essentially means putting students in control of their own learning by teaching them how to learn.

Barry Zimmerman, one of the leading researchers on self-regulated learning, points out that self-regulated learning shouldn’t be seen as a mental ability or academic skill, but rather a process through which learners transform their mental abilities into academic skills.

He also notes that it isn’t a trait that students can have or not have. It involves setting goals, coming up with strategies that make it possible to reach those goals, monitoring personal progress, and restructuring plans if goals are not being met.

One of Zimmerman’s biggest criticisms of traditional teaching has been that few educators are effectively preparing students to learn on their own. But a recent survey conducted by The Open University indicates that more educators are starting to make this switch.

The researchers surveyed educators from both face-to-face and distance learning environments to gain an insight into their perception of self-regulated learning (SRL).

Participants were first given a brief introduction to self-regulated learning as well as some examples of how to assess student level of SRL. Examples included things such as the ability to plan study strategies; find appropriate learning materials; and collaborate with peers to gain feedback.

The educators were then asked to estimate the percentage of their students that had a high, medium, or low level of SRL.

The majority of respondents estimated that a relatively low percentage of their students (10-20%) had a high level of SRL. Around 20-40% of students were estimated as having a medium SRL level, while the majority, (50-60%) was thought to be unprepared for learning independently.

When asked about their experiences with teaching these groups of students, educators reported that students with higher SRL levels were more mature and displayed a greater interest in learning than those with lower SRL levels.

They also noted that these students were more likely to ask advanced questions, engage with complex materials, and reach learning goals in a shorter period of time with fewer problems and less frustration.

Over 90% of respondents said they would prefer to teach students with a high level of self-regulated learning, stating that it is more intellectually stimulating, less routine, and leads to higher levels of involvement and serious questions, which makes the teaching experience more challenging.

When asked whether they encourage self-regulated learning, 94% of educators said they do, although 88% also said they should be doing more to encourage it in their courses.

“Our preliminary survey results indicate that SRL is not a foreign concept among higher education teachers,” note the researchers in their report.

“Teachers are trying to motivate and support their students towards achieving a high level of independence in their learning.”

They explain that they hope to include students in their next study, in order to provide them with the tools for assessing their personal self-regulated learning skills.

At the end of the survey, the educators also shared some of their tips for encouraging self-regulated learning among students. Most said they point students to relevant learning materials and institutional services, while others said they adapt their teaching methods.

“In the context of what I teach, I encourage [students] to try and design their own problems and then apply their learning to them, or take a new approach to an already solved problem. The aim being to reinforce the idea that solutions are not discovered but are created,” noted one of the educators.

Of course, more research remains to be done to uncover the most effective methods for teaching self-regulated learning, but anything that can help to accomplish the ultimate goal of empowering learners for lifelong and personalized learning is worth taking notice of.


Marianne Stenger is a London-based freelance writer and journalist with extensive experience covering all things learning and development. She’s particularly interested in the psychology of learning and how technology is changing the way we learn. Her articles have been featured by the likes of ABC Education, The Huffington Post, Lifehacker, and Psych Central. Follow her on Twitter @MarianneStenger.

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