Self-Regulated Learning in Educational Contexts


The concept of self-regulation refers not to an academic performance skill or mental ability but rather a process of self-direction through which learners turn their cognitive abilities into academic skills. Within such a context, learning is viewed as a process in which students engage for themselves proactively instead of being experts in covert events that happen to them as a reaction to the teaching process (Schunk and Zummerman, 2013). Thus, self-regulation represents thoughts that have been self-generated, including behaviors and feelings aimed at attaining a goal (Schunk and Greene, 2018). Studying self-regulation is crucial because education plays an essential role in the development of life-long learning skills. Thus, different theoretical approaches to self-regulation may be implemented in diverse educational contexts because they allow for the increased flexibility of learning processes that enables improvement in an individual’s social, emotional, behavioral, and motivational functions.

Self-Regulated Learning

In traditional learning environments, learners who can successfully self-regulate are highly effective because they take great responsibility for their learning outcomes. Zimmerman’s model of self-regulation allows for the integration of the concept in online academia because it stems “from a social-cognitive perspective that emphasizes both motivational factors and learning strategies in highly autonomous learning environments” (Wong et al., 2018, p. 358). Within the model, self-regulated learning (SRL) has three phases, such as forethought, performance, and self-reflection, all of which have been shown to be relevant to online learning environments.

At the stage of forethought, learners engage in task analysis, such as strategic planning and goal setting, and self-motivation attitudes, such as goal orientation, self-efficacy, and others. At the stage of performance, learners engage in self-control as they employ their imagination, focus attention, use self-instruction, and self-observe through self-recording and self-experimentation. Finally, at the self-reflection stage, learners self-judge by evaluating their progress and self-react in terms of evaluating their satisfaction or effect. In online learning environments, SRL can direct self-determined learners to engage in efforts toward academic performance. For example, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which digital and online tools have become crucial to successful learning, the SRL framework will help implement strategies for strengthening learning achievement.

While Zimmerman’s theory has the potential to be applied to online environments at schools and universities, it is important to consider Boekaerts’ theory of goal roadmaps and the role of emotions. The theory focuses on explaining the role of goals, specifically how students can activate various kinds of goals regarding SRL (Panadero, 2017). Besides, the Dual Processing model suggests that student appraisals are essential for determining which pathway of goals the students will activate. The model views goals as “knowledge structures” guiding learners’ behavior (Panadero, 2017). For instance, if students feel that a task can threaten their well-being, adverse emotions and cognitions emerge. In addition, strategies are then directed toward protecting the ego from possible damage, thus encouraging learners to move onto the pathway of well-being. In contrast, if tasks align with the needs and goals of students, they will be interested in expanding their competence through them, causing positive emotions and cognitions, thus kickstarting the pathway of mastery and growth.

The concept of self-regulated learning is highly teachable and can be applied in school, college, or university settings, influencing students’ motivation and achievement. The challenge, is, however, is that few teachers are well-versed on how they can prepare students to effectively learn on their own. In the online learning environment, students are often more knowledgeable about the use of technology and may even teach their instructors how to use some applications. Besides, students are rarely given options regarding the academic goals they can pursue, the ways of completing complicated assignments or finding study partners. Besides, students are seldom asked to self-evaluate their work or estimate their competence on new tasks.

To implement self-regulated learning, social interactions among students and between students and teachers is imperative. The self-regulatory processes or beliefs, including setting goals, using strategies, and self-evaluation, can be learned from modeling and instruction from peers, coaches, and teachers. When they try to self-regulate, students tend to seek help from others to improve individual learning (Zimmerman, 2002). In such a context, self-regulation is not dependent on socially-isolated approaches to learning but rather on individual initiative, adaptive skills, and perseverance. Therefore, self-regulated learning in practice will take different forms depending on the context and the environment in which students operate. A more observant and attentive teacher is more likely to encourage self-regulation skills because they will show students how they can use different learning strategies for self-regulated learning.

In an educational setting, the role of instructors is to help guide students toward self-regulation, which can be challenging and may not work from the first attempt. As mentioned above, teachers are often ineffective at this, mainly because they do not have enough experience and cannot be effective at helping students develop the needed skills and habits. It is recommended that teachers guide learners’ self-belief, goal-setting, and expectations by helping them frame feedback in a positive way and providing specific cues for implementing self-regulatory strategies. Besides, teachers are expected to promote reflective dialogue in the learning setting, such as encouraging group discussions and collaborative learning (Zimmerman, 2002). Besides, self-regulated learning is often concerned with having to adjust the learning process to individual characteristics because different students may have different backgrounds and modes of learning.


To summarize, the theories of self-directed learning emphasize the fact that the approach focuses on what students need to know about themselves in order to be effective learners. By being aware of the strengths and limitations that a student has in terms of learning, they can become empowered and self-aware, thus gaining strategic knowledge on taking corrective action. The key to implementing self-directed learning approaches in the educational setting is accommodating students’ needs and tendencies at any point in the learning process to facilitate self-regulating capability. Among the various contexts, the self-directed method has shown to be the most widely applied in online learning, even though more research is needed to determine its long-term impact.

Reference List

Schunk, D. H. and Greene, J. (2018) Handbook of self-regulation of learning and performance. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (2013) ‘Self-regulation and learning’, In Reynolds, W. M., Miller G. E. and I. B. Weiner (eds.), Handbook of psychology: educational psychology. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 45-68.

Wong, J., Baars, M., Davis, D., Van Der Zee, T., Houben, G-J. and Paas, F. (2019) ‘Supporting self-regulated learning in online learning environments and MOOCs: a systematic review’, International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 35(4-5), pp. 356-373.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2002) ‘Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview’, Theory into Practice, 41(2), pp. 64-70.

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ChalkyPapers. "Self-Regulated Learning in Educational Contexts." May 16, 2023.