Self-regulated learning

Online learning poses new challenges not only for teachers, but for students as well. There is less guidance and supervision, which means that students have more responsibility to control their learning: They have to plan, execute, revise, and adjust their learning so they can reach desired outcomes and results. In other words, they have to self-regulate more attentively.

What is it?

Self-regulating learners are individuals who are active participants in their own learning (Abrami et al. 2011). More specifically, they are active meta-cognitively, motivationally, and behaviourally. Meta-cognition is seen as the main feature of self-regulated learning because it refers to awareness and control of cognition. Awareness of the trajectory and state of learning is the first step toward control over that trajectory. Both these processes – awareness and control – encompass the essence of self-regulation. Self-regulation consists of three phases:

  1. Forethought
  2. Performance
  3. Self-reflection

The first phase – forethought – is all about task analysis. The analysis is done both in regard to the qualities of the task and the learner’s motivational beliefs. Setting goals and strategies to attain them is the most important part of this phase. What kind of goals and strategies will be set also depends on the context of one’s capabilities, motivation, interests, and so on. The second phase, performance, is about carrying over the task: Engaging in the activity, controlling attention, choosing strategies, and observing performance as a whole. The last phase is self-reflection. Here self-judgment takes place and learners evaluate the performance and decide whether they are satisfied with the result.

Why stimulate it?

As soon as learners have to deal with self-regulatory processes completely on their own, learning becomes more demanding and requires more effort. Studies have found that a lack of self-regulation contributes to dropout in online courses. However, it is also possible to implement various strategies in online courses that can help learners to engage in self-regulation and have more control over their learning. Even though online learning can be more demanding, a particular structure and design of the course might promote self-regulating learning and usage of the learning strategies.

How to promote self-regulation?

  1. Creating informational material. One way to teach learners about self-regulation and strategies that helps to engage in it is by raising awareness about it. All important features such as goal setting, choosing activities, time management, preparation for the test, or others, can be presented in online readings, videos, and external links.
  2. Creating study logs. Data entry platforms can be created (for instance, spreadsheets) for students to enter and track the whole process of their learning. A learning plan transferred to paper can help learners organise their work and handle it easier than only by mental reflection. The benefit of this approach is the opportunity to write, read, and reflect on what you are working towards and, most importantly, that it always stays online, so students can come back and check on their previous plans and how they managed to reach their goals. Here are some questions and statements that can be asked:
    1. My goals for the next week.
    2. How much time will I need to reach those goals?
    3. Date and time dedicated to studying for the class.
    4. Which parts of my learning could I improve? How?
    5. Assess the success of reaching goals from the prior week.
  3. Encouraging students to self-regulate. Prompting students to reflect on their learning-related behaviour could remind students to be more involved in the regulation of their learning. A short survey with 3-4 questions can be created for students to complete at regular intervals, for instance, every two weeks, every month, etc. This way, students will be constantly reminded to plan, organise, and reflect on their learning. By using a “strongly agree – strongly disagree” scale, students could answer questions aimed at self-regulation, such as:
    1. Am I setting goals that will help me to have a good understanding of the material?
    2. Am I concentrating on learning the material?
    3. Do I understand the key topics of the course?
    4. Are my learning strategies helping me to learn the material?
  4. Scaffolding. The term scaffolding refers to the support mechanisms that help the learner. They are widely used by most teachers, but here are some examples to remind you how can you support your students:
    1. Scaffolding time expectations. If there is a big project waiting for students, it might be beneficial to create several sub-assignments. Of course, sometimes the point of the big assignment is that it is big, however, dividing it into several parts can help students to organise their learning and reflect on their capabilities and the time needed to complete it. Breaking the assignment into smaller parts and asking to complete them on different dates will prevent students from finishing everything at the last minute.
    2. Providing examples. Papers, projects, or other work of former students that are seen as a ‘quality job’ can help the new students to understand expectations. It also can give some insight and new ideas, because sometimes the format of a new assignment can be vague for students.
    3. Stimulating online collaboration. Forums or discussion boards can be created for students to ask, answer, and discuss all the study-related things that are on their minds. It is a good opportunity for students to ask for help and look for answers.
    4. Providing external resources. Various links or videos containing relevant information can be posted in the shared online environment. They can help students to understand the material, give them a different perspective on the topic, or prompt new ideas.

Sometimes students may not understand the purpose of filling the study logs or answering questions related to self-regulation. They might see it just as an additional assignment. On the one hand, that is true, because it is a job, however small, that has to be done. On the other hand, it is up to the teacher to respond to these concerns and stress both the challenges of online learning and the value of self-regulation.

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