Our guest blogger, Dr. Chris Wolters, directs the Dennis Learning Center within Ohio State’s college of Education and Human Development.
What is Self-Regulated Learning?
As an educational psychologist, I conduct research on self-regulated learning (SRL), a theoretical model that provides a way of understanding the processes, individual characteristics, and instructional practices that contribute to students’ academic success. As director of the Dennis Learning Center within Ohio State’s College of Education and Human Ecology, I oversee a staff devoted to providing various forms of outreach that promotes students’ proficiency at SRL. Instructors might describe students who engage in SRL as self-disciplined, autonomous, adaptive, or strategic. As well, they might be characterized as motivated, persistent, gritty, or dedicated to learning. Theoretical models focus on how students can take an active, purposeful role in managing cognitive, motivational, behavioral, and environmental dimensions of their own learning. As such, SRL involves many reciprocally interdependent sub-processes that occur before (e.g., goal setting, knowledge activation), during (e.g., monitoring), and after (e.g., reaction, reflection) completing academic tasks.
Why is Self-Regulated Learning important?
Although SRL influences academic performance from an early age, it may be especially relevant for success in rigorous post-secondary academic contexts. Compared to high school, the content of college coursework can be more demanding and require more complex thinking. Hence, many college students are experiencing new levels of academic challenge, perhaps including the awareness that more of their peers equal or exceed their own proficiency in learning. The college context also demands a greater degree of autonomy and self-discipline. Unlike high school, a particular class may meet just twice each week, involve little direct contact with the instructor, include a large set of unfamiliar peers, and limited formal feedback. Instructional requirements that force students to adhere to more effective study techniques may be non-existent. In the midst of these dramatic shifts in the instructional context, students also are exposed to a new, exciting and abundant set of non-academic opportunities. All the while, previous constraints and external supervision of how they spend their time are greatly reduced. Of course, the need for individuals to be motivated, manage their strategic pursuit of reasonable self-set goals, and persist in the face of distractions and setbacks does not end at graduation. The value of SRL extends to professional and personal contexts and fits with the view that students should be effective life-long learners who strive to develop intellectually throughout adulthood.
Strategies for building Self-Regulated Learning
Helping students develop their SRL is a worthwhile goal and, fortunately, it fits seamlessly with most high-quality instructional practices. Here, I highlight just four general suggestions. For those who want more, a number of resources for how instructors can promote SRL are available (e.g., Nilson & Zimmerman, 2013).
- Motivate students by boosting confidence in their ability to learn, and when they perceive what they are learning as important, useful, or relevant. To support the former, instructors can ensure that students have access to the resources or tools they will need to learn, and have reasonable pathways that will lead to success. Instructors can impact the latter by highlighting how course requirements fit with students’ personal goals, career plans, or other valued outcomes. Adaptive motivation also arises when instructors convey that strategic effort and persistence are the key to success.
- Help students be planful, goal-oriented, and deliberate in how they go about completing the work for your course. These processes can be modeled by instructors or fellow students, and they can be integrated into the structure of a course. A stable class calendar with clear deadlines, obvious sub-steps for larger projects, and insights into the time needed to complete tasks all facilitate students’ planning.
- Promote students’ understanding of effective strategies for mastering the knowledge or abilities in a course. This process can include identifying strategies, explaining their connection to improved learning, modeling their use, and providing opportunities for independent and varied practice. More generally, help students actively think about and work to improve the methods they use to learn.
- Support students’ awareness and understanding of their progress toward learning goals. Provide students timely, specific, and informative feedback about whether they are reaching course objectives. Instructional support for students’ reflection on the process of learning, including what strategies work or does not work for learning particular material will also promote SRL. Reflection and mindfulness allow students to develop the metacognitive knowledge that will improve their subsequent efforts at learning.
The Dennis Learning Center
Another way to support students’ SRL is by recommending the services we provide at the Dennis Learning Center. Our mission is to help all Ohio State students be successful; a goal we pursue via three major forms of outreach. First, we offer for-credit courses including ES EPSY 1259 – “Learning and Motivation Strategies for Success in College” – which is specifically designed to help students improve their SRL. Second, we offer an array of workshops that promote particular aspects of SRL (e.g., time management) or that inhibit behaviors that impede academic success (e.g., procrastination). Our workshops are available through the first year success series, or they can be requested for particular groups of students. Third, the DLC offers free one-on-one academic coaching for both undergraduate and graduate students who want more personalized assistance. Finally, we also are pleased to collaborate with faculty and staff and serve as a resource to others who are striving to promote students’ academic and professional success. Reach out to us if you want to learn more or to discuss a possible collaboration.