“Self-Regulated Learning:” Just Another Buzz Word?

Self-regulated learning (along with ‘life-long learning’) is one of those buzz words that I hear all the time but was never really sure what it meant. I stumbled, somehow, across some research relating to self-regulated learning (SRL) and quickly realised it was actually pretty relevant to my study, and that I should probably include some information about SRL in my dissertation. The purpose of today’s blog post is to explore SRL in a little detail in addition to outlining how to develop SRL and the benefits of SRL.

Self-regulated learning is a particular style of engagement, in which the learner is proactive and exhibits a range of behaviours and skills. The idea that learners should be proactive ties closely with the constructivist ideology, which considers students should be active in and take responsibility for their learning. Additionally, there is much overlap between metacognitive skills (link to blog post) and skills for SRL. Such skills and behaviours include:

  • Goal setting (particularly for knowledge gain)
  • Selecting strategies to ensure progress is being made towards a goal
  • Using time efficiently
  • Re-adjusting goals and strategies to ensure progress continues
  • Learning new strategies to overcome challenges
  • Knowledge of one’s own beliefs, understandings, skills and motivation.

The Three-Phase Cycle of SRL

I understand SRL in relation to Zimmerman’s cycle. The three phases in ZImmerman’s cycle are the:

  • Forethought phase,
  • Performance Control phase, and
  • Self-Reflection phase.

You may notice this cycle bears striking resemblance to the three phases of metacognition (planning, monitoring and evaluating) discussed my my previous article (link). It’s important to remember that SRL is not a singly process or skill: rather, it’s a cumulative product of the three-phase cycle.


Forethought phase:

  • Thought proceeds action
  • This is where planning occurs
  • Task value, self-efficacy and goal orientations are crucial in this phase as these determine how a plan of action or a task will be approached.

Performance Control:

  • Processes that occur during action
  • Self-control and self-evaluation are particularly important during this phase. These skills are employed to monitor and regulate learning, manage resources and collect information required for phase three.
  • Self-control: strategies a learner employs in order to complete a task
  • Self-evaluation: metacognitive monitoring of performance.


  • Occurs directly after a task
  • Related to performance in the task
  • Main categories are self-judgements and self-reactions
  • Self-judgements: comparing performance against a standard (e.g. a rubric or goals)
  • Self-reaction: determining how you feel about your performance – are you satisfied? Did you manage your stress levels? Do you have positive or negative feelings about the task?
  • Positive self-reactions can lead to increased motivation which contributes to increased engagement in maths (Zimmerman, 2002)

But Why Should Learners be Self-Regulating?

  • Proactive learners tend to have higher quality forethought and a better capacity for self-regulation (Kaur & Areepattamannil, 2012)
  • SRL are strategic learners who are active in their learning processes: they know where they want to be and how to get there
  • Tend to have higher self-efficacy
  • Stronger capacity to be self-directed, with an increased capacity to make adjustments if a task is not proceeding as anticipated.
  • They are effective learners, able to use a suite of skills to tailor their learning to their needs (Butler & Winne, 1995)
  • SRL is linked to mastery goals, deep processing, and help-seeking behaviour (Furner & Gonzalez-DeHass, 2011; Kitsantas & Zimmerman, 2009)
  • SRL is a key competency for life-long learning (Dignath, Beuttner & Langfeldt, 2008)
  • More likely to attribute failure to controllable behaviours rather than personal inadequacy (Kitsantas & Zimmerman, 2009)

How Can We Develop Self-Regulated Learners?

Targeted training that focusses on the skills and processes used in self-regulated learning. In particular, training should focus on strategies with a focus that are:

  • Cognitive: involving elaboration and problem-solving strategies
  • Metacognitive: in particular involving planning strategies
  • Motivational: especially feedback

This requires professional development and teacher training to ensure that teachers feel confident in facilitating the development these skills in students. Strategies should be well-integrated so that they are not viewed as an optional (unnecessary) add-on.

It is important that students have opportunities to experience autonomy over their learning in order for them to develop as self-regulated learners. This could occur by encouraging students to set specific goals, teaching explicit study strategies and giving students flexibility and capacity to make choices in their learning.

It’s pretty overwhelming to consider the vast array of skills required to develop self-regulated learners. This is why I like to consider it in relation to the three phases. I might focus on developing one particular phase or skill at a time, such as capacity for self-reflection or perhaps goal setting. As students begin to master this particular skill I would move on to the next one, and the next, so that students develop an array of techniques and strategies to employ for effective learning. It takes time: some students learn these skills intuitively, whilst others require more explicit, concentrated instruction to develop them. It is clear, however, that any energy invested is well worth it. Self-Regulated Learning is not just a ‘buzz word,’ a phase, a fad. It is a critical skill for learners (and professionals) in the twenty-first century.


  • Butler, D. L., & Winne, P. H. (1995). Feedback and Self-Regulated Learning: A Theoretical Synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65(3), 245 -281. doi:10.3102/00346543065003245
  • Dignath, Beuttner & Langfeldt, (2008). How can primary school students learn self-regulated learning
    strategies most effectively? A meta-analysis on self-regulation training programmes
  • Furner & Gonzalez-DeHass, (2011) How do Students’ Mastery and Performance Goals Relate to Math
  • Kaur & Areepattamannil, (2012) Influences of Metacognitive and Self-Regulated Learning Strategies for Reading on Mathematical Literacy of Adolescents in Australia and Singapore
  • Kitsantas & Zimmerman, (2009). College Students’ Homework and Mathematics Achievement
  • Zimmerman, (2002). Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview

About madelinebevs

Mathematics and religion teacher and researcher. Runner. Home-renovation enthusiast. PhD Candidate. I'm excited by education. Having taught high-school mathematics for several years I am currently studying a Master of Education (Honours) in mathematics education, with the aim to ‘upgrade’ to a PhD later this year. My research is addressing how the constructivist epistemology (more specifically explicit instruction in metacognitive and self-reflective strategies) influences students’ affective domain. Mathematics education and research excites me greatly. I’m thrilled that I have the opportunity to write and work in this area. This blog will be (mostly) a collection of opinion pieces published several times a week on contemporary issues in mathematics education, with an Australian focus. More often than not topics will be generated from recent news headlines.
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