Self-Regulated Learning


ABC/123 Version X

Self-Regulation of Learning

PSYCH/635 Version 2


Chapter 10 Self-Regulated Learning

Kim Danola, a high school sophomore, is meeting with her counselor, Connie Smith. Kim is struggling in school, making Cs and Ds in her courses. Connie knows that Kim can do better in school. Kim’s home is full of distractions, and she has a hard time studying there. The two are meeting to discuss a plan to help Kim academically.

Kim:I don’t know; my classes are all so different. Algebra, chemistry, history: they don’t have anything in common.
Connie:Well, I agree they are different subjects. But let’s think about it. Do you have a textbook in each class?
Connie:So then, in all of them you have to do what?
Connie:Sure, read. They all involve reading right?
Kim:Yeah, but the readings are so different. It’s like you have to read and study one way in math, a different way in chemistry, and another different way in history.
Connie:Yes, I understand. Kim, there are lots of students in our school who have trouble in these classes. We have student tutors at the school. I’m going to set you up with a tutor for each subject. That student will teach you learning strategies for each subject. But let’s go back to what they all have in common. I’m taking a class at the university, and I’ve learned some general study strategies that you can use in all subjects. So I’m going to help you with those.
Kim:Such as?
Connie:Such as checking yourself when you read something to make sure you understood what you read. Then there are some other strategies, such as setting goals, taking notes, and summarizing information. These are general skills. You learn them and how to adapt them to the subject you’re studying. I’ll help you with those.
Kim:Do you think there’s hope for me? My parents are really mad about my grades.
Connie:If I didn’t think there was hope, I wouldn’t be talking with you. Now let’s get started!

The preceding chapters discuss learning processes that are applicable to diverse content in varied settings. For example, processes such as modeling, encoding, and metacognition apply to many types of learning; they are not unique to certain learners or a few content areas. This is what Connie says in the above scenario.

These and other learning processes are integral components of  self-regulation , or individuals’ self-generated cognitions, affects, and behaviors that are systematically oriented toward attainment of their goals (Sitzmann & Ely,  2011 ; B. Zimmerman,  2000 ). Self-regulation includes such processes as setting goals, applying and adjusting strategies to attain them, monitoring performance and progress, maintaining motivation and positive affects and beliefs about learning, and utilizing social and environmental resources to attain goals (Lord, Diefendorff, Schmidt, & Hall,  2010 ; B. Zimmerman,  2000 ). The focus of this chapter is  self-regulated learning , or self-regulation processes applied during a learning experience, where the goal is a desired level of achievement (Sitzmann & Ely,  2011 ).

Research on self-regulation during learning began as an outgrowth of psychological investigations into the development of self-control by adults and children (Zimmerman,  2001 ). Much early research was conducted in clinical contexts, where researchers taught participants to alter such dysfunctional behaviors as aggression, addictions, sexual disorders, interpersonal conflicts, and behavioral problems at home and in school (Mace & West,  1986 ). Theory and research on self-regulation has expanded to address academic learning and achievement (Zimmerman & Schunk,  2001 ).

Self-regulated learning is a dynamic process that is ever changing as students are engaged in learning (Sitzmann & Ely,  2011 ). This chapter makes it clear that self-regulated learning can take many forms. Most notably, it involves behaviors, as individuals regulate these to stay focused on goal attainment. But self-regulated learning also involves cognitive, motivational, and affective variables. Thus, it is helpful for learners to maintain a sense of self-efficacy for learning, value the learning, believe that positive outcomes will result, and maintain a positive emotional climate (e.g., enjoy what they are doing).

The self-regulatory processes and strategies that learners apply vary in whether they are general (apply to many types of learning) or specific (apply only to a particular type of learning). This distinction is highlighted in the opening scenario. Some self-regulatory processes, such as setting goals and evaluating goal progress, can be employed generally, whereas others pertain only to specific tasks (e.g., applying the quadratic formula to solve quadratic equations).

Self-regulated learning has been addressed by theories covered in earlier chapters, and different perspectives on self-regulated learning are explained in this chapter. In recent years, researchers have increasingly been concerned with the self-regulation of motivation, and that topic also is addressed, as well as with self-regulated learning in various domains such as reading, writing, mathematics, science, physical education, and music (Bembenutty, Cleary, & Kitsantas,  2013 ).

· When you finish studying this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

· ■ Discuss the assumptions common to theories of self-regulated learning.

· ■ Define and exemplify the key behavioral processes of self-monitoring, self-instruction, and self-reinforcement.

· ■ Discuss the various processes that operate during the social cognitive phases of self-regulation: forethought, performance/volitional control, and self-reflection.

· ■ Explain self-regulated learning from an information processing perspective, and give examples of self-regulatory strategies used by proficient learners.

· ■ Discuss self-regulated learning from a constructivist perspective to include the role of students’ implicit theories.

· ■ Discuss the link between motivation and self-regulated learning and explain how different motivational variables (e.g., self-efficacy, goals, values) relate to self-regulation.

· ■ Devise a plan that students might use to improve their academic studying.

· ■ Explain how self-regulated learning relates to writing and how technology may affect self-regulated learning.


Theory and research on self-regulated learning in academic settings have been influenced by various disciplines including management, education, and psychology (e.g., organizational, clinical, cognitive). Theories of self-regulated learning differ in many ways but share common assumptions. One is that self-regulated learning involves being behaviorally, cognitively, metacognitively, and motivationally active in one’s learning and performance (Zimmerman,  2001 ). A second assumption is that self-regulated learning is a dynamic and cyclical process comprising feedback loops (Lord et al.,  2010 ). Self-regulated learners set goals and metacognitively monitor their progress toward them. They respond to their monitoring, as well as to external feedback, in different ways to attain their goals, such as by working harder or changing their strategy. Attained accomplishments lead them to set new goals.

Third, goal setting triggers self-regulated learning by guiding individuals’ focus on goal-directed activities and use of task-relevant strategies (Sitzmann & Ely,  2011 ). Goals that include learning skills and improving competencies result in better self-regulated learning than those oriented toward performing tasks (Schunk & Swartz,  1993a ). Lastly is an emphasis on motivation, or why persons choose to self-regulate and sustain their efforts. Motivational variables are critical for learning (Schunk & Zimmerman,  2008 ).

Based on theories and research, Sitzmann and Ely ( 2011 ) formulated a framework of constructs that constitute self-regulated learning, identifying three major types. Regulatory agents initiate self-regulated learning toward its objective, regulatory mechanisms help promote goal progress in an effective manner, and regulatory appraisals provide evaluative information on progress and influence continued goal striving. Sitzmann and Ely’s framework identified one regulatory agent (goal level), six regulatory mechanisms (attention, metacognitive strategies, time management, environmental structuring, motivation, and effort), and two regulatory appraisals (attributions and self-efficacy). These and other self-regulatory processes discussed in this chapter should be viewed as representative of a broader domain of potentially relevant processes.

In recent years, investigators have begun to address the development of self-regulation in groups (Hadwin, Järvelä, & Miller,  2011 ; Järvelä & Hadwin,  2013 ). Co-regulation refers to the coordination of self-regulation competencies among people in social contexts (Hadwin et al.,  2011 ; Volet, Vauras, & Salonen,  2009 ). Learners jointly use their skills and strategies to develop new or expanded self-regulatory capabilities considered useful in group or individual contexts. Participants influence one another’s self-regulated learning. Although the context and learning dynamics are social, the outcome is individual learning.

Socially shared regulation refers to interdependent regulatory processes aimed at attaining a mutual outcome (Hadwin et al.,  2011 ). In collaborative settings learners contribute their skills toward the goal of developing a self-regulated learning group. Although this chapter focuses on individual self-regulated learning, many of the principles discussed seem appropriate for co-regulated and socially shared regulated learning, both of which could occur in educational learning environments.


A behavior theory perspective on self-regulated learning derives largely from the work of Skinner (Mace, Belfiore, & Hutchinson,  2001  Chapter 3 ). Researchers working within the framework of his operant conditioning theory apply operant principles in diverse settings (e.g., clinical, academic) with adults and children. The aim of these studies is to reduce dysfunctional behaviors and replace them with more adaptive behaviors (Zimmerman,  2001 ).

Much behavioral research has been characterized by certain design features. Studies typically use few participants and sometimes only one. Participants are followed over time to determine behavioral changes resulting from interventions. The outcome measures are frequency and duration of the dysfunctional behaviors and the behaviors to be conditioned.

Behavior theory postulates that self-regulation involves choosing among different behaviors and deferring immediate reinforcement in favor of delayed (and usually greater) reinforcement. People self-regulate their behaviors by initially deciding which behaviors to regulate. They then establish discriminative stimuli for their occurrence, provide self-instruction as needed, and monitor their performances to determine whether the desired behavior occurs. This phase often involves self-recording the frequency or duration of behavior. When desirable behavior occurs, people administer self-reinforcement. These three key processes of self-monitoring, self-instruction, and self-reinforcement are discussed next.


Self-monitoring  refers to deliberate attention to some aspect of one’s behavior and often is accompanied by recording its frequency or intensity (Mace et al.,  2001 ; Mace & Kratochwill,  1988 ). People can regulate their actions only if they are aware of what they do. Behaviors can be assessed on such dimensions as quality, rate, quantity, and originality. While writing a term paper, students may periodically assess their work to determine whether it states important ideas, whether they will finish it by the due date, whether it will be too long or too short, and whether it integrates their ideas. One can engage in self-monitoring in such diverse areas as motor skills (e.g., how fast one runs the 100-meter dash), art (e.g., how original one’s pen-and-ink drawings are), and social behavior (e.g., how much one interacts at social functions).

APPLICATION 10.1 Self-Monitoring

Self-monitoring helps students become aware of their behaviors and assists them in evaluating and improving those behaviors. In a special education self-contained or resource class, self-monitoring could help students improve on-task behavior, particularly if it is coupled with goal setting. The teacher might create individual charts divided into small blocks representing a short time period (e.g., 10 minutes). Once students are working independently at their seats or in centers, a signal could be given every 10 minutes. When the signal occurs, students could record on their charts what they are doing—writing, reading, daydreaming, talking with others, and so forth. The teacher could help each student set individual goals related to the number of on-task behaviors expected in a day, which should increase as the student’s behavior improves.

It is important that teachers be careful about how they indicate time periods to self-monitoring students. Using a bell might disrupt other students and draw embarrassing attention to the students having difficulty. Teachers might seat their self-monitoring students close to them so that they can gently tap the students’ desks at the end of each time period or otherwise quietly indicate its end.

High school teachers typically have a few students who have difficulty completing assignments and reading all required material. Teachers may need to meet with these students individually to help them establish realistic goals for developing productive study habits and evaluate goal progress. Students can be taught to record how much reading (by pages), note studying, writing, and so forth, they accomplish in a set time period. Using the goals and a timer, students can monitor their progress toward achieving the goals.

Some college students in Dr. Traut’s class had difficulty completing their first paper. Although he provided considerable guidance, it was clear that these students were not working in sequential steps to complete the paper by the deadline. For the next paper, he initially met individually with each of these students and created a checklist of items and timetable necessary for completing the paper. He then met with them weekly, at which time they shared their progress on the checklist and completion of the assignment. This helped the students develop a tool that they could use to self-monitor progress toward completing assignments in any course.

Often students must be taught self-monitoring methods (Belfiore & Hornyak,  1998 ; Lan,  1998 ; Ollendick & Hersen,  1984  Application 10.1 ). Methods include narrations, frequency counts, duration measures, time-sampling measures, behavior ratings, and behavioral traces and archival records (Mace, Belfiore, & Shea,  1989 ).  Narrations  are written accounts of behavior and the context in which it occurs. Narrations can range from detailed to open-ended.  Frequency counts  are used to self-record instances of specific behaviors during a given period (e.g., number of times a student turns around in his or her seat during a 30-minute seat work exercise).  Duration measures  record the amount of time a behavior occurs during a given period (e.g., number of minutes a student studies during 30 minutes).  Time-sampling measures divide a period into shorter intervals and record how often a behavior occurs during each interval. A 30-minute study period might be divided into six 5-minute periods; for each 5-minute period, students record whether they studied the entire time.  Behavior ratings  require estimates of how often a behavior occurs during a given time (e.g., always, sometimes, never). Behavioral traces and archival records are permanent records that exist independently of other assessments (e.g., number of Internet pages accessed, number of problems solved correctly).

In the absence of self-recording, selective memory of successes and failures can occur. Our beliefs about outcomes often do not faithfully reflect our actual outcomes (e.g., we may think we performed better than we actually did). Self-recording can yield surprising results. Students having difficulties studying who keep a written record of their activities may learn they are wasting more than half of their study time on nonacademic tasks.

There are two important criteria for self-monitoring: regularity and proximity (Bandura,  1986 ). Regularitymeans monitoring behavior on a continual basis instead of intermittently; for example, keeping a daily record rather than recording behavior one day per week. Nonregular observation often yields misleading results. Proximity means that behavior is monitored close in time to its occurrence rather than long afterward. It is better to write down what we do at the time it occurs, rather than to wait until the end of the day to reconstruct events.

Self-monitoring methods place responsibility for behavioral assessment on the student (Belfiore & Hornyak,  1998 ). These methods often lead to significant behavioral improvements, known as reactive effects. Self-monitored responses are consequences of behaviors, and like other consequences, they affect future responding. Self-recordings are immediate responses that serve to mediate the relationship between preceding behavior and longer-term consequences (Mace & West,  1986 ). Students who monitor their completion of problems during seat work provide themselves with immediate reinforcers that mediate the link between seat work and such distant consequences as teacher praise and good grades.

Research supports the benefits of self-monitoring on achievement outcomes. Sagotsky, Patterson, and Lepper ( 1978 ) had children periodically monitor their performances during mathematics sessions and record whether they were working on the appropriate instructional material. Other students set daily performance goals, and students in a third condition received self-monitoring and goal setting. Self-monitoring increased time on task and mathematical achievement; goal setting had minimal effects. For goal setting to affect performance, students initially may need to learn how to set challenging but attainable goals.

Schunk ( 1983d ) provided subtraction instruction and practice to children who failed to master subtraction operations in their classrooms. One group (self-monitoring) reviewed their work at the end of each instructional session and recorded the number of workbook pages they completed. A second group (external monitoring) had their work reviewed at the end of each session by an adult who recorded the number of pages completed. No-monitoring children received the instructional program, but were not monitored or told to monitor their work.

Self- and external-monitoring conditions led to higher self-efficacy, skill, and persistence, compared with no monitoring. The effects of the two monitoring conditions were comparable. The benefits of monitoring did not depend on children’s performances during the instructional sessions, because the three treatment conditions did not result in different amounts of work completed. Monitoring progress, rather than who evaluated it, enhanced children’s perceptions of their learning progress and self-efficacy.

Reid, Trout, and Schartz ( 2005 ) reviewed the literature on self-regulation interventions to promote on-task behavior and academic performance and reduce disruptive behaviors among children with attention deficits and hyperactivity. Self-monitoring, alone and in combination with self-reinforcement, often was a component in effective interventions.


Self-instruction  refers to establishing discriminative stimuli that set the occasion for self-regulatory responses leading to reinforcement (Mace et al.,  1989 ). As used here, self-instruction is not the same as self-instructional training (Meichenbaum,  1977  Chapter 4 ). One type of self-instruction involves arranging the environment to produce discriminative stimuli. Students who realize they need to review class notes the next day might write themselves a reminder before going to bed. The written reminder serves as a cue to review, which makes reinforcement (i.e., a good grade on a quiz) more likely. Another type of self-instruction takes the form of statements (rules) that serve as discriminative stimuli to guide behavior. This type of self-instruction is included in the self-instructional training procedure.

Strategy instruction is an effective means of enhancing comprehension and self-efficacy among poor readers. Schunk and Rice ( 1986  1987 ) taught remedial readers to use the following self-instruction strategy while reading comprehension passages:

·  What do I have to do? (1) Read the questions. (2) Read the passage to find out what it is mostly about. (3) Think about what the details have in common. (4) Think about what would make a good title. (5) Reread the story if I don’t know the answer to a question. (Schunk & Rice,  1987 , pp. 290–291)

Children verbalized the individual steps prior to applying them to passages.

Self-instructional statements have been used to teach a variety of academic, social, and motor skills. These statements are especially helpful for students with learning disabilities or attention deficits. Verbalizing statements keeps learners focused on a task. A self-instruction procedure used to improve the handwriting of a student with learning disabilities is as follows (Kosiewicz, Hallahan, Lloyd, & Graves,  1982 ):

·  (1) Say aloud the word to be written. (2) Say the first syllable. (3) Name each of the letters in that syllable three times. (4) Repeat each letter as it is written down. (5) Repeat steps 2 through 4 for each succeeding syllable.

This sequence appeared on a card on the student’s desk. During training, the student was praised for completing the steps. Once the student learned the procedure, praise was discontinued and the sequence was maintained by the consequence of better handwriting.


Self-reinforcement  refers to the process whereby individuals reinforce themselves contingent on their performing a desired response, which increases the likelihood of future responding (Mace et al.,  1989 ). As discussed in  Chapter 3 , a reinforcer is defined on the basis of its effects. To illustrate, assume that Mitch is on a point system: He awards himself one point for each page he reads in his geography book. He keeps a record each week, and if his week’s points exceed his previous week’s points by 5%, he earns 30 minutes of free time on Friday. Whether this arrangement functions as self-reinforcement cannot be determined until it is known whether he regularly earns the free time. If he does (i.e., his average performance increases as the semester proceeds), then the reinforcement contingency is regulating his academic behaviors.

Much research shows that reinforcement contingencies improve academic performance (Bandura,  1986 ), but it is unclear whether self-reinforcement is more effective than externally administered reinforcement (such as given by the teacher). Studies investigating self-reinforcement often contain problems (Brigham,  1982 ). In academic settings, the reinforcement contingency typically occurs in a context that includes instruction and rules. Students usually do not work on materials when they choose but rather when told to do so by the teacher. Students may stay on task primarily because of the teacher’s classroom control and fear of punishment rather than because of reinforcement.

Self-reinforcement is hypothesized to be an effective component of self-regulated behavior, but the reinforcement may be more important than the agent of reinforcement (self or others). Although self-reinforcement may enhance maintenance of behavior over time, explicitly providing reinforcement may be more important while self-regulatory skills are being learned.

Behavior theory has been widely applied to teach self-regulated behaviors. Self-monitoring, self-instruction, and self-reinforcement are self-regulatory processes that can be taught to students. At the same time, the behavioral position does not take cognitive and affective factors into consideration. This limits its applicability to self-regulated learning, because learning requires self-regulating more than just behaviors; for example, students must set goals and maintain a sense of self-efficacy for learning. These variables are considered critical in a social cognitive theoretical perspective on self-regulation, as discussed next.


Conceptual Framework

Social cognitive theory has been applied extensively to self-regulated learning (Bandura,  1997  2001 ; Pintrich,  2004 ; Pintrich & Zusho,  2002 ; Schunk,  2012 ; B. Zimmerman,  2000 ; Zimmerman & Schunk,  2004 ). A critical ingredient is learner choice (Zimmerman,  1994  1998  2000  Table 10.1 ). This does not mean that learners always take advantage of the available choices, especially when they are uncertain about what to do and ask the teacher. When all task aspects are controlled, however, it is accurate to speak of learning being “externally controlled” or “controlled by others.” This type of situation results when a teacher gives students no latitude in methods, outcomes, and other conditions. The potential for self-regulation varies depending on choices available to learners.

Table 10.1 Learner choices and self-regulatory processes.

ChoiceSelf-Regulatory Processes
Choose to participateGoals, self-efficacy, values
Choose methodStrategy use, relaxation
Choose outcomesSelf-monitoring, self-judgment
Choose social and physical settingEnvironmental structuring, help seeking

Table 10.1  shows choices potentially available to learners and some corresponding self-regulatory processes. One choice is whether to participate. This depends on such processes as learners’ goals, values, and self-efficacy. Learners also may choose the methods they use while learning; for example, which strategies they employ and which relaxation techniques they use if they become anxious. A third type of choice involves outcomes: Which outcomes do learners desire? As they work on the task they monitor their performances and judge whether their performances are moving them toward outcome attainment. Finally, learners may be able to choose the social and physical settings they use to work on the task. This may require that they structure their environments to make them conducive to learning and seek help when they need it.

In some classrooms, little self-regulation is possible. Suppose that a teacher tells students to write a 10-page typewritten, double-spaced paper on an assigned topic, containing at least 10 references, completed in 3 weeks, and written individually in the media center and at home. Assuming the teacher further specifies the paper format, the teacher is directing most of this assignment.

In contrast, assume Jim wants to learn to play the guitar. He chooses to engage in this task. The method he chooses is to take lessons from a teacher. He takes one 45-minute lesson per week and practices 1 hour per day. His goal is to be proficient enough to play in public. He practices the guitar at home at night. Besides his teacher, he enlists the aid of a friend who plays the guitar and asks him technical questions about finger positions and tuning. Jim has almost complete control over the situation, so it allows for maximum self-regulation.

Many situations lie somewhere between these extremes. Teachers may give a term paper assignment but allow students to choose from several topics. Students also may be able to decide on the resources they use, where they write, and how long the paper will be. High school senior graduation projects typically specify some elements (e.g., research paper, oral presentation), but give students choices with other elements (e.g., topic, props). It thus makes more sense to ask to what degree one engages in self-regulation rather than whether one is self-regulated.

Table 10.2 Processes of self-regulation.

RegularityTypes of standardsEvaluative motivators
ProximityGoal propertiesTangible motivators
Self-recordingGoal importance

Interventions designed to enhance self-regulation in students often focus on one or more self-regulatory processes and provide students with instruction and practice on those processes. A wealth of evidence shows that self-regulatory competencies can be enhanced through educational interventions (Schunk & Ertmer,  2000 ; Schunk & Zimmerman,  1994  1998  2008 ).

Self-Regulatory Processes

Early applications of social cognitive theoretical principles of self-regulation involved investigating the operation of three processes: self-observation (or self-monitoring), self-judgment, and self-reaction (Bandura,  1986  Table 10.2 ). Notice the similarity of these to the three processes espoused by behavior theory: self-monitoring, self-instruction, and self-reinforcement.

Students enter learning activities with such goals as acquiring knowledge and problem-solving strategies, finishing assignments, and performing experiments. With these goals in mind, students observe, judge, and react to their perceived progress. These processes are not mutually exclusive, but rather interact with one another.


Self-observation  involves judging observed aspects of one’s behavior against standards and reacting positively or negatively. People’s evaluations and reactions set the stage for additional observations of the same behavioral aspects or others. These processes also do not operate independently of the environment (Zimmerman,  1989  1990  2000 ). Students who judge their learning progress as inadequate may react by asking for teacher assistance, which alters their environment. In turn, teachers may instruct students in a more efficient strategy, which students then use to promote their learning. That environmental influences (e.g., teachers) can assist the development of self-regulation is important, because educators advocate that students be taught self-regulatory skills (Schunk & Zimmerman,  1994  1998  2008 ).

Self-observation is conceptually similar to self-monitoring and is commonly taught as part of self-regulatory instruction (Lan,  1998 ; Zimmerman, Bonner, & Kovach,  1996 ); however, by itself self-observation usually is insufficient to self-regulate behavior over time. Standards of goal attainment and criteria in assessing goal progress are necessary.


Self-judgment  refers to comparing present performance level with one’s goal. Self-judgments depend on the type of self-evaluative standards employed, properties of the goal, importance of goal attainment, and attributions.

Self-evaluative standards  may be absolute or normative. Absolute standards are fixed; normative standards are based on performances of others. Students whose goal is to read six pages in 30 minutes gauge their progress against this absolute standard. Grading systems often reflect absolute standards (e.g., A = 90–100, B = 80–89).

Normative standards frequently are acquired by observing models (Bandura,  1986 ). Socially comparing one’s performances with those of others is an important way to determine the appropriateness of behaviors and self-evaluate performances. Social comparison becomes more probable when absolute standards are nonexistent or ambiguous (Festinger,  1954 ). Students have numerous opportunities to compare their work with that of their peers. Absolute and normative standards often are employed in concert, as when students have 30 minutes to read six pages and compare their progress with peers to gauge who will be the first to finish.

Standards inform and motivate. Comparing performance with standards indicates goal progress. Students who read three pages in 10 minutes realize they have finished half of the reading in less than half of the time. The belief that they are making progress enhances their self-efficacy, which sustains their motivation to complete the task. Similar others, rather than those much higher or lower in ability, offer the best basis for comparison (Schunk,  1987 ).

Schunk ( 1983b ) compared the effects of social comparative information with those of goal setting during a division training program. Half of the children were given performance goals during each instructional session; the other half were advised to work productively. Within each goal condition, half of the students were told the number of problems other similar children had completed (which matched the session goal) to convey that goals were attainable; the other half were not given comparative information. Goals enhanced self-efficacy; comparative information promoted motivation. Children who received both goals and comparative information demonstrated the highest skill acquisition.

Davidson and Smith ( 1982 ) had children observe a superior adult, equal peer, or inferior younger child set stringent or lenient task standards. Children who observed a lenient model rewarded themselves more often for lower scores than those who observed a stringent model. Children’s self-reward standards were lower than those of the adult, equal to those of the peer, and higher than those of the younger child. Model–observer similarity in age might have led children to believe that what was appropriate for the peer was appropriate for them.

Observation of models affects self-efficacy and achievement behaviors ( Chapter 4 ). Zimmerman and Ringle ( 1981 ) exposed children to an adult model who unsuccessfully attempted to solve a wire puzzle for a long or short period and who verbalized statements of confidence or pessimism. Children who observed a pessimistic model persist for a long time lowered their efficacy judgments. Perceived similarity to models is especially influential when observers experience difficulties and possess self-doubts about performing well (Schunk & Hanson,  1985 ; Schunk, Hanson, & Cox,  1987 ).

APPLICATION 10.2 Goal Setting and Self-Regulation

Goal setting is a useful strategy for completing long-term tasks. Many students have doubts about finishing a project that includes a display and a research paper. Teachers can assist their students by breaking the assignment into short-term goals. If students have a 6-week period to complete the project, their first task (one week) might be to choose a topic after researching various topics. The second week can be spent on more research and to develop a paper outline. After the outlines are submitted and feedback received, students have 2 weeks to work on the initial drafts of their papers and to draw a sketch of the items to be included in their displays. Teachers can review their progress and provide feedback. Students then revise papers and develop displays during the final 2 weeks.

Law students can become overwhelmed when trying to learn and analyze numerous landmark cases in preparing for moot court. Law professors can help throughout the semester by having students set realistic goals and by helping students organize their studying. Students might begin by establishing goals to learn the cases for major categories (e.g., family, business, private, and international law) in a set time period. Within each major goal category subgoals can be created; for example, for the major goal category of private law, subgoals can be established for ownership and use of property, contracts between individuals, and redress by way of compensation for harm inflicted on one person by another.

Goal properties—specificity, proximity, difficulty—are especially influential with long-term tasks ( Chapter 4 ). Teachers can assist students who have doubts about writing a good term paper by breaking the task into short-term goals (e.g., selecting a topic, conducting background research, writing an outline). Learners are apt to believe they can accomplish the subtasks, and completing each subtask develops their self-efficacy for producing a good term paper. Examples are given in  Application 10.2 .

Allowing students to set learning goals enhances goal commitment (Locke & Latham,  1990  2002 ) and promotes self-efficacy (Schunk,  1990 ). Schunk ( 1985 ) found support for this in a study with children with learning disabilities. Some children set mathematical subtraction problem-solving goals for themselves each session, others were assigned comparable goals by a teacher, and others received instruction but no goals. Self-set goals led to higher expectancies of goal attainment compared with goals set by others. Relative to the other two conditions, self-set goals produced the highest self-efficacy and greatest skill acquisition.

Self-judgments reflect in part the importance of goal attainment. When individuals care little about how they perform, they may not assess their performance or expend effort to improve it (Bandura,  1986 ). People judge their progress in learning for goals they value. Sometimes goals that originally hold little value become more important when people receive feedback indicating they are becoming skillful. Novice piano players initially may hold ill-defined goals for themselves (e.g., play better). As their skills develop, they begin to set specific goals (e.g., learn to play a particular piece) and judge progress relative to these goals.

Attributions  (perceived causes of outcomes;  Chapter 9 ), along with goal progress judgments, can affect self-efficacy, motivation, achievement, and affective reactions (Schunk,  2001  2008 ). Students who believe they are not making good progress toward their goals may attribute their performances to low ability, which negatively impacts expectancies and behaviors. Students who attribute poor progress to lackadaisical effort or an inadequate learning strategy may believe they will perform better if they work harder or switch to a different strategy (Schunk,  2008 ). Learners take greater pride in their accomplishments when they attribute them to ability and effort than to external causes (Weiner,  1985 ). They are more self-critical when they believe that they failed due to personal reasons rather than to circumstances beyond their control.

Attributional feedback can enhance self-regulated learning (Schunk,  2008 ). Being told that one can achieve better results through harder work can motivate one to do so, because the feedback conveys that one is capable (Andrews & Debus,  1978 ; Dweck,  1975 ; Schunk,  2008 ). Providing effort feedback for prior successes supports students’ perceptions of their progress, sustains their motivation, and increases their efficacy for further learning (Schunk,  1982a ; Schunk & Cox,  1986 ).

The timing of attributional feedback is important. Early successes constitute a prominent cue for forming ability attributions. Feedback linking early successes with ability (e.g., “That’s correct; you’re good at this”) should enhance learning efficacy. Many times, however, effort feedback for early successes is more credible, because when students lack skills they have to expend effort to succeed. As students develop skills, ability feedback better enhances self-efficacy (Schunk,  1983a ).


Self-reactions  to goal progress motivate behavior (Bandura,  1986 ; Zimmerman & Schunk,  2004 ). The belief that one is making acceptable progress, along with the anticipated satisfaction of accomplishing the goal, enhances self-efficacy and sustains motivation. Negative evaluations do not decrease motivation if individuals believe they are capable of improving (Schunk,  1995 ). If students believe they have been lackadaisical but can progress with enhanced effort, they are apt to feel efficacious and redouble their efforts. Motivation does not improve if students believe they lack the ability and will not succeed no matter how hard they try (Schunk,  1982a  2008 ).

Instructions to people to respond evaluatively to their performances promote motivation; people who think they can perform better persist longer and expend greater effort (Kanfer & Gaelick,  1986 ). Perceived progress is relative to one’s goals; the same level of performance can be evaluated differently. Some students are content with a B in a course, whereas others will be dissatisfied with a B because they want an A. Assuming that people feel capable of improving, higher goals lead to greater effort and persistence than lower goals (Bandura & Cervone,  1983 ).

People routinely reward themselves tangibly with work breaks, new clothes, and evenings out with friends, contingent on their making progress toward goal attainment. The anticipated consequences of behavior, rather than the actual consequences, enhance motivation (Bandura,  1986 ). Grades are given at the end of courses, yet students typically set subgoals for accomplishing their work and reward and punish themselves accordingly.

Tangible consequences also affect self-efficacy. External rewards that are given based on actual accomplishments enhance efficacy. Telling students that they will earn rewards based on what they accomplish instills a sense of self-efficacy for learning (Schunk,  1995 ). Self-efficacy is validated as students work on a task and note their progress. Receipt of the reward further validates efficacy, because it symbolizes progress. Rewards not tied to performances (e.g., given for spending time on the task regardless of what one accomplishes) may convey negative self-efficacy information; students might infer they are not expected to learn much because they are not capable (Schunk,  1983e ).

Cyclical Nature of Self-Regulated Learning

Social cognitive theorists emphasize the dynamic interaction of personal, behavioral, and environmental factors (Bandura,  1986  1997 ; Pintrich & Zusho,  2002 ; B. Zimmerman,  2000  2001 ; Zimmerman & Schunk,  2004  Chapter 4 ). Self-regulated learning is a cyclical process because these factors typically change during learning and must be monitored. Such monitoring leads to changes in an individual’s strategies, cognitions, affects, and behaviors.

This cyclical nature is captured in Zimmerman’s ( 1998  2000 ) three-phase model of self-regulated learning ( Figure 10.1 ). This model also expands the classical view, which covers task engagement, because it includes self-regulatory processes performed before and after engagement. The forethought phase precedes actual performance and refers to processes that set the stage for action. The performance (volitional) control phase involves processes that occur during learning and affect attention and action. During the self-reflection phase, which occurs after performance, people respond to their efforts (Zimmerman & Schunk,  2004 ).


Figure 10.1 Model of self-regulated learning.

Source: From “Developing Self-Fulfilling Cycles of Academic Regulation: An Analysis of Exemplary Instructional Models,” by B. J. Zimmerman, 1998 in D. H. Schunk and B. J. Zimmerman (Eds.)., Self-Regulating Learning: From Teaching to Self Reflective Practice (pp. 3) New York: Guilford Press

Various self-regulatory processes come into play during the different phases. In the forethought phase, learners set goals, engage in strategic planning, and hold a sense of self-efficacy for attaining their goals. Performance control involves implementing learning strategies that affect motivation and learning, as well as observing and recording one’s performances. During periods of self-reflection, learners engage in self-evaluation (addressed next) and make attributions for their performances, after which they return to either the forethought or performance control phase. There is evidence that teaching students to engage in self-regulation in all three phases has desirable effects on strategic thinking and attributions (Cleary, Zimmerman, & Keating,  2006 ; DiBenedetto & Zimmerman,  2010 ).

Pintrich’s ( 2000b ) social cognitive model comprises four phases: forethought, planning and activation; monitoring; control; and reaction and reflection. Within each phase, possible areas for self-regulation are cognition, motivation, affect, behavior, and context. During the forethought phase, learners set goals and activate content and metacognitive knowledge. Motivational variables during this phase are goal orientations, self-efficacy, and perceptions of task difficulty, task value, and interest. The monitoring and control phases during task engagement involve metacognitive awareness and monitoring of cognition, motivation, and affect; behavior (e.g., effort, time management); and context (e.g., changes in conditions); along with strategies for learning, managing motivation, exerting behavioral self-control, and changing the task or context. Following task engagement, learners make cognitive judgments and attributions of their performance and evaluate the task and context, after which they may return to the forethought phase.


Effective self-regulation requires goals and motivation (Bandura,  1986 ; B. Zimmerman,  2000 ). Students must regulate their actions and underlying achievement cognitions, beliefs, intentions, and affects. Research substantiates the prediction that self-monitoring of achievement beliefs sustains learning and promotes achievement (Schunk & Zimmerman,  1994  2008 ; B. Zimmerman,  2000 ; Zimmerman et al.,  1996 ; Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons,  1992 ).

Effective self-regulators develop self-efficacy for self-regulating their learning and performance (Caprara et al.,  2008 ; Pajares,  2008 ; Schunk,  2012 ; Zimmerman, Bandura, & Martinez-Pons,  1992 ). Research shows that self-efficacy for self-regulated learning bears a significant and positive relation to students’ academic achievement and grades (Caprara et al.,  2008 ).

Of critical importance is self-evaluation of capabilities and progress in skill acquisition.  Self-evaluation comprises self-judgments of present performance by comparing one’s goal and self-reactions to those judgments by deeming performance noteworthy, unacceptable, and so forth. Positive self-evaluations lead students to feel efficacious about learning and motivated to continue to work diligently because they believe they are capable of making further progress (Schunk & Pajares,  2009 ). Low self-judgments of progress and negative self-reactions will not necessarily diminish self-efficacy and motivation if students believe they are capable of succeeding but that their present approach is ineffective (Bandura,  1986 ). Such students may alter their self-regulatory processes by working harder, persisting longer, adopting what they believe is a better strategy, or seeking help from teachers and peers (Schunk,  2001 ; Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons,  1992 ).

Research substantiates the hypothesis that self-evaluations of capabilities and progress in skill acquisition affect achievement outcomes (Schunk & Ertmer,  2000 ). Investigations with children during learning of mathematical skills (Schunk & Hanson,  1985 ; Schunk et al.,  1987 ) and writing skills (Schunk & Swartz,  1993a  1993b ) show that self-efficacy for learning or improving skills assessed prior to instruction predict motivation and skill acquisition.

Bandura and Cervone ( 1983 ) obtained benefits of goals and self-evaluative feedback among college students on motor-skill performance. A similar study showed that the greater the students’ dissatisfaction with their performances and the higher their self-efficacy for performing well, the stronger was their subsequent effort expenditure (Bandura & Cervone,  1986 ). Cervone, Jiwani, and Wood ( 1991 ) found that providing individuals with a specific goal enhanced the effects of self-efficacy and self-evaluation on performance.

Students may not spontaneously self-evaluate their capabilities. One means of highlighting progress is to have them periodically assess their progress. Explicit capability self-evaluations constitute a type of self-monitoring because students must attend to their present performance and compare it with their prior performance to note progress. By making performance improvements salient, such self-monitoring is apt to raise self-efficacy, sustain self-regulatory activities, and promote skills. White, Kjelgaard, and Harkins ( 1995 ) noted that self-evaluation enhances the effects of goals on performance.

Schunk ( 1996 ) conducted two studies investigating how goals and self-evaluation affect achievement outcomes. Fourth graders received instruction and practice on fractions over several sessions. Students worked under conditions involving either a goal of learning how to solve problems (process goal) or a goal of merely solving them (product goal). In Study 1, half of the students in each goal condition evaluated their problem-solving capabilities. The process goal (with or without self-evaluation) and the product goal with self-evaluation led to higher self-efficacy, skill, self-directed performance, and task orientation than did the product goal without self-evaluation. In Study 2, all students in each goal condition evaluated their progress in skill acquisition. The process goal led to higher motivation and achievement outcomes than did the product goal.

Schunk and Ertmer ( 1999 ) examined how goals and self-evaluation affected self-efficacy, achievement, and self-reported competence and use of self-regulatory strategies. College undergraduates worked on computer projects over three sessions. Students received a process goal of learning computer applications or a product goal of performing them. In the first study, half of the students in each goal condition evaluated their progress in learning after the second session. The process goal led to higher self-efficacy, self-judged learning progress, and self-regulatory competence and strategy use; the opportunity for self-evaluation promoted self-efficacy. In the second study, self-evaluation students assessed their progress after each session. Frequent self-evaluation produced comparable results when coupled with a process or product goal. Collectively, these results suggest that infrequent self-evaluation complements learning process goals, but that multiple self-evaluations outweigh the benefits of process goals and raise achievement outcomes for all students.

Having students self-monitor their performance and evaluate their capabilities or progress in learning makes it clear that they have become more competent, and this perception strengthens self-efficacy and enhances self-regulated learning efforts. Given that students are not normally in the habit of evaluating their skills or learning progress, they may require instruction in self-evaluation and frequent opportunities to practice it. Suggestions for incorporating self-evaluation in learning settings are given in  Application 10.3 .

Learning Strategies.

The opening scenario underscores the importance of learning strategies. Self-regulated learners believe acquisition of proficiency is a strategically controllable process and accept responsibility for their achievement outcomes (Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons,  1992 ). According to social cognitive theory, self-regulated strategy use is influenced by students’ self-belief systems. Self-regulated learners are metacognitively aware of strategic relations between self-regulatory processes and learning outcomes, feel self-efficacious about using strategies, have academic goals of learning, have control over debilitating thoughts and anxiety, and believe that strategy use will help them attain goals at higher levels (Zimmerman,  1989  1990  2000  2001  2008 ; Zimmerman & Cleary,  2009 ). Students who feel efficacious about learning select what they believe are useful learning strategies, monitor their performances, and alter their task approach when their present methods do not appear to function properly.

APPLICATION 10.3 Incorporating Self-Evaluation into Learning

Teaching students to evaluate their progress and learning can begin as early as pre-school and kindergarten. Teachers initially might use simple self-checking. Children might be asked to assemble various shaped blocks to form a larger shape (rectangle, square, triangle, hexagon). Samples of various ways to combine the smaller blocks to make the shape can be drawn on cards and placed in an envelope at an activity center. Older elementary students might be given an activity sheet that accompanies a hands-on task with the answers for the sheet listed on the back so they can check their work.

For older students, self-checking can be integrated into daily activities. They also can be taught to evaluate their learning by utilizing pretests and practice tests; for example, with the learning of spelling words and mathematical facts. More complicated and thorough practice tests can be used with middle school and high school students, allowing them to determine how much studying to do and what activities they need to complete to master the unit goals.

Research shows that self-efficacy relates positively to productive use of self-regulatory strategies (Pajares,  2008 ; Pintrich & Zusho,  2002 ; Zimmerman et al.,  1992 ; Zimmerman & Cleary,  2009 ; Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons,  1990 ). Results from a series of studies support the notion that altering goals and strategies is adaptive during learning (Kitsantas & Zimmerman,  1998 ; Zimmerman & Kitsantas,  1996  1997 ). In particular, self-regulated learning is enhanced by shifting from process (strategies) to product (outcomes) goals as learning improves. Learning strategies are discussed in greater depth in the next section.

Social-Self Interaction

The dynamic nature of self-regulated learning is further highlighted in the interaction of social and self variables (Schunk,  1999 ; Schunk & Zimmerman,  1997  Table 10.3 ). Initial learning often proceeds best when learners observe social models. They then become able to perform skills in rudimentary fashion with appropriate guidance and feedback. As learners develop competence, they enter a self-control phase where they can match their actions with internal representations of the skill. At the final level, learners develop self-regulatory processes that they employ to further refine skills and select new goals.

Table 10.3 Influence of social and self variables on self-regulated learning.

Level of DevelopmentSocial InfluencesSelf Influences
ObservationModeling, verbal description
EmulationSocial guidance and feedback
Self-controlInternal standards, self-reinforcement
Self-regulationSelf-regulatory processes, self-efficacy beliefs

The interaction of social and self variables helps promote internalization of self-regulatory processes.  Internalization  means that learners have these processes as part of their self-regulatory systems. They use them when they deem them necessary and can adapt them to changing task and environmental demands. Although it is possible that learners could skip early phases if they enter with some skills, this sequence is a useful instructional strategy to help learners develop skills and self-regulatory competence (Zimmerman & Kitsantas,  2005 ).


Self-regulated learning has been addressed by information processing theories, which have evolved from their original formulations to incorporate cognitive and motivational self-regulatory processes. This section presents an information processing model of self-regulated learning and discusses research on and applications of learning strategies—a key feature of self-regulation from an information processing perspective.

Model of Self-Regulated Learning

Information processing theories view learning as the encoding of information in long-term memory (LTM;  Chapters 5  and  6 ). Learners activate relevant portions of LTM and relate new knowledge to existing information in working memory (WM). Organized and meaningful information is easier to integrate with existing knowledge and more likely to be remembered.

Self-regulated learning is roughly equivalent to  metacognitive awareness  or  metacognition  (Gitomer & Glaser,  1987 ), where individuals monitor, direct, and regulate actions toward goals (Paris & Paris,  2001 ). This awareness includes knowledge of the task (e.g., what is to be learned, when and how it is to be learned), as well as self-knowledge of personal capabilities, interests, and attitudes. Self-regulated learning requires learners to have a sound knowledge base comprising task demands, personal qualities, and strategies for completing the task.

Metacognitive awareness also includes procedural knowledge or productions that regulate learning by monitoring one’s level of learning, deciding when to take a different task approach, and assessing readiness for a test. Self-regulatory (metacognitive) activities are under the learner’s direction. They facilitate the construction and processing of knowledge.

The basic (superordinate) unit of self-regulation may be a problem-solving production system, in which the problem is to reach the goal and the monitoring serves to ascertain whether the learner is making progress. This system compares the present situation against a standard and attempts to reduce discrepancies.

An early formulation of this system was Miller, Galanter, and Pribham’s ( 1960 Test-Operate-Test-Exit(TOTE) model. The initial test phase compares the present situation against a standard. If they are the same, no further action is required. If they do not match, control is switched to the operate function to change behavior to resolve the discrepancy. One perceives a new state of affairs that is compared to the standard during the second test phase. Assuming that these match, one exits the model. If they do not match, further behavioral changes and comparisons are necessary.

This process can be illustrated with Lisa, who is reading her economics text and stops periodically to summarize what she has read. She recalls information from LTM pertaining to what she has read and compares the information to her internal standard of an adequate summary. This standard may be characterized by rules (e.g., be precise, include information on all topics covered, be accurate) developed through experiences in summarizing. Assuming that her summary matches her standard, she continues reading. If they do not match, Lisa evaluates where the problem lies (in her understanding of the second paragraph) and executes a correction strategy (rereads the second paragraph).

Winne and Hadwin ( 1998  2008 ; Winne,  2001  2011 ) developed an information processing model of self-regulated learning that is highly relevant to education (Greene & Azevedo,  2007 ). This model comprises three necessary phases (definition of task, goals and plans, studying tactics) and one optional phase (adaptations).

In the first phase, learners process information about the conditions that characterize the task in order to clearly define it (Winne,  2001 ). There are two main sources of information. Task conditions include information about the task that learners interpret based on the external environment (e.g., teacher’s directions for an assignment). Cognitive conditions are those that learners retrieve from long-term memory. These include information about how they did on prior work, as well as motivational variables (e.g., perceived competence, attributions). In the second phase, learners decide on a goal and a plan for attaining it. The plan will include relevant learning strategies. As they begin to apply these strategies, they move into the third phase (studying tactics). In phase four students make adaptations to their plans based on their evaluations of how successful they are. This phase is optional; if the original plan is successful there is no need to adapt it.

Within each phase, information processing occurs and constructs information products (new information). Information processes work on existing information and are characterized by the acronym SMART: searching, monitoring, assembling, rehearsing, translating. Working on a task requires using a  schema , or  script , and each script has five possible slots to fill characterized by the acronym COPES: conditions, operations, products, evaluations, standards. Figuratively speaking, these are the elements a student “copes with” to learn (Winne,  2001 ). Information processing outcomes are judged against standards, and these evaluations (e.g., on target, too high) serve as the basis for bringing new conditions to bear on the student’s learning activities.

The importance of this model for education derives heavily from its development and use with learning content and on its inclusion of motivational variables. These motivational variables are combined with cognitive variables to determine the usefulness of a particular self-regulatory schema, or script. This model represents an advance over traditional and contemporary information processing models that emphasize cognitive components ( Chapters 5  and  6 ). Much research supports the idea that motivational variables are important during self-regulated learning (Zimmerman & Schunk,  2001 ).

There are other information processing models of self-regulation (e.g., Carver & Scheier,  1998 ), but they are in agreement in their emphasis on learning strategies. These are discussed next.

Learning Strategies

Learning strategies  are cognitive plans oriented toward successful task performance (Pressley et al.,  1990 ; Weinstein & Mayer,  1986 ). Strategies include methods such as selecting and organizing information, rehearsing material to be learned, relating new material to information in memory, and enhancing meaningfulness of material. Strategies also include techniques that create and maintain a positive learning climate—for example, ways to overcome test anxiety, enhance self-efficacy, appreciate the value of learning, and develop positive outcome expectations and attitudes (Weinstein & Mayer,  1986 ). Use of strategies is an integral part of self-regulated learning because strategies give learners better control over information processing (Winne,  2001 ). In the opening vignette, Connie stresses the importance of Kim using learning strategies in her courses.

Learning strategies assist encoding in each of its phases. Thus, learners initially attend to relevant task information and transfer it from the sensory register to WM. Learners also activate related knowledge in LTM. In WM, learners build connections (links) between new information and prior knowledge and integrate these links into LTM networks.

In formulating a learning strategy, learners initially might analyze an activity or situation in terms of the goal, aspects of the situation relevant to that goal, personal characteristics that seem to be important, and potentially useful self-regulated learning methods. Learners then might develop a strategy, implement the methods, monitor their goal progress, and modify the strategy when the methods are not producing goal progress. Guiding the implementation of these methods is metacognitive knowledge, which involves knowing that one must carry out the methods, why they are important, and when and how to perform them.

Self-regulated learning methods are specific procedures or techniques included in strategies to attain goals. These methods are discussed next and are shown in  Table 10.4 . Learning methods are interdependent (Weinstein & Mayer,  1986 ). For example, procedures that elaborate information also often rehearse and organize it. Methods that organize information may relieve one’s stress about learning and help one cope with anxiety. Methods are not equally appropriate with all types of tasks. Rehearsal may be the method of choice when one must memorize simple facts, but organization is more appropriate for comprehension (see  Application 10.4 ).


Repeating information verbatim, underlining, and summarizing are forms of  rehearsal . Repeating information to oneself—aloud, subvocally (whispering), or covertly—is an effective method for tasks requiring rote memorization. For example, to learn the names of the 50 state capitals, Janna might say the name of each state followed by the name of its capital. Rehearsal also can help learners memorize lines to a song or poem and learn English translations of foreign-language words.

Table 10.4 Learning methods.

RehearsalRepeating information verbatim



ElaborationUsing imagery

Using mnemonics: acronym, sentence, narrative story, pegword, method of loci, keyword


Note ta

"Is this question part of your assignment? We can help"