Self-regulated learning 101: Building autonomy in the classroom

We regularly teach our students algebra and  chemistry – but how can we teach them to learn?

Rob Mason

Metacognition and the Self-regulation Puzzle

In our last blog, we covered the basics of metacognition – what it is, the types of knowledge involved, and the evidence.

In this article, we’ll zoom out a little to cover the broader topic of self-regulated learning. Of course, metacognition is a major part of self-regulation puzzle. But, as we’ll see, self-regulation is a little broader.

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Self-regulated learning involves the learner’s ability to monitor and self-direct efforts to interact with both internal and external information and environments. Learners who possess self-regulation skills are able to learn autonomously.

Along with elements of metacognition – such as knowing which learning strategies to use, when, and for what tasks – self-regulated learning also describes a student’s ability to motivate themselves, set goals, measure progress towards goals, stay focussed, and reflect on their learning.

Three phases of self-regulation


In the forethought stage, students develop beliefs about their self-efficacy as a learner (often with experiences from previous tasks in mind), set goals, develop motivation to reach the goals, plan their learning tasks, and identify strategies they might use to successfully complete the tasks.


In the performance stage, students monitor their progress on the task and the effectiveness of the strategies they have selected (a type of metacognition), while also using self-control strategies to remain focussed and reduce the likelihood of task avoidance – including procrastination!


In the self-reflection stage, learners reflect on the strategies they used, their success with the task, and their motivation to complete the task. Students may develop beliefs about their success on the task (or otherwise) during this stage – they might note a particularly successful strategy and remember for next time that it worked well, or they might avoid future tasks because of a developed belief that they weren’t successful and so cannot do well next time.

What are the benefits?

Students who are able to self-regulate their own learning experiences are better prepared to:

  • work independently
  • adapt to new situations or challenges
  • develop resilience so that they are able to persist with challenging learning tasks in the future (a concept sometimes referred to as ‘grit’)
  • set goals and self-motivate to reach those goals
  • complete learning tasks more efficiently, particularly as they continue to reflect on learning experiences and modify future strategies

What does it look like in the classroom?

Developing your students’ ability to regulate their own learning requires time and effort. Often, it can feel like there’s so much curriculum to cover that it’s impossible to spend too much time developing self-regulated learning skills in your students. However, the investment of time in explicitly instructing and modelling self-regulated learning skills will pay large dividends for students as they progress through their learning.

Strategies for developing self-regulated learning skills in your students include:

  • Modelling what it looks like to set goals, select strategies, or monitor progress towards goals for a particular subject or task – it is often more effective to teach self-regulation in the context of individual subjects rather than global skills
  • Building students’ ability to reflect on their learning
  • Scaffolding or modelling language around the evaluation of learning strategies
  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect on prior learning and previously successful strategies

Next Time

In our next post, we’ll explore some more practical strategies for helping learners develop metacognitive and self-regulatory skills.

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How do teachers currently promote self-regulated learning in the classroom

As part of our series on learning science research, and how it applies to the classroom, we will be taking a deep dive into a handful of recent learning science research papers. While looking into some current research, we will pull out practical recommendations that can be implemented into the classroom.

Read More »

Bibliography & suggested further reading

Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview. Theory Into Practice, 41(2), 64-70. doi:10.1207/s15430421tip4102_2


The Education Endowment Foundation’s Evidence for Learning website contains a wealth of information about the effectiveness of metacognition and self-regulated learning:


Another good resource for evidence on educational interventions is the Visible Learning MetaX website. It’s a free online resource that brings together a great deal of John Hattie’s Visible Learning work in an easy-to-use online format:


Most good educational psychology texts contain some basic information and implementation advice. For example:


Snowman, J. & McCown, R. (2015). Psychology applied to teaching (14th ed.). Stamford: Cengage Learning.


The Science of Learning Partnership Schools Initiative connects research and practice, to enhance educational outcomes in Schools.

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