Self-regulated learning is not an innate ability, but rather a skill set that can be developed to help students direct themselves through the process of learning. Developing this skill set allows students to learn more effectively because they are able to set clear goals for themselves and monitor their progress based on their goals and strategies. Self-regulation allows students to become less reactive and more proactive in their learning.

The self-regulated learner typically engages in a 3-part thought process:

  1. Plan: Set sub-goals, such as thinking about when and where to study or choosing strategies for a given assignment, exam, or assessment format.
  2. Monitor: Reflect on how effective certain locations or strategies are during studying, think about what to do when obstacles arise, and determine how good one’s understanding of the content is.
  3. Evaluate: Think about both the outcome on the assignment/assessment and the effectiveness of the strategies used, while attributing performance to effort/strategies rather than external influences.

Why is self-regulation important?

It has been shown that students who have become more proficient in regulating their learning are able to improve their performance. This occurs through the self-reflection encouraged by self-regulated learning, which allows students to have a better idea of how to approach learning and use available resources effectively. Students who develop the skill set of regulating their learning can also gain psychological benefits, such as greater perceived control over performance and having less negative affect towards exams. Employing self-regulation techniques helps students course correct and become more independent learners, as they are able to realize which strategies are actually effective or not as they monitor their own studying.

At the college level, self-regulation is even more important as classes are both more demanding and have less supervision than in secondary education. Many students enter college without a good understanding of how to learn effectively, and continuing in that way may affect their mindset towards college-level classes and lead them to feel discouraged that they just don’t “get it” unlike their peers. This is especially true as MIT is known for its rigorous academics, and it is all too easy for students to compare themselves to others. Encouraging students to develop their self-regulated learning skills can help students feel that they are on an equal playing field as their peers.

During this period of remote learning, self-regulation can help students learn effectively while they are also under stress from a number of other factors not within their control amidst the pandemic. Students may also have to do more planning on their own than on-campus, due to the more unstructured nature of remote learning. Having a process like self-regulation can help students feel a sense of self-efficacy towards their learning, and this mindset is beneficial even after they graduate.

Strategies to teach self-regulation

Help students actively think about strategies for more effective learning in your discipline and show how they can be used. For example, if there is an upcoming assessment, have students think about the assessment format, what resources would help them study, why they would help, and when/how students plan to use those resources.

Model goal-oriented behavior for students to deliberately plan how to reach their goals, such as building in sub-steps for projects, clear deadlines, and estimated time for completing tasks. For instance, if you have a video that students will watch asynchronously, you can set a date by which students should have watched the video, and then have a small quiz or exercise for students to complete after watching the video; this will help students better plan and monitor their learning.

Develop everyday discourse about self-regulation in the classroom to provide students with a foundation to talk about their own self-regulation and become more self-aware. Making it part of the discourse makes the process more transparent, instead of something where some students seem to get it, and others don’t. Below are some ways you can do this:

  • Conduct a pre-class survey to gauge how students currently approach learning. This can provide you a natural way to transition into talking about self-regulated learning strategies in the classroom and explaining how they are connected to improved learning.
  • State improved self-regulated learning skills as a learning goal in the class syllabus may also help make it clearer to students that you intend to work on this skillset throughout the class.
  • Encourage students to plan out their classwork, such as working on an assignment a bit each day before it is due rather than doing it all the day before. One way to do this is with a timesheet. An example of a timesheet can be found here in the 9.68 OCW. The idea here is that students will consciously monitor their time spent on classwork at least a few times a week and be honest with how they spent their time. By actively observing themselves, students can recognize both the amount and quality of the work they put into a class and continuously evaluate their performance. 
  • Explicitly label and discuss strategies in the context of a classroom activity or discussion. For example, when discussing the solution to a problem or having a discussion on readings, you can have students talk about different strategies to review the material or strategies they used to read the assigned texts.

Give students feedback on how they are meeting course goals, and encourage them to actively think about what strategies have and haven’t worked in learning certain kinds of material. You can ask them to reflect on how they can improve their learning strategies, and provide feedback on their reflection as well.

Provide students with rubrics can also develop their self-regulated learning skills, as it will allow them to be aware of what constitutes a successful assignment submission. This can then influence the learning strategies they choose to employ for an assignment and self-evaluate their progress. Additionally, if they do not get the result they had expected based on the rubric, students can reevaluate their current strategies to better achieve their goals.


Pintrich, Paul R. (2002). “The Role of Metacognitive Knowledge in Learning, Teaching, and Assessing”, Theory Into Practice, 41:4, 219-225.

Chen et al. (2017). “Strategic Resource Use for Learning: A Self-Administered Intervention That Guides Self-Reflection on Effective Resource Use Enhances Academic Performance”, Psychological Science, Vol. 28(6), 774-785

Ertmer, Peggy A. and Newby, Timothy J. (1996). “The expert learner: Strategic, self-regulated, and reflective”, Instructional Science, 24, 1-24. 

Azvedo, Roger and Cromley, Jennifer G. (2004). “Does Training on Self-Regulated Learning Facilitate Students’ Learning With Hypermedia?” Journal of Educational Psychology, Vol. 96, No. 3, 523-535.

Zimmerman, Barry J. (2002). “Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview”, Theory Into Practice, Vol. 41, No. 2, 64-70.