Self-Regulation and Learning Research Paper

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Current theoretical accounts of learning view students as active seekers and processors of information. Learners’ cognitions can influence the instigation, direction, and persistence of achievement behaviors (Bandura, 1997; Schunk, 1995; Zimmerman, 1998).

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This research paper discusses the role of self-regulation during learning. Self-regulation (or self-regulated learning) refers to learning that results from students’ self-generated thoughts and behaviors that are systematically oriented toward the attainment of their learning goals. Self-regulated learning involves goal-directed activities that students instigate, modify, and sustain (Zimmerman, 1994, 1998)—for example, attending to instruction, processing of information, rehearsing and relating new learning to prior knowledge, believing that one is capable of learning, and establishing productive social relationships and work environments (Schunk, 1995). Self-regulated learning fits well with the notion that rather than being passive recipients of information, students contribute actively to their learning goals and exercise control over goal attainment. As we show in this research paper, theory and research attest to the links between self-regulation and achievement processes.

We begin by explaining five theoretical perspectives on self-regulation: operant theory, information processing theory, developmental theory, social constructivist theory, and social cognitive theory. With this theoretical background in place, we discuss self-regulation research that identified self-regulatory processes and examined how self-regulatory processes operate during learning. We also describe in detail an intervention designed to enhance students’self-regulation. We conclude by suggesting that future research address such topics as the links between self-regulation and volition, the development of self-regulation in children, the integration of self-regulation into educational curricula, and self-regulation across the life span.

Theoretical Formulations

Operant Theory

The views of operant psychologists about self-regulation derive primarily from the work of Skinner (1953). Operant behavior is emitted in the presence of discriminative stimuli. Whether behavior becomes more or less likely to occur in the future depends on its consequences. Behaviors that are reinforced are more likely to occur, whereas those punished become less likely. For example, a teacher might praise a student after the student studies hard during a class period. The praise may encourage the student to continue studying hard. Conversely, if a teacher criticizes a student after the student misbehaves, the criticism may decrease the likelihood of disruptive behavior.

Operant theorists have studied how individuals establish discriminative stimuli and reinforcement contingencies (Brigham, 1982). Self-regulated behavior involves choosing among alternative courses of action (Mace, Belfiore, & Shea, 1989), typically by deferring an immediate reinforcer in favor of a different and usually greater future reinforcer (Rachlin, 1991). For example, assume that Brad is having difficulty studying; he spends insufficient time studying and is easily distracted. A key to changing his behavior is to establish discriminative stimuli (cues) for studying. With the assistance of his school counselor, Brad establishes a definite time and place for studying (6:00 to 9:00 p.m. in his room with two 10-min breaks). To eliminate distracting cues, Brad agrees not to use the phone, CD player, or TV during this period. For reinforcement, Brad will award himself one point for each night he successfully accomplishes his routine. When he receives 10 points, he has earned a night off.

From an operant theory perspective, one decides which behaviors to regulate, establishes discriminative stimuli for their occurrence, evaluates performance according to whether it matches the standard, and administers reinforcement. The three key subprocesses are self-monitoring, self-instruction, and self-reinforcement.


Self-monitoring refers to deliberate attention to some aspect of one’s behavior, and often is accompanied by recording its frequency or intensity (Mace & Kratochwill, 1988). People cannot regulate their actions if they are not 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 long enough, and whether it integrates their ideas in unusual fashion. One can engage in self-monitoring in such diverse areas as motor skills (how fast one runs the 100-m dash), art (how original one’s pen-and-ink drawings are), and social behavior (how much one talks at social functions).

Often students must be taught self-monitoring methods (Belfiore & Hornyak, 1998; Lan, 1998; Ollendick & Hersen, 1984; Shapiro, 1987). Methods include narrations, frequency counts, duration measures, time-sampling measures, behavior ratings, and behavioral traces and archival records (Mace et al., 1989). Narrations are written accounts of behavior and the context in which it occurs. Narrations can range from very detailed to open-ended (Bell & Low, 1977). 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-min seatwork 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 min). Time-sampling measures divide a period into shorter intervals and record how often a behavior occurs during each interval. A 30-min study period might be divided into six 5-min periods; for each 5-min 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 worksheets completed, number of problems solved correctly).

When self-recording is not used, people’s memory of successes and failures becomes more selective and their beliefs about outcomes do not faithfully reflect actual outcomes. Self-recording often yields surprising results. Students having difficulties studying who keep a written record of their activities may learn they are wasting most of their study time on nonacademic tasks.

Two important self-monitoring criteria are regularity and proximity (Bandura, 1986). Regularity means observing behavior continually rather than intermittently, such as by keeping a daily record rather than recording behavior once a week. Nonregular observation requires accurate memory and often yields misleading results. Proximity means observing behavior close in time to its occurrence rather than long afterwards. It is better to write down what we do at the time it occurs rather than wait until the end of the day to reconstruct events.

Self-monitoring places responsibility for behavioral assessment on the person doing the monitoring (Belfiore & Hornyak, 1998). Self-monitored responses are consequences of behaviors; 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; Nelson & Hayes, 1981). Students who monitor their completion of assignments provide themselves with immediate reinforcers that mediate the link between the work and distant consequences (e.g., teacher praise, high grades).


Self-instruction refers to discriminative stimuli that set the occasion for self-regulatory responses leading to reinforcement (Mace et al., 1989). 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 that serve as discriminative stimuli to guide behavior. Self-instructional statements have been used to teach a variety of academic, social, and motor skills. Strategy instruction is an effective means of enhancing comprehension and achievement beliefs among remedial readers. Schunk and Rice (1987) taught remedial readers the following strategy, and they verbalized the individual steps prior to applying them to reading comprehension passages:

  • What do I have to do?
  • Read the questions.
  • Read the passage to find out what it is mostly about.
  • Think about what the details have in common.
  • Think about what would make a good title.
  • Reread the story if I don’t know the answer to a question.

Verbalizing statements keeps students focused on a task, which may be especially beneficial for learners with attention deficits. Kosiewicz, Hallahan, Lloyd, and Graves (1982) used the following self-instruction procedure to improve the handwriting of a student with learning disabilities:

  • Say aloud the word to be written.
  • Say the first syllable.
  • Name each of the letters in that syllable three times.
  • Repeat each letter as it is written down.
  • Repeat Steps 2 through 4 for each succeeding syllable.


Self-reinforcement is the process whereby people provide themselves with reinforcement contingent on performing a response, and the reinforcement increases the likelihood of future responding (Mace et al., 1989). Much research shows that reinforcement contingencies improve academic performance (Bandura, 1986), but it is unclear whether selfreinforcement is more effective than externally administered reinforcement (such as that given by the teacher). Studies investigating self-reinforcement often contain problems (Brigham, 1982; Martin, 1980). In academic settings, the reinforcement contingency too often is set in a context that includes instruction and classroom rules. Students typically 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 rather than because of reinforcement.

Self-reinforcement is hypothesized to be an effective component of self-regulated behavior (O’Leary & Dubey, 1979), but the reinforcement may be more important than its agent. Although self-reinforcement may enhance behavioral maintenance over time, during the acquisition of self-regulatory skills, explicitly providing reinforcement may be more important.

Information Processing Theory

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

From an information processing perspective, selfregulation is roughly equivalent to metacognitive awareness (Gitomer & Glaser, 1987). This awareness includes knowledge of the task (what is to be learned and 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 knowledge about task demands, personal qualities, and strategies for completing the task.

Metacognitive awareness also includes procedural knowledge or productions that regulate learning of the material 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 types of control processes under the learner’s direction. They facilitate processing and movement of information through the system.

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 (Anderson, 1990). This system compares the present situation against a standard and attempts to reduce discrepancies.

An early formulation 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 with 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.

To illustrate, assume that Jenny is reading her history 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 also may be a production characterized by rules (e.g., be precise, include information on all topics covered, be accurate) developed through experiences in summarizing. She continues reading if her summary matches her standard. If they do not, she evaluates where the problem lies (in her understanding of the second paragraph) and executes a correction strategy (rereads the second paragraph).

Information processing models differ, but two central features are (a) comparisons of present activity against standards and (b) steps taken to resolve discrepancies (Carver & Scheier, 1982). Akey aspect of these models is knowledge of learning strategies, including their procedures and conditional knowledge of when and why to employ the strategies.

Learning Strategies

Learning strategies are cognitive plans oriented toward successful task performance (Pressley et al., 1990; Weinstein & Mayer, 1986). Strategies include such activities 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 to 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 selfregulated learning because strategies give learners better control over information processing.

From an information-processing perspective, learning involves meaningful integration of new material into LTM networks. To encode (learn) information, learners 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. Learning strategies assist encoding in each of these phases.

One important strategy is rehearsal, which includes repeating information, underlining, and summarizing. Repeating information aloud, subvocally (whispering), or covertly is an effective procedure for tasks requiring rote memorization. To learn the names of the 50 state capitals, Tim 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 or learn English translations of foreign-language words.

Rehearsal that repeats information by rote does not link information with what one already knows. Rehearsal also does not organize information in a hierarchical or other fashion.As a consequence, LTM does not store rehearsed information in any meaningful sense, and retrieval after some time is often difficult.

Rehearsal can be useful for complex learning, but it must involve more than merely repeating information. One useful rehearsal procedure is underlining (highlighting), which improves learning if employed judiciously (Snowman, 1986). When too much material is underlined, underlining loses its effectiveness because less-important material is underlined along with more-important ideas. Underlined material should represent points most relevant to learning goals.

Summarizing is another popular rehearsal procedure. In summaries (oral or written), students put into their own words the main ideas expressed in the text. As with underlining, summarizing loses its effectiveness if it includes too much information (Snowman, 1986). Limiting the length of students’ summaries forces them to identify main ideas.

A second class of learning strategies is elaboration, which means using imagery, mnemonics, questioning, and note taking to expand information by adding something to make learning more meaningful. Imagery produces a mental picture, which often is more meaningful than a verbal description. Mnemonics make information meaningful by relating it to what one knows. Acronyms combine the first letters of the material to be remembered into a meaningful word; for example, HOMES is an acronym for the five Great Lakes (Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior). Sentence mnemonics use the first letters of the material to be learned as the first letters of words in a sentence (e.g., every good boy does fine is a sentence mnemonic for the notes on the treble clef staff: E, G, B, D, and F).

The method of loci is a mnemonic in which learners imagine a familiar scene, such as a room in their house, after which they take a mental walk around the room and stop at each prominent object. Each new item to be learned is paired mentally with one object in the room. Assuming that the room contains (in order) a table, a lamp, and a TV, and that Tammy must buy butter, milk, and apples at a grocery store, she might first imagine butter on the table, a milky-colored lamp, and apples on top of the TV. To recall the grocery list, she mentally retraces the path around the room and recalls the appropriate object at each stop.

Questioning requires that learners stop periodically as they read text and ask themselves questions. To address higher order learning outcomes, learners might ask How does this information relate to what the author discussed in the preceding section? (synthesis) or How can this idea be applied in a school setting? (application).

During note taking learners construct meaningful paraphrases of the most important ideas. While taking notes, students might integrate new textual material with other information in personally meaningful ways. To be effective, notes must not reflect verbatim textual information. Copying material is a form of rehearsal and may improve recall, but it is not elaboration. The intent of note taking is to integrate and apply information.

Another learning strategy is organization. Two useful organization techniques are outlining and mapping. Outlining requires that learners establish headings. One way to teach outlining is to use a text with headings set off from the text or in the margins, along with embedded (boldface or italic) headings interspersed throughout the text. Another way is to have students identify topic sentences and points that relate to each sentence. Simply telling students to outline a passage does not facilitate learning if students do not understand the procedure.

Mapping improves learners’ awareness of text structure because it involves identifying important ideas and their interrelationship. Concepts or ideas are identified, categorized, and related to one another. A map is conceptually akin to a propositional network, because mapping involves creating a hierarchy, with main ideas or superordinate concepts listed at the top, followed by supporting points, examples, and subordinate concepts.

Comprehension Monitoring

Comprehension monitoring helps learners determine whether they are properly applying declarative and procedural knowledge to material to be learned, evaluate whether they understand the material, decide whether their strategy is effective or whether a better strategy is needed, and know why strategy use will improve learning. Self-questioning, rereading, checking consistencies, and paraphrasing are monitoring processes (Baker & Brown, 1984; Borkowski & Cavanaugh, 1979; Paris, Lipson, & Wixson, 1983).

Some textual material periodically provides students with questions about content. Students who answer these questions as they read the material are engaging in self-questioning.When questions are not provided, students must generate their own. As a means of training, teachers can instruct students to stop periodically while reading and ask themselves questions (i.e., who, what, when, where, why, how).

Rereading is often accomplished in conjunction with selfquestioning; when students cannot answer questions about the text or otherwise doubt their understanding, these cues prompt them to reread. Checking for consistencies involves determining whether the text is internally consistent—that is, whether parts of the text contradict others and whether conclusions that are drawn follow from what has been discussed.

A belief that textual material is inconsistent serves as a cue for rereading to determine whether the author is inconsistent or whether the reader has failed to comprehend the content. Students who periodically stop and paraphrase material are checking their level of understanding. Being able to paraphrase is a cue that rereading is unnecessary (Paris & Oka, 1986).

Developmental Theory

Developmental theorists conceive of self-regulation in terms of progressive cognitive changes in learners that allow them to exert greater control over their thoughts, feelings, and actions (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1994). It involves such actions as beginning and ending actions, altering the frequency and intensity of verbal and motor acts, delaying action on a goal, and acting in socially approved ways (Kopp, 1982).

Developmental Periods

Kopp (1982) presented a framework that links developmental periods with behaviors and cognitive mediators. From birth to approximately 3 months, control is limited to states of arousal and activation of early, rudimentary behaviors (e.g., reaching). During this neurophysiological modulation stage, the important mediators are maturation and parent routines (e.g., feeding) and interactions. Sensorimotor modulation occurs from 3 to 9 months and is marked by changes in ongoing behaviors in response to events and environmental stimuli. Toward the end of the first year (9–12 months), the earliest form of voluntary control over behavior appears in the form of infant compliance to caregivers’ requests. The mediators are receptivity of social behaviors and the quality of the mother-child relationship.

Impulse control appears during the second year of life (12–18 months); it is characterized by an awareness of social demands of situations and the initiation, maintenance, and cessation of physical acts and communications. Signs of intentionality and goal-directed actions become apparent. The second year is critical for the shifting of external to internal control of behavior (Kochanska, Tjebkes, & Forman, 1998). Parental discipline expands and child compliance is linked with future internalization of rules.

The self-control phase, which emerges during the third year (24–36 months), is characterized by greater reactivity to adult commands and increased communicative and social interactions through the growth of language and the directive functions of speech. Internalization of adult guidance becomes increasingly prevalent. Finally, children enter a period of self-regulation during the fourth year (36 months and older). Milestones of this period are adoption of rules that guide behavior, greater internalization of guidance by others, emergence of cognitive mediation of behavior (e.g., thought processes), and adaptation of behavior to changes in environmental demands.

Schunk and Zimmerman (1997) postulated that selfregulation develops initially from social sources and shifts to self sources in a series of levels (Table 4.1). At the outset, novice learners acquire learning strategies most rapidly from teaching, social modeling, task structuring, and encouragement (Zimmerman & Rosenthal, 1974). At this observational level, many learners can induce the major features of learning strategies from observing models; however, most of them also need practice to fully incorporate the skill into their behavioral repertoires. Motoric accuracy can be improved if models provide guidance, feedback, and social reinforcement during practice. During participant (mastery) modeling (Bandura, 1986), models repeat aspects of the strategy and guide enactment based on learners’ imitative accuracy.

Self-Regulation and Learning Research Paper

Learners attain an emulative level of skill when their performances approximate the general form of the model’s. Observers are not copying the model; rather, they imitate general patterns or styles. For example, they may imitate the type of question that the model asks but not mimic the model’s words.

The source of learning skills is primarily social for the first two levels of academic competence but shifts to selfinfluences at more advanced levels. The third, self-controlled level is characterized by learners’ ability to use strategies independently while performing transfer tasks. Students’use of strategies becomes internalized but is affected by representational standards of modeled performances (e.g., covert images and verbal meanings) and self-reinforcement processes (Bandura & Jeffery, 1973).

When students reach adolescence, they need to attain a self-regulated level of academic skill so they can systematically adapt strategies to changes in personal and situational conditions (Bandura, 1986). At this level, learners initiate use of strategies, incorporate adjustments based on features of situations, and are motivated to achieve by goals and perceptions of self-efficacy. Learners choose when to use particular strategies and adapt them to changing conditions with little or no guidance from models.

Triadic reciprocality is evident throughout the phases. Social factors in the environment influence behaviors and personal factors, which in turn affect the social environment. In the early stages of learning, teachers who observe problems in learners’performances offer correction, learners who do not fully comprehend how to perform a skill or strategy at the emulative level may ask teachers for assistance, and learners’ performances affect their self-efficacy. At more advanced levels, learners mentally and overtly practice skills and seek out teachers, coaches, and tutors to help refine their skills.

Social influences do not disappear with advancing skill acquisition. Although self-controlled and self-regulated learners use social sources less frequently, they nonetheless continue to rely on such sources (Zimmerman, 2000). Selfregulation does not mean social independence.

This is not a stage model and learners may not necessarily progress in this fashion. Students without access to relevant models may nonetheless learn on their own. For example, one may learn to play a musical instrument by ear or develop a unique method for correctly solving mathematical word problems. Despite the frequent success of self-teaching, it fails to reap the benefits of the social environment on learning. Furthermore, failing to use the social environment may limit overall skill acquisition unless learners possess good self-regulatory skills.

In summary, this four-level analysis of self-regulatory development extends from acquiring knowledge of learning skills (observation), to using these skills (emulation), to internalizing them (self-control), and finally to using them adaptively (self-regulation). Although this conceptualization results from socialization research, it is useful in guiding instructional efforts to teach students how to acquire and self-regulate academic learning (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1997).

Private Speech

Cognitive developmental theory establishes a strong link between private speech and the development of self-regulation (Berk, 1986; Frauenglass & Diaz, 1985). Private speech refers to the set of speech phenomena that has a self-regulatory function but is not socially communicative (Fuson, 1979). The historical impetus derives in part from work by Pavlov (1927), who distinguished the first (perceptual) from the second (linguistic) signal systems. Pavlov realized that animal conditioning results do not completely generalize to humans; human conditioning often occurs quickly with one or a few pairings of conditioned stimulus and unconditioned stimulus, in contrast to the multiple pairings required with animals. Pavlov believed that conditioning differences between humans and animals were due to the human capacity for language and thought. Stimuli may not produce conditioning automatically; people interpret stimuli in light of their prior experiences. Although Pavlov did not conduct research on the second signal system, subsequent investigations have validated his beliefs that human conditioning is complex and that language plays a mediational role.

Luria (1961) focused on the child’s transition from the first to the second signal system. Luria postulated three stages in the development of verbal control of motor behavior. Initially, the speech of others directed the child’s behavior (ages 1.5–2.5). During the second stage (ages 3–4), the child’s overt verbalizations initiated motor behaviors but did not necessarily inhibit them. In the third stage, the child’s private speech became capable of initiating, directing, and inhibiting motor behaviors (ages 4.5–5.5). Luria believed this private, self-regulatory speech directed behavior through neurophysiological mechanisms. The mediational and self-directing role of the second signal system is embodied in Vygotsky’s theory (discussed later).

Production, Mediational, and Continued-Use Deficiencies

Many investigations have attempted to determine what factors determine why children do not use private speech when doing so would be desirable. A distinction is drawn between production and mediational deficiencies in spontaneous use of private speech (Flavell, Beach, & Chinsky, 1966). A production deficiency is a failure to generate task-relevant verbalizations (e.g., rules, strategies, information to be remembered) when they could improve performance. Amediational deficiency occurs when task-relevant verbalizations are produced, but they do not affect subsequent behaviors (Fuson, 1979).

Young children produce verbalizations that do not necessarily mediate performance. Children eventually develop the ability to verbalize statements that mediate performance, but they may not produce relevant verbalizations at the appropriate times. With development, children learn to verbalize when it might benefit their performances. This developmental model fits better in situations calling for simple types of verbal self-regulation (e.g., rote rehearsal) than it does when complex verbalizations are required. For the latter, production and mediational deficiencies may coexist and may not follow a simple progression (Fuson, 1979).

Ample research demonstrates that after children are trained to produce verbalizations to aid performance, they often discontinue use of private speech when no longer required to verbalize (Schunk, 1982b). A continued-use deficiency arises when students have an inadequate understanding of the strategy, as they might when they receive insufficient instruction and practice using the strategy (Borkowski & Cavanaugh, 1979). Teachers can remedy this problem by providing repeated instruction and practice with spaced review sessions. A continued-use deficiency also might arise when students associate the strategy with the training context and do not understand how to transfer it to other tasks. Use of multiple tasks during training helps students understand uses of the strategy. Strategies often must be modified to apply to different tasks. When slight modifications prove troublesome, students benefit from explicit training on strategy modification.

Continued-use deficiencies can also occur when learners do not understand that use of private speech benefits their performances. They might believe that verbal self-regulation is useful, but that it is not as important for success as such factors as personal effort or time available (Fabricius & Hagen, 1984). To promote maintenance of verbal selfregulators, researchers suggest providing learners with strategy value information, or information that links strategy use with improved performance (Baker & Brown, 1984; Paris et al., 1983; Schunk & Rice, 1987).

Strategy value can be conveyed by instructing students to use the strategy because it will help them perform better, informing them that strategy use benefited other students, and providing feedback linking strategy use with progress in skill acquisition (Borkowski & Cavanaugh, 1979). Research shows that strategy value information enhances performance, continued strategy use, and strategy transfer to other tasks (Lodico, Ghatala, Levin, Pressley, & Bell, 1983; Paris, Newman, & McVey, 1982).

Strategy value information also raises self-efficacy, which promotes performance through increased effort and persistence (Schunk & Rice, 1987). Students who benefit most from strategy training are those who work at tasks nonsystematically and who doubt their academic capabilities (Licht & Kistner, 1986). Strategy value information implicitly conveys to students that they are capable of learning and successfully applying the strategy, which engenders a sense of control over learning outcomes and enhances self-efficacy for skill improvement.

Social Constructivist Theory

Social constructivist theory of self-regulation is grounded in theories of cognitive development. These developmental theories have certain core assumptions (Paris & Byrnes, 1989).

Developmental theories stress the notion that people are intrinsically motivated to learn. From birth onward, people are motivated to actively explore, understand, and control their environments. Understanding transcends the literal information acquired. People impose meaning on their perceptions and form beliefs according to their prior experiences.

Mental representations change with development. Infants and toddlers represent their worlds in terms of action and sights.With development, learners use verbal codes (e.g., language, mathematical notation) to represent what they know.

There are progressive refinements in levels of understanding. The process of reconciling what one knows and what one encounters never ends. Progressive refinements are stimulated by internal reorganizations and reflections, as well as by physical experiences, social guidance, and exposure to new information.

Development places limits on learning. Readiness for learning includes maturation and prior experiences. Learning proceeds best when learners have the potential to learn and are exposed to information commensurate with their readiness.

Finally, reflection and reconstruction stimulate learning. Although formal teaching methods can produce learning, the primary motivation behind learning comes from within and involves an intrinsic need to reexamine one’s knowledge and behaviors. Learners construct theories about what they are able to do and why.

Construction of Theories

Social constructivists view self-regulation as the process of acquiring beliefs and theories about their abilities and competencies, the structure and difficulty of learning tasks, and the way to regulate effort and strategy use to accomplish goals (Paris & Byrnes, 1989). These theories and beliefs are constrained by development and change as a consequence of development and experience.

For example, research shows that children’s earliest attributions (perceived causes of outcomes) are nondifferentiated, but that with development a distinct conception of ability emerges (Nicholls, 1978). After this differentiation occurs, children realize that performance may not match abilities and that other factors (e.g., effort, help from others) influence performance. Children’s theories about the causes of academic outcomes reflect this developmental progression.

In like fashion, researchers have shown how children construct theories about the use and value of strategies. Children are taught methods to use on different tasks and construct their own versions about what works best for them. Strategy information includes the strategy’s goals, the tasks for which it is appropriate, how it improves performance, and how much effort it requires to use (Borkowski, Johnston, & Reid, 1987). Although strategies typically are task specific, there are common elements across different strategies such as goal setting and evaluation of progress (Pressley et al., 1990).

In the course of theory construction it often happens that learners are erroneous because not all instances are provided as examples and children must often improvise solutions. In mathematics, for example, erroneous strategies that nonetheless lead to solutions (albeit inaccurate) are known as buggy algorithms (Brown & Burton, 1978). When learning subtraction, children may acquire the belief that column by column, they take the smaller number away from the larger number regardless of whether that means they subtract from top to bottom or from bottom to top. This buggy algorithm generates solutions and can lead to a false sense of perceived competence for subtraction, which yields gross mismatches between what children believe they can do and their actual successes.

Vygotsky’s Theory

The Russian psychologist Vygotsky’s work is relevant to the social constructivist tradition. Vygotsky emphasized the role that language plays in self-regulation. Vygotsky (1962) believed that private speech helped to develop thought by organizing behavior. Children employed private speech to understand situations and surmount difficulties. Private speech occurred in conjunction with children’s interactions in the social environment. As children’s language facility developed, words spoken by others acquired meaning independent of their phonological and syntactical qualities. Children internalized word meanings and used them to direct their behaviors.

Vygotsky hypothesized that private speech followed a curvilinear developmental pattern: Overt verbalization (thinking aloud) increased until age 6 or 7, after which it declined and became primarily covert (internal) by ages 8–10. However, overt verbalization could occur at any age when people encountered problems or difficulties. Research shows that although the amount of private speech decreases from about ages 4 or 5 to 8, the proportion of private speech that is self-regulating increases with age (Fuson, 1979). In many research investigations, the actual amount of private speech is small, and many children do not verbalize at all. Thus, the developmental pattern of private speech seems more complex than the pattern originally hypothesized by Vygotsky.

Another Vygotskiian concept is the zone of proximal development, or the amount of learning possible by a student given the proper instructional conditions. Tasks that a student cannot do alone but can with some assistance fall into the zone. As teachers or peers provide scaffolding to assist in the process, learners are increasingly able to operate independently. Eventually the zone is changed to reflect new,higher-order learning.

Social Cognitive Theory

In the social cognitive theoretical framework, self-regulation is construed as situationally specific—that is, learners are not expected to engage in self-regulation equally in all domains. Although some self-regulatory processes (e.g., goal setting) may generalize across settings, learners must understand how to adapt processes to specific domains and must feel efficacious about doing so. This situational specificity is captured in Zimmerman’s (1994, 1998) conceptual framework comprising six areas in which one can use self-regulatory processes: motives, methods, time, outcomes, physical environment, and social environment. Self-regulation is possible to the extent that learners have some choice in one or more of these areas. When all aspects of a task are predetermined, students may learn, but the source of control is external (i.e., teachers, parents, computers).

Reciprocal Interactions

According to Bandura (1986), human functioning involves reciprocal interactions between behaviors, environmental variables, and cognitions and other personal factors (Figure 4.1). This reciprocity is exemplified with an important construct in Bandura’s theory: perceived self-efficacy, or beliefs about one’s capabilities to learn or perform behaviors at designated levels (Bandura, 1997). Research shows that students’self-efficacy beliefs influence such actions as choice of tasks, persistence, effort, and achievement (Schunk, 1995). In turn, students’behaviors modify their efficacy beliefs. For example, as students work on tasks they note their progress toward their learning goals (e.g., completing sections of a term paper). Progress indicators convey to students that they are capable of performing well, which enhances self-efficacy for continued learning.

Self-Regulation and Learning Research Paper

The interaction between self-efficacy and environmental factors has been demonstrated in research on students with learning disabilities, many of whom hold low self-efficacy for performing well (Licht & Kistner, 1986). Individuals in students’social environments may react to them based on attributes typically associated with them rather than based on what students actually do. Teachers may judge such students as less capable than average learners and hold lower academic expectations for them, even in content areas in which students with learning disabilities are performing adequately (Bryan & Bryan, 1983). In turn, teacher feedback can affect self-efficacy. Persuasive statements (e.g., I know that you can do this) can raise self-efficacy.

Students’ behaviors and classroom environments influence one another. Consider a typical instructional sequence in which the teacher presents information and asks students to direct their attention to an overhead. Environmental influence on behavior occurs when students turn their heads without much conscious deliberation. Students’ behaviors often alter the instructional environment. If the teacher asks questions and students give incorrect answers, the teacher may reteach some points rather than continue the lesson.

Subprocesses of Self-Regulated Learning

Self-regulation has been conceptualized as involving three key subprocesses: self-observation, self-judgment, and selfreaction (Bandura, 1986; Kanfer & Gaelick, 1986; Karoly, 1982). These subprocesses are not mutually exclusive; rather, they interact. While observing aspects of one’s behavior, one may judge them against standards and react positively or negatively. One’s evaluations and reactions set the stage for additional observations of the same behavioral aspects or others. These subprocesses also do not operate independently of the learning environment; environmental factors can assist the development of self-regulation. We discuss only the latter two subprocesses because self-observation is substantially similar to self-monitoring (described earlier).



Self-judgment refers to comparing present performance with one’s goal. The belief that one is making goal progress enhances self-efficacy and sustains motivation. Students who find a task to be easy may think that they set their goal too low and may set it higher the next time. Furthermore, knowing that similar others performed a task can promote self-efficacy and motivation; students are apt to believe that if others can succeed, they can as well (Schunk, 1987). Students who believe they have not made acceptable progress will not become discouraged if they feel efficacious about succeeding and believe that a different strategy will produce better results.


Self-reactions to goal progress exert motivational effects (Bandura, 1986). Students who judge goal progress as acceptable and who anticipate satisfaction from goal accomplishment will feel efficacious about continuing to improve and motivated to complete the task. Negative evaluations will not necessarily decrease motivation if students believe they are capable of improving, such as by working harder. Motivation will not increase if students believe they lack the ability to succeed or to improve.

Instructions to people to respond evaluatively to their performances can affect motivation. People who believe they can perform better persist longer and work harder (Kanfer & Gaelick, 1986). Evaluations are not intimately tied to level of performance. Some students are content with a B in a course, whereas others want only an A. Assuming that people believe they are capable of improving, higher goals lead to greater effort and persistence than do lower goals (Locke & Latham, 1990).

Cyclical Nature of Self-Regulation

The interaction of personal, behavioral, and environmental factors during self-regulation is a cyclical process because these factors typically change during learning and must be monitored (Bandura, 1986, 1997; Zimmerman, 1994). Such monitoring leads to changes in an individual’s strategies, cognitions, affects, and behaviors.

This cyclical nature is captured in Zimmerman’s (1998) three-phase self-regulation model (Table 4.2). 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 selfreflection phase—which occurs after performance—people respond to their efforts.

Self-Regulation and Learning Research Paper

Table 4.2 shows that various self-regulatory processes come into play during the different phases. Social cognitive theorists postulate that students enter learning situations with goals and varying degrees of self-efficacy for attaining these goals. During performance control, they implement learning strategies that affect motivation and learning. During periods of self-reflection, learners engage in self-evaluation.

Research Focus Areas

This section reviews some key areas of research on selfregulation. A comprehensive review is beyond the scope of this research paper; readers should consult other sources (Bandura, 1986, 1997; Boekaerts, Pintrich, & Zeidner, 2000; Schunk & Zimmerman, 1994, 1998). The research in this section focuses on self-regulation in learning settings. We begin by reviewing research that sought to identify self-regulatory processes; then we discuss research exploring the relation of processes to one another and to achievement outcomes. We conclude by describing an intervention project.

Identification of Self-Regulatory Processes

A number of researchers have sought to identify the types of self-regulatory processes that students use while engaged in academic tasks. Many of these studies also have determined whether the use of processes varies as a function of individual difference variables.

Zimmerman and Martinez-Pons (1986) developed a structured interview in which students were presented with eight different learning contexts (e.g., writing a short paper, taking a test, completing a homework assignment). For each, they were asked to state the methods they would use. Fourteen categories of self-regulated learning processes were identified (Table 4.3).

Self-Regulation and Learning Research Paper

In subsequent research, Zimmerman and Martinez-Pons (1990) found evidence of developmental trends among 5th, 8th, and 11th graders. Older students reviewed notes more and texts less compared with younger children. With development, students sought more assistance from teachers and less from parents. Older students also displayed greater use of record keeping and monitoring, organizing and transforming, and goal setting and planning. The researchers found that compared with boys, girls made greater use of record keeping and monitoring, environmental structuring, and goal setting and planning; they also found that compared with regular students, gifted students displayed greater organizing and transforming, self-consequating, seeking peer assistance, reviewing notes, and seeking adult assistance (fifth grade only).

Various aspects of self-regulation were addressed by Pintrich and De Groot (1990). Seventh graders were administered the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ). This instrument includes two categories: motivational beliefs (self-efficacy, intrinsic value, test anxiety) and self-regulated learning strategies (cognitive strategy use, self-regulation). Sample items tapping motivational beliefs are Compared with other students in this class I expect to do well and I think I will be able to use what I learn in this class in other classes; for self-regulation, some sample items are When I study I put important ideas into my own words and I ask myself questions to make sure I know the material I have been studying. Although the authors distinguished between motivational beliefs and self-regulated strategies, establishing and maintaining positive beliefs about learning is an effective self-regulatory strategy (Zimmerman, 2000). The MSLQ categories and those identified by Zimmerman and Martinez-Pons (1986) show some overlap.

Operation of Self-Regulatory Processes During Learning

Inthissectionwereviewresearchonself-regulatoryprocesses as students are engaged in academic tasks. Although there is some overlap between areas, the review is organized according to Zimmerman’s (1998) forethought, performance control, and self-reflection phases (Table 4.2).

Goal Setting

Goal setting is an integral component of the forethought phase. Allowing students to set learning goals can enhance their commitment to attaining them, which is necessary for goals to affect performance (Locke & Latham, 1990). Schunk (1985) found that self-set goals promoted self-efficacy. Children with learning disabilities in mathematics received subtraction instruction and practice over sessions. Some set session performance goals; others had comparable goals assigned; those in a third condition did not set or receive goals. Self-set goals led to the highest self-efficacy and achievement. Children in the two goal conditions demonstrated greater motivation during self-regulated practice than did no-goal students. Self-set children judged themselves more efficacious for attaining their goals than did assignedgoals students.

To test the idea that proximal goals enhance achievement outcomes better than do distant goals, Bandura and Schunk (1981) provided children with subtraction instruction and self-regulated problem solving over sessions. Some set a proximal goal of completing one set of materials each session; others pursued a distant goal of completing all sets of materials by the end of the last session; a third group was advised to work productively (general goal). Proximal goals led to the most productive self-regulated practice and to the highest subtraction self-efficacy and achievement; the distant goal resulted in no benefits compared with the general goal.

Schunk (1983c) tested the effects of goal difficulty. During a long division instructional program, children received either difficult but attainable or easier goals of completing a given number of problems each session. Within each goal condition, children either were given direct attainment information by an adult (i.e., You can do this) or received social comparative information indicating that other similar children had been able to complete that many problems. Difficult goals enhanced motivation during self-regulated practice and achievement; direct goal attainment information promoted self-efficacy.

Schunk and Swartz (1993a, 1993b) investigated how goals and progress feedback affected achievement outcomes and self-regulation. Children received paragraph-writing instruction and self-directed practice over sessions.An adult modeled a writing strategy, after which children practiced applying it to compose paragraphs. Process- (learning-) goal children were told to learn to use the strategy; product- (performance-) goal children were advised to write paragraphs; general-goal students were told to do their best. Half of the process-goal students periodically received progress feedback that linked strategy use with improved performance.

The process-goal-plus-feedback condition was the most effective, and some benefits were obtained from the process goal alone. Process-goal-plus-feedback students outperformed product- and general-goal students on self-efficacy, writing achievement, self-evaluated learning progress, and selfregulated strategy use. Gains were maintained after 6 weeks; children applied self-regulated composing strategies to types of paragraphs on which they had received no instruction.

Zimmerman and Kitsantas (1996, 1997) found that providing process goals (similar to learning goals) raised selfefficacy and self-regulation during dart throwing. Ninth and 10th-gradegirlswereassignedtoaprocess-goalconditionand advised to focus on the steps in dart throwing. Others were assigned to a product- (performance-) goal condition and told to concentrate on their scores. Some girls engaged in selfmonitoring by writing down after each throw the steps they accomplished properly or their throw’s outcome.

Inthefirststudy(Zimmerman&Kitsantas,1996),processgoal girls attained higher self-efficacy and performance than did product-goal girls. Self-recording also enhanced these outcomes. The second study replicated these results (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1997); however, a shifting-goal condition was included in which girls pursued a process goal, but after they could perform the steps automatically they switched to a product goal of attaining high scores. The shifting goal led to the highest self-efficacy and performance.

Social Modeling

Modeling studies provide evidence on how information conveyed socially can be internalized by students and used in self-regulation to produce greater learning. In addition to their benefits on learning, models convey that observers can succeed if they follow the same sequence. Students who believe they know how to perform a skill or strategy feel more efficacious and motivated to succeed (Schunk, 1987).

An important means of acquiring self-evaluative standards is through observation of models. When children observe modeled standards, they are more likely to adopt these standards, and model similarity can increase adoption of standards (Davidson & Smith, 1982).

Zimmerman and Ringle (1981) found that models affected children’s self-efficacy and achievement behaviors. Children observed an adult model unsuccessfully try to solve a wire-puzzle problem for a long or short period; the model also verbalized statements of confidence or pessimism. Children who observed a pessimistic model persist for a long time lowered their self-efficacy judgments for performing well.

Schunk (1981) provided children with either adult modeling or written instruction on mathematical division, followed by guided and self-directed practice over sessions. The adult model verbalized division solution steps while applying these steps to problems. Both treatments enhanced self-efficacy, persistence, and achievement, but modeling led to higher achievement and more accurate correspondence between self-efficacy and actual performance. Path analysis showed that modeling enhanced self-efficacy and achievement, self-efficacy directly affected persistence and achievement, and persistence raised achievement.

Schunk and his colleagues investigated the role of perceived similarity in competence by comparing mastery with coping models. Coping models initially demonstrate problems in learning but gradually improve and gain confidence. They illustrate how effort and positive thoughts can overcome difficulties. In addition to the modeled skills and strategies, observers learn and internalize these motivational beliefs and self-regulatory actions. Coping models contrast with mastery models, who demonstrate competent performance throughout the modeled sequence. In the early stages of learning, many students may perceive themselves more similar in competence to coping models.

Schunk and Hanson (1985) had children observe models solving subtraction problems. Peer mastery models solved subtraction problems correctly and verbalized statements reflecting high efficacy and ability, low task difficulty, and positive attitudes. Peer coping models initially made errors and verbalized negative statements, but then verbalized coping statements and eventually verbalized and performed as well as mastery models did. After observing a peer mastery model, peer coping model, adult mastery model, or no model, children received instruction and self-regulated practice over sessions. Peer mastery and coping models increased self-efficacy and achievement better than did adult and no models; adult-model children outperformed nomodel students.

Schunk, Hanson, and Cox (1987) further explored masterycoping differences and found that observing peer coping models enhanced children’s self-efficacy and achievement more than did observing peer mastery models. Unlike the Schunk and Hanson (1985) study, this project used fractions— a task at which children previously had not been successful. Coping models may be more effective when students have little task familiarity or have had previous learning difficulties. Schunk et al. also found that multiple peer coping or mastery models promoted outcomes as well as did a single coping model and better than did a single mastery model. With multiple models, learners are apt to perceive themselves as similar to at least one model.

Schunk and Hanson (1989) investigated self-modeling, or cognitive and behavioral changes brought about by observing one’s own performances (Dowrick, 1983). Children were videotaped while solving mathematical problems and then observed their tapes, after which they engaged in self-regulated practice. These children displayed higher self-efficacy, motivation, and self-regulated strategy use than did children who had been taped but did not observe their tapes and children who had not been taped.

Social Comparisons

Social comparisons provide normative information for assessing one’s capabilities during the performance control phase. During long-division instructional sessions, Schunk (1983b) gave some children performance goals; the others were advised to work productively. Within each goal condition, half of the students were told the number of problems that other similar children had completed—which matched the session goal—to convey that the goals were attainable; the other half were not given comparative information. Goals enhanced self-efficacy; comparative information promoted self-regulated problem solving. Students receiving goals and comparative information demonstrated the highest mathematical achievement. These results suggest that the perception of progress toward a goal enhances motivation for self-directed learning and skill acquisition.

Attributional Feedback

Self-regulation is facilitated by providing learners with attributional feedback, or information linking performance with one or more causes. Providing effort feedback for prior successes supports students’ perceptions of their progress, sustains motivation, and increases self-efficacy for learning. Feedback linking early successes with ability (e.g., That’s correct. You’re really good at this.) should enhance learning efficacy. Effort feedback for early successes may be more credible when students lack skills and must expend effort to succeed. As they develop skills, switching to ability feedback sustains self-efficacy and self-regulation.

Schunk (1982a) found that linking children’s prior achievements with effort (e.g., You’ve been working hard.) led to higher self-directed learning, self-efficacy, and achievement than did linking future achievement with effort (e.g., You need to work hard.). Schunk (1983a) showed that ability feedback for prior successes (e.g., You’re good at this.) enhanced self-efficacy and achievement better than did effort feedback or ability-plus-effort feedback. Children in the latter condition may have discounted some ability information in favor of effort. Schunk (1984b) found that providing children with ability feedback for initial learning successes led to higher ability attributions, self-efficacy, and achievement than did effort feedback for early successes.

Schunk and Cox (1986) gave children with learning disabilities effort feedback during the first or second half of a subtraction instructional program or no effort feedback. Attributional feedback promoted self-efficacy, achievement, and effort attributions better than did no feedback. Students who received effort feedback during the first half of the program judged effort as a more important cause of success than did learners who received feedback during the second half. Over a longer period, effort feedback for successes on the same task could lead students to doubt their capabilities and wonder why they still have to work hard to succeed.

Collectively, these results suggest that the credibility of attributional feedback may be more important than the type. Feedback that students believe is likely to enhance their selfefficacy, motivation, and achievement. When feedback is not credible, students may doubt their learning capabilities, and motivation and achievement will suffer.

Strategy Instruction and Self-Verbalization

Learners’verbalizations of self-regulatory strategies can guide their learning during the performance control phase. Schunk (1982b) provided modeled instruction on long division and self-directed practice to children with low mathematical achievement. Adult models verbalized strategy descriptors (e.g., multiply, check) at appropriate places. During selfdirected practice, some children verbalized the descriptors, others constructed their own verbalizations, those in a third group overtly verbalized strategies and self-constructions, and children in a fourth group did not verbalize.

Self-constructed verbalizations yielded the highest selfdirected practice and mathematical achievement. Children who verbalized strategies and self-constructions judged selfefficacy the highest. Self-constructions typically included the strategies and were oriented toward successful problem solving.

Schunk and Cox (1986) examined the role of verbalization during learning of subtraction problem solving strategies among children with learning disabilities. While solving problems, continuous-verbalization students verbalized aloud problem-solving operations. Midway through the instructional program, discontinued-verbalization children were asked to no longer verbalize aloud. No-verbalization children did not verbalize aloud.

Continuous verbalization led to the highest self-efficacy and achievement. When instructed to discontinue verbalizing aloud, these students may have not continued to use the verbal mediators to regulate their academic performances. For verbal mediators to become internalized, students may need to be taught to fade overt verbalizations to a covert level.

Progress Feedback and Self-Evaluation

As learners pursue goals, it is important that they believe they are making progress. During periods of self-reflection, learners can evaluate their progress on tasks having clear criteria; however, on many tasks it is difficult to determine goal progress, especially when standards are not clear or progress is slow. Feedback indicating progress can substantiate self-efficacy and motivation. As learners become more skillful, they become better at self-evaluating progress.

Schunk (1996) investigated how goals and self-evaluation affected self-regulated learning and achievement outcomes. Children received instruction and self-directed practice on fractions over sessions. Students worked under conditions involving either a goal of learning how to solve problems or a goal of merely solving them. Half of the students in each goal condition evaluated their problem-solving capabilities after each session. The learning goal with or without selfevaluation and the performance goal with self-evaluation led to higher self-efficacy, skill, and motivation than did the performance goal without self-evaluation. In a second study, all students in each goal condition evaluated their progress once. The learning goal led to higher motivation and achievement outcomes than did the performance goal.

Frequent opportunities for self-evaluation of capabilities or progress raised achievement outcomes regardless of whether students received learning or performance goals. Conversely, infrequent opportunities for self-evaluation promoted selfregulated learning and self-efficacy only among students receiving learning goals. Under these conditions, self-evaluation may complement learning goals better than it does performance goals.

Schunk and Ertmer (1999) replicated these results with college students during instruction on computer skills. When opportunities for self-evaluation were minimal, the learning goal led to higher self-efficacy, self-evaluated learning progress, and self-regulatory competence and strategy use; selfevaluation promoted self-efficacy. Conversely, frequent self-evaluation produced comparable outcomes when coupled with a learning or performance goal.


The effects of self-monitoring have been studied extensively (Mace et al., 1989; Zimmerman, Bonner, & Kovach, 1996). In an early study (Sagotsky, Patterson, & Lepper, 1978), fifthand sixth-grade students periodically monitored their work during mathematics sessions and recorded whether they were working on appropriate materials. Other students set daily performance goals, and students in a third condition received self-monitoring and goal setting. Self-monitoring significantly increased students’ time on task and mathematical achievement; goal setting had minimal effects.The authors suggested that children may have needed training on how to set challenging but attainable goals.

Schunk (1983d) found benefits of monitoring with children during mathematics learning. Self-monitoring students recorded their progress at the end of each session; externalmonitoring students had their progress recorded by an adult; no-monitoring students were not monitored and did not selfmonitor. Self- and external monitoring enhanced self-efficacy and achievement equally well, and both produced better results than did no monitoring. Effects of monitoring did not depend on session performance because the three conditions did not differ in work completed during self-directed practice.The key was monitoring of progress rather than who performed it.

Reward Contingencies

Performance-contingent rewards during self-reflection can enhance self-regulation and learning. During mathematical division instruction with self-directed practice, performancecontingentrewardchildrenweretoldtheywouldearnpoints for each problem solved correctly and that they could exchange theirpointsforprizes(Schunk,1983e).Task-contingentreward students were told that they would receive prizes for participating. Unexpected-reward children were allowed to choose prizes after completing the project to disentangle the effects of rewardanticipationfromthoseofrewardreceipt.Performancecontingent rewards led to the highest self-regulated problem solving, self-efficacy, and achievement. The other two conditions did not differ. In other research, Schunk (1984) found that combining performance-contingent rewards with proximal goals enhanced self-efficacy and achievement better than did either treatment alone.

Interventions to Enhance Self-Regulation

Self-regulation does not develop automatically with maturation, nor is it acquired passively from the environment. Systematic interventions assist the development and acquisition of self-regulatory skills. In this section we describe in depth an intervention project.

This project involved strategy instruction in paragraph writing with elementary school children (Schunk & Swartz, 1993a, 1993b). The interventions used goal setting, progress feedback, and self-evaluation of progress; the primary outcome variables were achievement, self-regulated strategy use, and self-efficacy.

Children received instruction and practice during twenty 45-min sessions over consecutive school days. The format for each session was identical. The first 10 min were devoted to modeled demonstration in which the teacher (a member of the research team) modeled the writing strategy by verbalizing the strategy’s steps and applying them to sample topics and paragraphs. Students then received guided practice (15 min), during which time they applied the steps under the guidance of the teacher. The final 20 min of each session were for self-regulated practice; students worked alone while the teacher monitored their work.

The five-step writing strategy, which was displayed on a board in front of the room during the sessions, was as follows:

What do I have to do?

  1. Choose a topic to write about.
  2. Write down ideas about the topic.
  3. Pick the main ideas.
  4. Plan the paragraph.
  5. Write down the main idea and the other sentences.

Four different types of paragraphs were covered during the instructional program; five sessions were devoted to each paragraph type. The four types of paragraphs were descriptive (e.g., describe a bird); informative (e.g., write about something you like to do after school); narrative story (e.g., tell a story about visiting a friend or relative); and narrative descriptive (e.g., describe how to play your favorite game).

The daily content coverage was the same for each of the four types of paragraphs: Session 1, strategy Steps 1, 2, and 3; Session 2, strategy Step 4; Session 3, strategy Step 5; Session 4, review of entire strategy; Session 5, review of entire strategy without the modeled demonstration. Children worked on two or three paragraph topics per session.

Children were assigned randomly to one of four experimental conditions: product goal, process goal, process goal plus progress feedback, and general goal (instructional control). Children assigned to the same condition met in small groups with a member of the research team.

Prior to the start of instruction children were pretested on writing achievement and self-efficacy. At the start of the first instructional session for each of the four paragraph types, children received a self-efficacy for improvement test, which was identical to the self-efficacy pretest except children judged capabilities for improving their skills at the five tasks for the paragraph type to be covered during the sessions rather than how well they could perform the tasks. On completion of instruction, children received a posttest that was comparable to the pretest and evaluated their progress in using the strategy compared with when the project began.

At the beginning of the first five sessions, the teacher verbalized to children assigned to the process-goal and to the process-goal-plus-feedback conditions the goal of learning to use the strategy’s steps to write a descriptive paragraph. These goal instructions were identical for the other sessions, except that the teacher substituted the name of the appropriate type of paragraph.

Children assigned to the product-goal condition were told at the start of the first five sessions to keep in mind that they were trying to write a descriptive paragraph. For the remaining sessions the teacher substituted the name of the appropriate paragraph type. These instructions controlled for the effects of goal properties included in the process-goal treatment.

The teacher told general-goal students at the start of every session to try to do their best. This condition controlled for the effects of receiving writing instruction, practice, and goal instructions, included in the other conditions.

Each child assigned to the process-goal-plus-progress feedback condition received verbal feedback three to four times during each session; this feedback conveyed to children that they were making progress toward their goal of learning to use the strategy to write paragraphs. Teachers delivered feedback to each child privately during self-regulated practice with such statements as, You’re learning to use the steps and You’re doing well because you followed the steps in order.

An important aim of these projects was to determine whether students would maintain their use of the strategy over time and apply it to types of paragraphs not covered during instruction. Maintenance and generalization were facilitated in several ways. The progress feedback was designed to convey to students that the strategy was useful for writing paragraphs and would help promote their writing achievement. Linking the strategy with four types of paragraphs demonstrated how it was useful on different writing tasks. The periods of self-regulated practice provided independent practice using the strategy and built self-efficacy. Succeeding on one’s own leads to attributions of successes to ability and effort and strengthens self-efficacy. Results showed that the process goal with progress feedback had the greatest impact on achievement and self-efficacy to include maintenance after 6 weeks and generalization to other types of paragraphs; some benefits were also due to the process goal alone.

Areas of Future Research

Research on self-regulation has advanced tremendously in the past few years, and we expect this trend to continue. At the same time, there is much work to be done. In this section we suggest some profitable areas for future research that will contribute to our understanding of self-regulation processes and that have implications for practice.

Self-Regulation and Volition

Volition has been of interest for a long time. Ach (1910) conceived of volition as the process of dealing with implementing actions designed to attain goals. More recently, action control theorists (Heckhausen, 1991; Kuhl, 1984) proposed differentiating predecisional processing (cognitive activities involved in making decisions and setting goals) from postdecisional processing (activities engaged in after goal setting). Predecisional analyses involve decision making and are motivational; postdecisional analyses deal with implementing goals and are volitional. Thus, volition mediates the relation between goals and actions and helps learners accomplish their goals.

Self-regulation is a broader process than is volition because self-regulation encompasses activities before, during, and after performance (Zimmerman, 2000). Thus, volition may be the aspect of self-regulation that occurs during performance. Corno (1993) noted that volition helps keep learners on track and thwarts distractions.

From a practical perspective, students can be taught volitional processes, such as metacognitive monitoring, emotion control, and management of environmental resources. There also may be different types of volitional styles or stable, individual differences in volition (Snow, 1989). Clearly more research is needed on volition to show how it is part of a self-regulatory system and on ways to enhance volition in students.

Development of Self-Regulation in Children

We recommend greater exploration of self-regulatory processes in children. Developmental psychologists have studied extensively how various cognitive functions (e.g., memory, metacognition) change with development (Meece, 1997). There also have been many studies conducted on teaching selfregulation strategies to children. A better link is needed between these two literatures.

For example, constructivists contend that individuals form or construct much of what they learn and understand (Bruning, Schraw, & Ronning, 1995). In this view, children are active learners and will try to discover meaning in material to be learned and impose organization as needed. An important question is whether it is better to teach children self-regulation strategies or facilitate their discovering these strategies on their own.

This question could be investigated in various ways. One means would be to compare the effectiveness of direct and constructivist teaching approaches for acquiring selfregulatory study methods. In the direct method, a teacher might explain and demonstrate self-regulation methods, after which students practice the methods and receive feedback. In the constructivist context, the teacher might form student groups and ask them to develop methods for studying given material. To control for the effects of type of model, the direct approach also could include peers as teachers.

As informative as this research mightbe, it does not address the key role of home influence in self-regulation development. There are wide variations in the extent to which parents and caregivers use self-regulatory skills and attempt to teach these skills to children. We recommend that longitudinal observational research be conducted. This research also would show how much parents stress the importance of self-regulation and encourage and reward their children for attempts at selfregulation. The longitudinal nature of such research could identify how parents’teaching and children’s skills change as a function of children’s developmental status.

Self-Regulation and the Curriculum

Research is needed on self-regulation in curriculum areas. When self-regulatory processes are linked with academic content, students learn how to apply these processes in a learning context. It is worthwhile to teach students to set goals, organize their schedules, rehearse information to be remembered, and the like, but such instruction may not transfer beyond the context in which it is provided.

Studies are needed in academic settings in which students are taught self-regulatory activities and how to modify those activities to fit different situations. These studies have the added benefit of showing students the value of selfregulation. Students who learn strategies but feel they are not especially useful are not likely to use them. Linking selfregulation with the curriculum raises its perceived value as students compare their work with prior efforts that did not benefit from self-regulation.

An assignment that lends itself well to teaching selfregulation and cuts across different curriculum areas is writing a term paper. In middle schools it is common for teachers to team for instruction; for example, a team of two or three teachers might teach the same students language arts, social studies, and science. Strategies for completing a term paper could be taught by the language arts teacher and would include such practices as setting goals and timelines, deciding on a topic, organizing ideas, collecting information, outlining, writing, and revising. The science and social studies teachers could pick up on these ideas and show students how the ideas can be applied in these classes and what modifications are needed. This approach has practical significance for teaching and provides insight into methods for facilitating transfer of self-regulation methods.

Self-Regulation Across the Life Span

We expect that self-regulation—like other processes— continues to change across the life span, yet there is little research on this point. We might ask how people regulate their finances, family life, work schedules, and so forth. Unfortunately there is little self-regulation research on individuals after they leave formal schooling.

A fruitful area to examine—and one that receives much publicity—is how adults use self-regulation to balance their personal and professional lives. How well do they use goal setting, monitoring of time spent, self-evaluation of the process, and other strategies? What are good ways to teach these skills? This research would have important developmental and practical implications.


Self-regulation has become an integral topic in the study of human learning. Various theoretical perspectives on selfregulation have been advanced, and each has important implications for research and practice. As self-regulation research continues, we expect that the knowledge base of selfregulation will be greatly expanded, and we will learn much more about the operation of self-regulatory processes. More intervention studies will show how to best improve individuals’self-regulatory skills. In sum, we believe that research on self-regulation will enhance our understanding of achievement processes and have important implications for teaching and learning in and out of school.


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