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How to be a Self-Regulated Learner
“It is not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”
― Albert Einstein
Learning to Learn
One of the fundamental skills necessary for academic and lifelong success is the skill of learning to learn. Yet, I can never remember being systematically taught 'how to learn'. I may have been given the methodology and various logical steps to learn a variety of subjects or 'problems' by the individual teachers. These steps were often just pertinent to the goals of an exam or a piece of homework.
With regards to how to learn- there are generic snippets of advice about time, effort and motivation. The advice itself may feel didactic and uninspiring. This leads to bad habits such as lack of focus, procrastination, disorganised learning, low aspirations and general apathy towards learning in the young and the old. One wonders how many learners have been labelled as disengaged and lacking in aspiration when their apathy could be due to the teaching style.
At the other end, fully engaged hard working learners may burn themselves out by attempting to learn everything as our knowledge base continues to expand like the Universe itself. They need facilitation of how best to learn, anchored on evidence base and educational psychology. Hard working learners may need support on how to learn effectively and efficiently to harness their energies in the most appropriate way.
There is a danger that learning skills may stagnate or reverse if not reviewed and applied towards successful outcomes.
In these days of social media, 'always on' digital devices and information overload there are enough distractions to us that may potentially reduce our effectiveness- unless we harness these very distractions constructively and make learning an enjoyable experience.
“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
― Benjamin Franklin
The 'Good' Learners
There are those who are naturally self motivated, spontaneous good learners who seem to have the knack of 'putting their mind to it' and learning every subject with relatively less effort. These self regulated learners are successful in whichever field they chose - academic or creative.
It is easy to attribute it to nature and nurture and use terms like 'born' genius and 'natural' intellectual. Are there lessons to be learnt from these life-long learners that would be of use to many others? Lifelong learners share common skill sets that may be worth looking at.
This is an attempt to break down step by step what usually is a natural and intuitive process in order to see how it works. It also helps to diagnose problems in learning should some steps be missing.
- So what is the secret of these self-regulated, self-motivated, self -directed learners?
- How can we learn to learn effectively?
- What key attributes do successful learners have?
- How can we learn and facilitate Self- regulated learning?
- What is the evidence underpinning those strategies?
“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”
― E.M. Forster
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What is Self- Regulated Learning?
The term Self-Regulated Learning is defined as the process of taking control of and evaluating one's own learning. It indicates a degree of autonomy and control over the learning habits and processes. The Learners are not 'passive receivers of knowledge' but 'active participants' in the process of their own learning.
Self Regulated Learning implies an intuitive understanding of one's own learning strategies and a continuous effort to implement, review and refine these. The process doesn't imply persistent success but rather the ability to learn from unsuccessful strategies and deploy successful ones.
It also indicates learning guided by intrinsic motivation to learn, meta-cognition ( thinking about thinking) and strategic action ( planning, monitoring and evaluating personal progress)
This concept fits in perfectly with the constructivist approach to teaching. A combination of a Constructivist Teacher and a Self Regulated Learner is a powerful one.
"Over the years, I have noticed that the child who learns quickly is adventurous. She's ready to run risks. She approaches life with arms outspread. She wants to take it all in. She still has the desire of the very young child to make sense out of things. She's not concerned with concealing her ignorance or protecting herself. She's ready to expose herself to disappointment and defeat. She has a certain confidence. She expects to make sense out of things sooner or later. She has a kind of trust.”
― John Caldwell Holt
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The Phases of Self Regulated Learning
Successful self regulated learners achieve better academic success and also tend to have lifelong retention. They approach every new aspect of learning with clarity of thought. According to Winne and Hadwin (1998) the whole process unfolds over four phases.
Task Perception: Firstly when approaching a study task the learner sets to understand the task, its purpose and their motivation towards it. They gather information on the task itself, their own current levels of understanding, their readiness and the environmental factors that may help or hinder.
Goal Setting & Planning: Once the task is fully perceived, the learner then sets about making tangible goals and makes a plan to achieve this goal. The goals may depend on how they perceive the task. If they find they lack motivation to do the task, they may seek how to motivate themselves. They may set personal rewards. If the environment is not conducive to learning they may set about changing this. If the task needs a particular amount of protected time the goal will also involve freeing up this time. This step shows clear ownership of the task and not a begrudging procrastination. The plan will be on how to achieve these goals.
Enacting the Plan/Study Tactics: Once the plan is set, they will set about deploying the study strategies and enacting this plan. The action may use various learning strategies both intrinsically present but also extrinsically learnt. It is apparent from research that successful learners employ a variety of learning strategies. They may read, watch a video, consult a friend or a peer, practice problem solving, seek out other resources and all in all take control and ownership over their learning strategies.
Adaptation: This is the last phase according to Winne and Hadwin. Here students evaluate their learning and see how successful they have been against standardised measures. They may then modify their learning goals, plans and strategies towards a better outcome. This self evaluation is key to ongoing motivation. Self regulated learners do not beat themselves up if a strategy fails, they simply adapt and move on.
The 'Habits' of a Self Regulated Learner
Many of us may possess aspects of SRL to varying degrees. It is worth identifying all the habits and traits of a Self Regulated Learner so that we can understand, nurture, develop and self assess these skills and behaviours.
So what are the habits of a learner who can successfully self- regulate?
The habits can be categorised as personal study habits, personal behaviours and environmental structuring.
SELF REGULATION STRATEGIES
PERSONAL STUDY HABITS
Task Outlining, summarising, highlighting, flash cards, index, drawing diagrams, mind maps, charts.
Goal Setting/ Planning
sequencing, Time Management, task breakdown into bite sized chunks, pacing.
Monitoring/ Keeping Records
Notes keeping, list of errors made, personal record of marks and progress, portfolio based learning, keeping list of assignments.
Teaching someone else, verbal or written rehearsals, repetition, mnemonics.
Checking quality / progress, Reflective questioning: what am I being asked to do? Self- assessment, Self- feedback, Self instruction.
attributing success of failure more to one's own efforts than external factors; self treats and self punishments; delayed gratification; allowing personal reinforcement.
Seeking information sources
Library, Internet, Peers, Past tests, records, notes.
arranging quiet room, arranging study area, declutter, minimising distractions, task breakdown and timing breaks and relaxation in between.
Teachers, peers, family, role models
“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”
― Richard Buckminster Fuller
- In Pursuit of Excellence
The pursuit of excellence is a vocation, a lifestyle and perhaps a lofty ambition. Just what is excellence? Can this be taught? If so do we have to be excellent ourselves in order to teach it and cultivate it?
- Self regulated learning is emerging as a strong foundation for life long learning. It can be intrinsically present and also extrinsically facilitated and taught.
- Not all successful learners are self-regulated- they may just be naturally 'gifted' and may perform well in an unchallenging curriculum but may fail to engage in a later context of a more intellectually demanding setting if they don't learn self-regulation.
- Research into self-regulated learners shows they share common traits and go through certain phases of self-regulation.
- The self regulated learning process involves key stages of seeking motivation to learn, strategising and enacting the strategy, self evaluation, self instruction and adaptation.
- Self-regulated learning leads to improved performance and successful outcomes lifelong.
- Self regulated Learning maybe context specific - where one maybe more self-regulated in one area and less so in another.
© Mohan Kumar 2012
Zimmerman, B.J. (1990). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An overview. Educational Psychologist, 25, 3-17.
Butler, D. L. & Winne, P.H. Feedback and self-regulated learning: A theoretical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65, 245-281.
Dweck, C.S., & Master, A. Self-Theories Motivate Self-Regulated Learning. In Schunk, D.H., & Zimmerman, B.J. (2008), Motivation and Self-Regulated Learning: Theory, Research, and Application (pp. 31–51). New York, NY: Routledge.
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Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2012