Self directed learning environment

Self-regulated learning: why is important for students?

Traditionally, the teaching-learning process has been considered the domain of the teacher, who plans and implements strategies to engage students. Self-regulated learning shifts this emphasis to the learners and makes them responsible for managing learning outcomes, approaches and strategies to achieve those outcomes.

In this new scenario, the teacher shapes the teaching-learning process and creates positive and motivating teaching-learning environments for students that are conducive to self-regulated learning. If students believe they are capable and motivated, they will strive to acquire any academic content; however, if they are only required to memorize content, are not given opportunities to learn on their own, or find it aversive to retain a specific range, they are unlikely to make an effort necessary to succeed.

Therefore, the ideal school environment from an early age should foster a balance between emotion and cognition, support active engagement and motivation for learning and contribute to self-directed learning. In short, it should encourage students to develop autonomy and self-efficacy, crucial to academic and personal success. In this sense, educational approaches emphasizing acquiring knowledge without considering the processes through which that content is developed will likely lead to an ineffective and inefficient education system.

For example, in recent years, there has been considerable debate among education stakeholders about whether teaching literacy or mathematics to children during the infant stage is inappropriate. The issue should not be whether or not it is appropriate to teach such content at an early age but rather to reflect on teaching methodology and the psycho-pedagogical principles underpinning the process. If teachers focus only on the content to be taught, they are likely ineffective in promoting children’s ability to understand a text or solve arithmetic problems. However, suppose children are helped to develop the ability to persevere with a task, skills to sustain their attention, and the ability to hold information in mind long enough to relate one idea to another. In that case, acquiring this academic content will likely be more efficient.

Blair and Diamond (2008) noted that while some teachers identified children’s poor academic skills when they arrive at school as the primary source of difficulties (knowing letters, numbers, etc.), most pointed to problems with self-regulation, especially in following instructions and attention control, as the leading cause of children’s lack of school readiness. Therefore, one of education’s most important challenges is ensuring that students learn in self-regulated contexts. Educators who emphasize the importance of self-regulation believe that students can do much to promote their learning through different learning and motivational strategies. In other words, these students see academic learning as something they do proactively on their own rather than something that happens to them (Zimmerman, 2015).

On the other hand, we must keep in mind that learning in self-regulated contexts is also a challenge for students for various reasons: attention problems (competition from mobile devices and social networks), retention difficulties (not having enough knowledge on how to proceed), difficulties in judging the quality of their learning (self-awareness) and motivation problems (lack of incentives). These problems of attention, retention, self-awareness, and motivation have been commonly studied as essential attributes of self-regulated learners. But what do we mean by self-regulation and self-regulated learning, what skills are needed, and can these skills and strategies be taught and learned?

In general, self-regulation refers to the primarily volitional cognitive and behavioural processes through which an individual maintains emotional, motivational, and mental activation levels that lead to positive adjustment and adaptation (Blair and Diamond, 2008) and involves processes of self-reflection, motivation, and behavior (Zimmerman, 2015). In other words, self-generated thoughts, feelings, and actions are planned and adapted for achieving personal goals.

We can say that academic performance improves when we learn how to learn and take responsibility for our learning. Students can learn to become more effective learners by using appropriate strategies to control their motivation, behavior, and education (Seli and Dembo, 2020).


  • Blair, C., & Diamond, A. (2008). Biological processes in prevention and intervention: the promotion of self-regulation as a means of preventing school failure. Development and Psychopathology20(3), 899-911.
  • Seli, H., & Dembo, M.H. (2020). Motivation and learning strategies for college success. A focus on self-regulated learning. Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

  • Zimmerman, B. J. (2015). Self-Regulated Learning: Theories, Measures, and Outcomes. In J. D. Wright (Ed.), International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences (pp. 541-546). Oxford: Elsevier.

Authors: Vanesa Valero-García & Alodía López-Sola. University of Murcia. #InnovaLab