Self-regulated learning research in education has increased dramatically in the past several years. The history of the discipline reveals three eras, each with a dominant theme: development, intervention, and operation. During the era of development, researchers formulated theories and identified key self-regulatory processes. The era of intervention was characterized by research investigating methods for teaching self-regulatory processes to students and how their use related to achievement outcomes. The era of operation is concerned with determining how self-regulatory processes operate and change during learning. Although research on each of these themes is likely to continue, to advance the field of educational self-regulated learning it is recommended that researchers devote greater attention to self-regulated learning in informal settings, of related academic skills, and in groups.
Self-Regulated Learning: Where We Are and Where We Might Go
It is my great pleasure to talk today at this meeting of the AERA Studying and Self-Regulated Learning (SSRL) SIG. In only a few years the SSRL SIG has grown tremendously in membership and includes individuals with varied research interests. The SSRL SIG has played a major role in the continued expansion of research on self-regulated learning.
I will talk about the evolution of our discipline and offer some possibilities for where we might take it. Preparing this talk caused me to reflect on my experiences. My immersion into self-regulated learning began in the 1980s through a series of conversations and conference sessions with Barry Zimmerman. My first talk was at a Barry-organized AERA session here in San Francisco in April 1986. I presented a paper describing research on the self-regulating role of learners’ verbalizations while they were engaged in learning.
At that time self-regulated learning was not a new topic. Research on behavioral self-control dated back to the 1960s, and there also was a strong developmental research base. Among educators there was interest in determining whether principles of self-regulation applied to educational settings concerned with academic learning and achievement. Although some educationally-relevant research had been conducted prior to the 1980s, this was the decade where interest began to grow.
My journey in self-regulated learning continued as Barry and I collaborated to produce an edited volume in 1989 titled, “Self-Regulated Learning and Academic Achievement: Theory, Research, and Practice” (Zimmerman & Schunk, 1989). This book, which was a collection of different theories of self-regulated learning in educationally-relevant situations, helped to spark further interest in the topic.
I will spend a few minutes discussing the evolution of self-regulated learning in education. To provide a framework for my remarks, I divided the time from the mid-1980s to the present into three eras. I use the term “era” with the meaning “period of development,” which I think is apt for the discipline. However, I realize that this categorization runs the risk of oversimplifying. I do not mean to imply that the activities listed for each era were the only types that occurred. Clearly many research issues were addressed in each era. The eras also do not neatly demarcate; there are overlaps. But this categorization sums up nicely the dominant issues of these times. I labeled these the era of development, the era of intervention, and the era of operation.
Era 1 – Development
The era of development began in the 1980s and stretched into the 1990s. This was the era of development because researchers were highly interested in developing theories to guide research and methodologies to employ. Various theories on the role of self-regulated learning in education emerged or were refined: behavioral, social cognitive, cognitive developmental, information processing, social constructivist, and others.
The dominant research model of this era addressed the relation of self-regulated learning processes to outcomes such as achievement, beliefs, and affects (Self-Regulated Learning → Achievement Outcomes). Many studies during this era investigated which self-regulated learning processes students used and how these linked with outcomes. These early studies often used self-report instruments such as questionnaires or interviews to determine the types of processes that students reported they employed, as well as how often they reported their use and in what contexts. Commonly-used instruments were the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ; Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, & McKeachie, 1991, 1993) and the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI; Weinstein, Schulte, & Palmer, 1987). Although many researcher-designed instruments also were employed, the MSLQ, LASSI, and other instruments with established reliability served to operationalize self-regulated learning processes.
A representative study from this era was conducted by Zimmerman and Martinez-Pons (1990) with students in regular and gifted classes in grades five, eight, and eleven. This study employed a structured interview. Students were presented with scenarios, such as, “When taking a test in school, do you have a particular method for obtaining as many correct answers as possible?” (Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons, 1990, p. 53). For each scenario, students described the methods they would use. Their responses were recorded and categorized into 10 categories such as self-evaluating, goal setting and planning, rehearsing and memorizing, and reviewing. The results showed that students in gifted classes reported using more self-regulatory strategies than regular-education students and that reports of strategy use increased with grade level.
This era of self-regulated learning served to develop and refine theories, identify key self-regulated learning processes, and define research methodologies. But there were some issues. Self-report instruments capture self-regulated learning at a given time and not its defining dynamic and cyclical nature; that is, how learners change and adapt self-regulated learning processes while they are engaged in learning in response to their learning progress and to changing conditions. Further, self-report instruments are subject to forgetting and memory distortions, especially when they are administered well after when students presumably employ self-regulated learning processes. And since much of the research conducted was correlational, causal conclusions could not be drawn, which meant that we could not conclude that self-regulated learning helped to promote achievement outcomes.
Era 2 – Intervention
I term the second era, stretching roughly from the late 1980s through the 1990s and into the 2000s, the intervention era. Researchers were concerned about how to teach students self-regulated learning processes, how students used them, how their use influenced achievement outcomes, and whether their use was moderated by other variables such as learners’ abilities and cultural contexts. The research model reflected this causal sequence, Intervention → Self-Regulated Learning → Achievement Outcomes. In the general paradigm, researchers might administer a pretest to assess students’ skills and self-regulatory processes, followed by an intervention designed to teach students self-regulatory processes during which students had opportunities to employ them. Follow-up assessments determined whether students applied the strategies and how their use related to achievement outcomes.
A project that Carl Swartz and I did illustrates this methodology (Schunk & Swartz, 1993). We taught fourth and fifth graders the following multi-step strategy for writing different types of paragraphs: What do I have to do? Choose a topic to write about. Write down ideas about the topic. Pick the main idea. Plan the paragraph. Write down the main idea and the other sentences. Children were pretested on self-efficacy for paragraph writing, writing achievement, and self-reported use of the strategy’s steps when they wrote paragraphs. Children received modeling, guided practice, and independent practice on applying the strategy to write paragraphs. Children also were given a process goal of learning to use the strategy to write paragraphs, a product goal of writing paragraphs, a process goal plus feedback during the sessions linking their performance with strategy use, or a general goal of doing their best. Children were tested after the intervention, and 6 weeks later with no intervening strategy instruction a maintenance test was given where children verbalized aloud as they wrote a paragraph and the researcher recorded verbalizations and scored the child’s work for use of the strategy. The results showed that the process goal with feedback yielded the greatest benefits on skill and self-efficacy and on strategy maintenance. The process goal was more effective than the product goal and the general goal.
An advantage of intervention studies is that they capture some of the dynamic nature of self-regulated learning. Intervention studies can determine causality because they show how students’ self-regulated learning changes from before to after an intervention, and possibly while the intervention is ongoing if measures are collected then. But most interventions of this era did not assess moment-to-moment changes that reflect self-regulated learning’s dynamic nature, such as learners adapting their approaches while engaged in tasks. Such real-time measures better reflect theoretical models that posit a continuous dynamic process.