Era 3 – Operation
The desire of investigators to explore self-regulated learning in greater depth led to the third era of operation, which began in the 1990s and continues today. Investigators explore the operation of self-regulated learning processes in depth as learners employ them and relate moment-to-moment changes in self-regulated learning to changes in outcome measures. The general research model posits a reciprocal relation between self-regulated learning and achievement outcomes (Self-Regulated Learning ↔ Achievement Outcomes). Learners use self-regulated learning processes, monitor their levels of understanding and learning, and adapt processes as necessary to promote learning or accommodate to changing conditions. This research model captures both the dynamic and cyclical natures of self-regulated learning.
This research model requires different methodologies to capture the dynamic nature of self-regulated learning. New and refined methodologies emerged, broadened with the enhanced capabilities of technology. In addition to surveys and interviews, investigators increasingly employed such measures as think alouds, observations, traces, microanalytic methods, and diaries.
Think alouds involve learners overtly verbalizing their thinking while engaged in learning (Greene, Robertson, & Costa, 2011). Think alouds capture learners’ verbalized cognitive processing and do not depend on their memories. Verbalizations typically are recorded and transcribed to ensure accuracy of recording. Because verbalizing is itself a task it may prove distracting to some learners who are not used to talking aloud while learning. Giving learners practice and prompting them when they stop verbalizing help ensure continued verbalizations (Ericsson & Simon, 1993).
Observations of students while engaged in learning can occur through video and audio recording or by taking detailed notes. Observations are transcribed and coded to determine the types and extent of self-regulated learning processes. Observations in classrooms and other settings involving more than one participant allow researchers to determine the role that the social context might play in self-regulated learning.
Traces are observable measures of self-regulated learning that students create as they engage in task (Winne & Perry, 2000). Traces include marks students make in texts, such as when they underline, highlight, or write notes in margins. Traces can indicate students’ use of self-regulatory processes such as planning and monitoring. Computer technologies have expanded the range of traces available. Researchers are able to collect measures of learners’ eye movements, time spent on various aspects of material to be learned, and selections of self-regulated learning processes to use with content.
Microanalytic methods examine learners’ behaviors and cognitions in real time as they engage in tasks (Cleary, 2011). Assessments administered to individual students may ask them to respond to context-specific questions concurrently as they apply self-regulatory processes to tasks. These questions may tap several measures of self-regulated learning before, during, and after task engagement. Learners’ responses may be recorded and scoring rubrics used to code the responses that may be open- or closed-ended.
Diaries are written records that learners construct and which reflect their cognitions, behaviors, and affects before, during, and after learning (Schmitz, Klug, & Schmidt, 2011). Diaries are intended to be instruments of scientific research and tap learners’ perceptions of important variables. Although learners can record in diaries at any time, recordings typically are collected before learning to assess pre-learning states and after learning to assess both during- and after-learning self-regulatory processes.
A representative study of the operation era was conducted by Winne and Jamieson-Noel (2002), who collected trace measures of study strategies from undergraduates while they learned about lightning. Trace data were recorded by instructional software as students studied material. Traces recorded students’ behaviors such as scrolling through text and opening windows. Students also completed a self-report measure of strategies used, and the trace data were matched as closely as possible to the self-report items such as those assessing planning a method for studying, creating a note, and reviewing objectives. The results showed that students tended to self-report overuse of study strategies, especially for planning a method for studying, highlighting, copying text verbatim into a note, and reviewing figures. For example, students reported having reviewed figures 26% more than traces indicated. At least for certain self-regulatory processes, students may not understand the frequency with which they employ them.
Research exploring the operation of self-regulatory processes addresses the dynamic and cyclical nature of self-regulated learning as an event that is subject to continuous change. Although assessments of the operation of self-regulated learning are more time intensive than simply administering surveys, they capture processes as they occur and are not subject to forgetting or memory distortions. If measures of achievement outcomes also are collected concurrently with those of self-regulated learning processes investigators can plot changes in self-regulated learning against those in achievement outcomes to track how processes affect outcomes.
Future Directions in Self-Regulated Learning in Education
I am sure that in the future researchers will continue to address the dominant themes of these three eras. I expect continued research to develop and refine theories and methodologies, implement and assess the effectiveness of interventions, and explore the operation of self-regulatory processes in diverse contexts.
I now will suggest some additional directions that self-regulated learning researchers might proceed. None of these directions is original; research has been conducted in each of these areas. Two recent books contain chapters that illustrate some of these directions: Handbook of self-regulation of learning and performance(Zimmerman & Schunk, 2011), and, Applications of self-regulated learning across diverse disciplines: A tribute to Barry J. Zimmerman (Bembenutty, Cleary, & Kitsantas, 2013). But I believe that these are fruitful directions to help us not only advance theory and research but also extend the applicability of self-regulated learning to new domains and contexts. Three research directions I recommend are to examine self-regulated learning in informal settings, of related academic skills, and in groups.
Self-Regulated Learning in Informal Settings
My first suggestion is to conduct research on self-regulated learning in informal settings. To date, most research on educational self-regulated learning has been conducted in regular instructional settings using academic content.
Examining self-regulated learning in informal contexts is important because much learning takes place outside of formal instructional settings, such as in after-school settings, homes, workplaces, and communities. Self-regulated learning seems no less pertinent in these types of situations, but we know less about its operation outside of formal settings. As examples of the type of research I am recommending, Lord, Diefendorff, Schmidt, and Hall (2010) discuss self-regulated learning in work settings, Stoeger and Ziegler (2011) and Bembenutty (2013) describe self-regulated learning as students complete homework, and DiBenedetto and White (2013) apply self-regulated learning to doctoral mentoring.
The methods I mentioned earlier—think alouds, observations, traces, microanalytic methods, diaries—seem relevant to investigating self-regulated learning in informal contexts. Some important questions to be addressed are: Do our theoretical models apply to these settings or do they need to be adapted? How do students learn and refine self-regulation skills outside of formal instructional contexts? What roles do other persons in these environments, such as parents, mentors, and coaches, play in helping students become better self-regulated learners?