Initial Publication Date: June 8, 2017

Encouraging Self-Regulated Learning in the Classroom

The way you teach can have a large effect on your students' ability to become self-regulated learners. A key element is not to simply relay content or problem-solving techniques, but to explicitly teach students how to learn. For example, before settling on a certain approach to a problem, solicit a dialog to generate and evaluate ideas about how to proceed. When selecting a learning strategy, describe the reasons why this approach is used.

Being explicit about how to use different learning strategies will help them develop a suite of tools they can draw from as they work through the course.

  • Model examples of your own thought process, narrating as you explain how you solve problems (Zumbrunn et al., 2011).
  • Provide ongoing support. Students in an unfamiliar discipline are unlikely to know which strategies to use, and they may lose interest or motivation if not coached and encouraged (Zimmerman 2002).
  • Ultimately, migrate toward empowering students to become their own managers. In time they will develop the capacity to self-regulate (Zimmerman, 2002).
  • Many students, particularly those who are the first in their families to attend college, are motivated to master skills that will help them in a career. Point out that self-regulated learning is essential for learning new skills or concepts in the workplace.
  • Motivation and self-satisfaction improve when students have success with the use of effective learning techniques (Zimmerman, 2002; Zumbrunn et al., 2011).
  • Encourage students to ask for help when they need it. Strive to create a two-way, open dialog.

Structuring Feedback to Support Self-Regulated Learning

Feedback helps students understand how their current performance compares to the desired goals. Initially, much of that feedback comes from the instructor, but ultimately students can develop the ability to assess their own learning. Self-regulated learners can generate internal feedback, monitor their engagement, and assess their progress (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). A synthesis by Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) describes principles of formative assessment and effective feedback, as it specifically relates to self-regulated learning. Key points from this paper are listed below.

Effective feedback will:

  1. Clarify what good performance is (goals, criteria, expected standards),
  2. Facilitate the development of self-assessment and reflection in learning,
  3. Deliver high quality information to students about the progress of their learning,
  4. Encourage teacher and peer dialogue around learning,
  5. Encourage positive motivational beliefs and self-esteem,
  6. Provide opportunities to close the gap between current and desired performance.

Learn more about specific activities to foster self-regulated learning.


Nicol, D. J., & Macfarlane‐Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self‐regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199-218.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview. Theory into Practice, 41(2), 64-70.

Zumbrunn, S., Tadlock, J., & Roberts, E. D. (2011). Encouraging self-regulated learning in the classroom: A review of the literature. Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium (MERC).

See the complete list of all references used in this module.