Develop Self-Regulated Learners: Choosing and Using the Best Strategies for the Task

This module was developed by Karin Kirk, a freelance educational writer and geoscientist.

"It seems as though self-regulated learning can make the difference between academic success and failure for many students."
--Zumbrunn et al. (2011)

Self-regulated learning is an overarching term that addresses how students approach their learning, work toward goals, and evaluate their performance. The topic of self-regulated learning intertwines cognitive strategies, metacognitive strategies, and motivational beliefs (VanderStoep et al., 1996). Ultimately, students who practice self-regulated learning can improve their academic performance, find value in their own learning process, and continue to be effective learners once they enter the workforce.

These strategies can be especially profound for students who are trying to learn unfamiliar topics, who come to college academically underprepared, or who are frustrated or de-motivated by setbacks. Ultimately, students benefit by learning about themselves, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they can manage their time and their learning strategies most efficiently (Zimmerman, 2002). As Zumbrunn et al. (2011) conclude, "it seems as though self-regulated learning can make the difference between academic success and failure for many students."

The cycle of self-regulated learning
What is Self-Regulated Learning?

Self-regulated learning is a cyclical process, wherein the student plans for a task, monitors their performance, and then reflects on the outcome. The cycle then repeats as the student uses the reflection to adjust and prepare for the next task. The process is not one-size-fits-all; it should be tailored for individual students and for specific learning tasks.

Group problem solving
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.

Students doing reflective writing
Activities that Develop Self-Regulated Learning

Crafting your students into self-regulated learners might sound daunting, but it doesn't need to be. Instructors can begin with simple strategies that can be incorporated into just about any type of course.

sample page of student notebook
One Instructor's Perspective on Metacognitive Strategies

Dr. Kaatje Kraft has nearly two decades using metacognitive strategies in her two-year college classroom. She provides guidance on two specific activities that she uses to help students develop their self-regulatory skills.


Vanderstoep, S. W., Pintrich, P. R., & Fagerlin, A. (1996). Disciplinary differences in self-regulated learning in college students. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 21(4), 345-362.

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.

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