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Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner: An Overview

Author(s): Barry J. Zimmerman

Source: Theory Into Practice, Vol. 41, No. 2, Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner (Spring,
2002), pp. 64-70
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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Barry . Zimmerman

Becoming a Self-Regulated
Learner: An Overview


Self-regulation researchers have sought to
of portable phones, CD players, computers, andunderstand students like Tracy and to provide help
televisions for even young children, it is hardlyin developing key processes that she lacks, such as
surprising to discover that many students have not goal setting, time management, learning strategies,
learned to self-regulate their academic studyingself-evaluation, self-attributions, seeking help or
very well. Consider the case of Tracy, a high school information, and important self-motivational beliefs,
student who is infatuated with MTV.
such as self-efficacy and intrinsic task interest.
An important mid-term math exam is two In recent years, there have been exciting dis-
weeks away, and she has begun to study while coveries regarding the nature, origins, and devel-
listening to popular music "to relax her." Tracy opment of how students regulate their own learning
has not set any study goals for herself-instead processes (Zimmerman & Schunk, 2001). Although
she simply tells herself to do as well as she canthese
on studies have clearly revealed how self-regu-
the test. She uses no specific learning strategies
latory processes lead to success in school, few
for condensing and memorizing important material teachers currently prepare students to learn on their
and does not plan out her study time, so she endsown.
up In this article, I discuss students' self-regula-
cramming for a few hours before the test. She hastion as a way to compensate for their individual
only vague self-evaluative standards and cannot gauge
differences in learning, define the essential quali-
her academic preparation accurately. Tracy attributes
ties of academic self-regulation, describe the struc-
her learning difficulties to an inherent lack of mathe-
ture and function of self-regulatory processes, and,
matical ability and is very defensive about her poor
finally, give an overview of methods for guiding
study methods. However, she does not ask for help
students to learn on their own.
from others because she is afraid of "looking stu-
pid," or seek out supplementary materials from the Changing Conceptions of
library because she "already has too much to learn." Individual Differences
She finds studying to be anxiety-provoking, has little Since the beginning of public schooling
self-confidence in achieving success, and sees little
the United States, educators have wrestled with
intrinsic value in acquiring mathematical skill. the presence of substantial differences in individu-
Barry J. Zimmerman is Distinguished Professor at al
thestudents' backgrounds and modes of learning.
Graduate School and University Center of the CitySome students grasped important concepts easily
University of New York. and seemed highly motivated to study, whereas

THEORY INTO PRACTICE, Volume 41, Number 2, Spring 2002

Copyright ? 2002 College of Education, The Ohio State University

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Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner

others struggled to understand and retain informa-in achieving these goals. Students who set specific
tion and often seemed disinterested. In the 19th and proximal goals for themselves displayed supe-
century, learning was viewed as a formal disci- rior achievement and perceptions of personal effi-
pline, and a student's failure to learn was widelycacy. Interestingly, simply asking students to
attributed to personal limitations in intelligenceself-record
or some aspect of their learning, such as
diligence. Students were expected to overcome their
the completion of assignments, often led to "spon-
individual limitations in order to profit fromtaneous"
the improvements in functioning (Shapiro,
1984). These effects, termed reactivity in the sci-
curriculum of the school. Conceptions of self-reg-
ulatory development at the time were limited entific
to literature, implied that students' metacog-
nitive (i.e., self) awareness of particular aspects of
acquiring desirable personal habits, such as proper
diction and handwriting. their functioning could enhance their self-control.
Of course, self-awareness is often insufficient when
At the dawn of the 20th century, psychology
emerged as a science, and the topic of individual a learner lacks fundamental skills, but it can pro-
differences in educational functioning attracted duce a readiness that is essential for personal
widespread interest. Diverse reformers, suchchange as (Zimmerman, 2001).
John Dewey, E.L. Thorndike, Maria Montessori, These and related results led researchers to

and the progressive educators, suggested various attribute individual differences in learning to stu-
ways to alter the curriculum to accommodate dents' stu- lack of self-regulation. This perspective f
dents' individual differences, such as grouping cused
of instead on what students needed to know
students homogeneously according to age or ability, about themselves in order to manage their limi
introducing perceptual-motor learning tasks,tions and during efforts to learn, such as a dyslex
broadening course work to include training in practi- student's knowing to use a particular strategy
cal skills. Later reformers matched instructional treat- read. Although teachers also need to know a st
ments to students' aptitude or attitude scores on dent's strengths and limitations in learning, th
standardized tests (Cronbach, 1957). Despite these goal should be to empower their students to b
notable efforts, critics charged that the curriculum come self-aware of these differences. If a student
of American schools remained too narrow and in- fails to understand some aspect of a lesson in class,
flexible to accommodate the psychological needs he or she must possess the self-awareness and stra-
tegic knowledge to take corrective action. Even if
of all students. Many psychologists and educators
it were possible for teachers to accommodate ev-
discussed the adverse effects of a rigid curriculum
on students' self-images (ASCD Yearbook, 1962). ery student's limitation at any point during the
During the late 1970s and early 1980s, a new school day, their assistance could undermine the
perspective on students' individual differences most be- important aspect of this learning-a student's
gan to emerge from research on metacognition and development of a capability to self-regulate.
social cognition. Metacognition is defined as the
awareness of and knowledge about one's own Defining Self-Regulated Learning
thinking. Students' deficiencies in learning were in Process Terms
attributed to a lack of metacognitive awareness of Self-regulation is not a mental ability or an
personal limitations and an inability to compen- academic performance skill; rather it is the self
sate. Social cognitive researchers were interested directive process by which learners transform thei
in social influences on children's development of mental abilities into academic skills. Learning i
self-regulation, and they studied issues such as the viewed as an activity that students do for them
effects of teacher modeling and instruction on stu- selves in a proactive way rather than as a cover
dents' goal setting and self-monitoring (Schunk, event that happens to them in reaction to teaching
1989; Zimmerman, 1989). Students were asked to Self-regulation refers to self-generated thought
set particular types of goals for themselves, such feelings, and behaviors that are oriented to attain-
as completing of a certain number of math home- ing goals (Zimmerman, 2000). These learners ar
work problems, and to self-record their effectiveness proactive in their efforts to learn because they are


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Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner

aware of their strengths and limitations and be- trait that individual students either possess or lack.
cause they are guided by personally set goals and Instead, it involves the selective use of specific
task-related strategies, such as using an arithmetic processes that must be personally adapted to each
addition strategy to check the accuracy of solu- learning task. The component skills include: (a)
tions to subtraction problems. These learners mon- setting specific proximal goals for oneself, (b)
itor their behavior in terms of their goals and adopting powerful strategies for attaining the goals,
(c) monitoring one's performance selectively for
self-reflect on their increasing effectiveness. This
enhances their self-satisfaction and motivation tosigns of progress, (d) restructuring one's physical
continue to improve their methods of learning. and social context to make it compatible with one's
Because of their superior motivation and adaptive goals, (e) managing one's time use efficiently, (f)
learning methods, self-regulated students are not self-evaluating one's methods, (g) attributing cau-
only more likely to succeed academically but sation
to to results, and (h) adapting future methods.
view their futures optimistically. A students' level of learning has been found to
Self-regulation is important because a majorvary based on the presence or absence of these key
function of education is the development of life- self-regulatory processes (Schunk & Zimmerman,
long learning skills. After graduation from high 1994; 1998).
school or college, young adults must learn many Third, contemporary research reveals that the
important skills informally. For example, in busi-self-motivated quality of self-regulated learners
ness settings, they are often expected to learn depends
a on several underlying beliefs, including
perceived efficacy and intrinsic interest. Histori-
new position, such as selling a product, by observ-
cally, educators have focused on social encourage-
ing proficient others and by practicing on their own.
Those who develop high levels of skill position ment and extrinsic "bells and whistles" to try to
themselves for bonuses, early promotion, or more elevate students' level of motivation. Unfortunately,
attractive jobs. In self-employment settings, bothself-directed studying or practicing was often derid-
young and old must constantly self-refine their ed as inherently boring, repetitive, and mind numb-
ing with catchy phrases such as "Drill and kill."
skills in order to survive. Their capability to self-
regulate is especially challenged when they under-However, interviews with experts reveal a very dif-
take long-term creative projects, such as worksferent
of picture of these experiences (Ericsson &
Charness, 1994). Experts spend approximately four
art, literary texts, or inventions. In recreational set-
tings, learners spend much personally regulated
hours each day in study and practice and find these
time learning diverse skills for self-entertainment,activities highly motivating. They vary their meth-
ranging from hobbies to sports. ods of study and practice in order to discover new
Although the relationship of self-reliance strategies
to for self-improvement. With such diverse
skills as chess, sports, and music, the quantity of an
success in life has been widely recognized, most stu-
individual's studying and practicing is a strong pre-
dents struggle to attain self-discipline in their meth-
ods of study today as they did a century ago. What dictor of his or her level of expertise. There is also
does contemporary research tell us about this desir-evidence that the quality of practicing and study-
ing episodes is highly predictive of a learner's level
able but elusive personal quality? First, self-regula-
tion of learning involves more than detailed of skill (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1997; 1999).
knowledge of a skill; it involves the self-awareness, However, few beginners in a new discipline
self-motivation, and behavioral skill to implement that immediately derive powerful self-motivational ben-
knowledge appropriately. For example, there is evi- efits, and they may easily lose interest if they are
dence (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2000) that experts dif- not socially encouraged and guided, as most music
fer from non-experts in their application of knowledge teachers will readily attest (McPherson & Zimmer-
at crucial times during learning performances, such man, in press). Fortunately, the motivation of novic-
as correcting specific deficiencies in technique. es can be greatly enhanced when and if they use
Second, contemporary research tells us that high-quality self-regulatory processes, such as close
self-regulation of learning is not a single personal self-monitoring. Students who have the capabilities


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Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner

to detect subtle progress in learning will increase learning psychologists view the structure of self-
their levels of self-satisfaction and their beliefs in regulatory processes in terms of three cyclical phas-
es. The forethought phase refers to processes and
their personal efficacy to perform at a high level
of skill (Schunk, 1983). Clearly, their motivation
beliefs that occur before efforts to learn; the per-
does not stem from the task itself, but rather fromformance phase refers to processes that occur dur-
ing behavioral implementation, and self-reflection
their use of self-regulatory processes, such as self-
monitoring, and the effects of these processesrefers
on to processes that occur after each learning
their self-beliefs. effort. The processes that have been studied in each
phase to date are shown in Figure 1, and the func-
Structure and Function of tion of each process will be described next (Zim-
Self-Regulatory Processes merman, 2000).
This brings us to the essential question of how
Forethought phase
does a student's use of specific learning processes,
level of self-awareness, and motivational beliefs There are two major classes of forethought
combine to produce self-regulated learners? Socialphase processes: task analysis and self-motivation.


Performan ce Phase

Image :ry
Self-instr uction
Attention f ocusing
Task stra tegies

Self-Obse rvation
Self-experin ?l
ssnassscsss 1
-v . 1


.! Forethought Phase
Self-Reflection Phase I
Task Analysis Self-Judgment
Goal setting Self-evaluation
Strategic planning Causal attribution

Self-Motivation Beliefs Self-Reaction

Sel.l f-I~ efficacy I Self-
Outcome expectations Adaptivedefensive
Intrinsic interest/value

Learning goal orientation

Figure 1. Phases and Subprocesses of Self-Regulation. From B.J. Zimmerman and M. Campillo (in press), "Motivating
Self-Regulated Problem Solvers." In J.E. Davidson and Robert Sternberg (Eds.), The Nature of Problem Solving. New
York: Cambridge University Press. Adapted with permission.


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Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner

Task analysis involves goal setting and strategic the boy could conduct a self-experiment in which
planning. There is considerable evidence of in- he studied parallel lessons alone and in the pres-
creased academic success by learners who set spe- ence of his friend to see whether his friend was an
cific proximal goals for themselves, such as asset or a liability. Self-monitoring, a covert form of
memorizing a word list for a spelling test, and by self-observation, refers to one's cognitive tracking of
learners who plan to use spelling strategies, such personal functioning, such as the frequency of fail-
as segmenting words into syllables. ing to capitalize words when writing an essay.
Self-motivation stems from students' beliefs
about learning, such as self-efficacy beliefs about Self-reflection phase
having the personal capability to learn and out- There are two major classes of self-reflec-
come expectations about personal consequences of tion phase processes: self-judgment and self-reac-
learning (Bandura, 1997). For example, students tion. One form of self-judgment, self-evaluation,
who feel self-efficacious about learning to divide refers to comparisons of self-observed performanc-
fractions and expect to use this knowledge to pass es against some standard, such as one's prior per-
a college entrance exam are more motivated to learn formance, another person's performance, or an
in a self-regulated fashion. Intrinsic interest refers standard of performance. Another form
of self-judgment involves causal attribution, which
to the students' valuing of the task skill for its
own merits, and learning goal orientation refers torefers to beliefs about the cause of one's errors or
valuing the process of learning for its own merits. successes, such as a score on a mathematics test.
Students who find the subject matter of history, Attributing a poor score to limitations in fixed abil-
for example, interesting and enjoy increasing theirity can be very damaging motivationally because
it implies that efforts to improve on a future test
mastery of it are more motivated to learn in a self-
regulated fashion. will not be effective. In contrast, attributing a poor
math score to controllable processes, such as the
Performance phase use of the wrong solution strategy, will sustain mo-
Performance phase processes fall into twotivation because it implies that a different strategy
major classes: self-control and self-observation.may lead to success.
Self-control refers to the deployment of specific One form of self-reaction involves feelings
methods or strategies that were selected during theof self-satisfaction and positive affect regarding
forethought phase. Among the key types of self- one's performance. Increases in self-satisfaction
control methods that have been studied to date are enhance motivation, whereas decreases in self-sat-
isfaction undermine further efforts to learn (Schunk,
the use of imagery, self-instruction, attention focus-
2001). Self-reactions also take the form of adap-
ing, and task strategies. For example, in learning the
Spanish word pan for "bread," an English-speaking tive/defensive responses. Defensive reactions refer
girl could form an image of a bread pan or self-
to efforts to protect one's self-image by withdraw-
ing or avoiding opportunities to learn and perform,
instruct using the phrase "bread pan." She could also
such as dropping a course or being absent for a
locate her place of study away from distracting nois-
es so she could control her attention better. For a
test. In contrast, adaptive reactions refer to adjust-
task-strategy, she could group the Spanish wordments
pan designed to increase the effectiveness of
with associated words for foods. one's method of learning, such as discarding or
Self-observation refers to self-recording per- modifying an ineffective learning strategy.
sonal events or self-experimentation to find out This view of self-regulation is cyclical in that
the cause of these events. For example, students self-reflections from prior efforts to learn affect sub-
are often asked to self-record their time use to sequent forethought processes (e.g., self-dissatisfac-
make them aware of how much time they spendtion will lead to lower levels of self-efficacy and
studying. A boy may notice that when he studied diminished effort during subsequent learning) (Zim-
alone, he finished his homework more quickly thanmerman & Bandura, 1994). In support of this cycli-
cal view of self-regulation, high correlations were
when studying with a friend. To test this hypothesis,


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Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner

found among learners' use of forethought, perfor- intervention programs in schools for children wh
mance, and self-reflection phase processes (Zimmer- display lower levels of self-regulatory developmen
man & Kitsantas, 1999). For example, students who(Schunk & Zimmerman, 1998).
set specific proximal goals are more likely to self-
observe their performance in theses areas, more like- Teaching Students to Become
ly to achieve in the target area, and will display higher Self-Regulated Learners
levels of self-efficacy than students who do not set Research on the quality and quantity of stu
goals (Bandura & Schunk, 1981). Other studies havedents' use of self-regulatory processes has revealed
revealed that experts display significantly higher lev-high correlations with academic achievement track
els of self-regulatory processes during practice ef- placement as well as with performance on sta
forts than novices (Cleary & Zimmerman, 2000). dardized test scores (Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons,
The self-regulation profile of novices is very 1986). There is also evidence that students' use
distinctive from that of experts. Novices fail to en- self-regulatory processes is distinctive from b
gage in high-quality forethought and instead attempt correlated with general measures of ability, su
to self-regulate their learning reactively. That is, they as verbal ability (Zimmerman & Bandura, 1994
fail to set specific goals or to self-monitor systemati-Although many self-regulatory processes, such
cally, and as a result, they tend to rely on compari- goal setting and self-monitoring, are generally co
sons with the performance of others to judge their vert, teachers are aware of many overt manifesta
learning effectiveness. Because typically other learn- tions of these processes, such as students'
ers are also progressing, their performance represents self-awareness of the quality of their work and pre-
a constantly increasing criterion of success that isparedness in class (Zimmerman & Martinez-Pons,
very difficult to surpass. Furthermore, learners who 1988). Recent research shows that self-regulatory
make comparative self-evaluations are prompted to processes are teachable and can lead to increases
attribute causation to ability deficiencies (which are in students' motivation and achievement (Schunk
also normative in nature), and this will produce low-& Zimmerman, 1998).
er personal satisfaction and prompt defensive reac- Although research findings strongly support
tions. In contrast, the self-regulation profile ofthe importance of students' use of self-regulatory
experts reveals they display high levels of self- processes, few teachers effectively prepare students
motivation and set hierarchical goals for themselves to learn on their own (Zimmerman, Bonner, &
with process goals leading to outcome goals in suc- Kovach, 1996). Students are seldom given choices
cession, such as dividing a formal essay into an regarding academic tasks to pursue, methods for
introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Experts plan carrying out complex assignments, or study part-
learning efforts using powerful strategies and self- ners. Few teachers encourage students to establish
observe their effects, such as a visual organizer for specific goals for their academic work or teach
filling in key information (Zimmerman & Risem-explicit study strategies. Also, students are rarely
berg, 1997). They self-evaluate their performanceasked to self-evaluate their work or estimate their
against their personal goals rather than other learn- competence on new tasks. Teachers seldom assess
ers' performance, and they make strategy (or meth-students' beliefs about learning, such as self-effi-
od) attributions instead of ability attributions. This cacy perceptions or causal attributions, in order to
leads to greater personal satisfaction with their learn- identify cognitive or motivational difficulties be-
ing progress and further efforts to improve their per- fore they become problematic.
formance. Together these self-reactions enhance Contrary to a commonly held belief, self-reg-
various self-motivational beliefs of experts, such ulated learning is not asocial in nature and origin.
as self-efficacy, outcome expectations, learning Each self-regulatory process or belief, such as goal
goal orientation, and intrinsic interest. setting, strategy use, and self-evaluation, can be
Knowing the differences in the structure and learned from instruction and modeling by parents,
function of self-regulatory processes between expertsteachers, coaches, and peers. In fact, self-regulat-
and novices has enabled researchers to formulate ed students seek out help from others to improve


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Becoming a Self-Regulated Learner

their learning. What defines them as "self-regulated" Schunk, D.H., & Zimmerman, B.J. (Eds.). (1994). Self-
is not their reliance on socially isolated methods of regulation of learning and performance: Issues and
educational applications. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
learning, but rather their personal initiative, perse-
Schunk, D.H., & Zimmerman, B.J. (Eds.). (1998). Self-
verance, and adoptive skill. Self-regulated students regulated learning: From teaching to self-reflec-
focus on how they activate, alter, and sustain specific tive practice. New York: Guilford Press.
learning practices in social as well as solitary con- Shapiro, E.S. (1984). Self-monitoring procedures. In
texts. In an era when these essential qualities for life- T.H. Ollendick & M. Hersen (Eds.), Child behav-
ior assessment: Principles and procedures (pp.
long learning are distressingly absent in many
148-165). New York: Pergamon.
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Zimmerman, B.J. (1989). A social cognitive view of
is especially relevant. self-regulated academic learning. Journal of Edu-
cational Psychology, 81, 329-339.
Note Zimmerman, B.J. (2000). Attainment of self-regulation:
1. Correspondence concerning this article should be di- A social cognitive perspective. In M. Boekaerts,
rected to Barry J. Zimmerman, Ph.D. Program in P.R. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of
Educational Psychology, Graduate School and Uni- self-regulation (pp. 13-39). San Diego, CA: Aca-
demic Press.
versity Center of the City University of New York,
365 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10016-4309 or Zimmerman, B.J. (2001). Theories of self-regulated
bzimmerman @ learning and academic achievement: An overview
and analysis. In B.J. Zimmerman & D.H. Schunk
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