Self-regulated learning for a lifetime

As a teacher I was often asked, "How will you motivate an unmotivated student?" at trainings and interviews. The truth about motivation is that while there are things that provide intrinsic and extrinsic reasons to be motivated, motivation has to come from the learner. Motivation is the desire to do something - we cannot make someone desire to do something, but we can provide tools to help them find that within themselves. Often we can barely motivate ourselves! One of the best tools available to us as educators, parents, and lifelong learners to facilitate motivation and growth is self-regulated learning.

Great visual description of self-regulated learning.

What is self-regulated learning?

Self-regulated learning is learning that happens in a process with the learner playing a key role. Learners (whether they are young children, teens, or us as adults) know their skills and struggles, they know where they need to get to, and they have tools to check to see if they are getting there. Learners then assess their performance and readjust what they are doing to improve their outcomes. For example, you may demonstrate self-regulated learning when you get tired of the normal foods you cook. You may choose to try one new recipe a month. You know the basics of cooking and have favorite cookbooks to fall back on as you try new recipes. Your family may taste test your creations and so may you and that will help you decide if this is a recipe to add to your normal repertoire or toss out. Young children in the toddler years demonstrate self-regulated learning when they choose how to play. My little one loves to climb. She knows she can get up most things, yet struggles to come down so she waits and yells or holds her hand out until I help her down. In school age kids, this may involve an anticipation guide or an early inventory of what a student knows. The student may set a goal for what subjects they want to explore most or how often they want to study to get the grade they are aiming for (the interest in the content and the grade are both motivators designed by the teacher, yet the motivation lies in the student). As the student strives to meet their goals, they may meet with the teacher to check progress and troubleshoot. Zimmerman (2002) describes self-regulated learning wonderfully and is one of the key researchers in the field. In summary, self-regulated learning is a process made up of a forethought phase, when learners analyze their tasks and identify what about this task motivates them; a performance phase that requires self-control and self-observation to stay on task and get help as needed; and a self-reflection phase where the learners assesses learning, identifies what habits were successful or not, and decide what to do next (Zimmerman, 2002).

Don't let yucky memories keep you from exploring new ideas!

Wait...why do we want kids to learn before school? I already graduated, I thought I was done learning :(

Lifelong learning starts before birth as the nervous system develops and takes in information about the surroundings. In babies and young children, play is learning. Ideally, all learning feels at least a little bit like play - playing with ideas and new skills, playing with wonder and curiosity, but for many adults, when we think back to school we generally have at least a few yucky memories of tests or failing a class we worked really hard in, etc so when we talk about lifelong learning we may first remember math drills and spelling bees rather than debates we loved or solving that one math problem that drove us crazy. However, learning lets us grow and stay engaged in ways that help us avoid stagnation. Continuous learning promotes long-term health and is linked to preventing cognitive issues later in life. When we learn, we challenge old ideas and can see different perspectives, key abilities in a rapidly diversifying nation and globalizing world. Self-regulated learning is a tool that we can use to re-learn what learning is in an engaging way. Self-regulated learning challenges us to be honest about our weaknesses and to celebrate our strengths so we can keep moving forward. As adults, that might be learning how to improve a credit score, trying a new make up routine, changing how we exercise when we plateau, choosing to get a new credential to be able to apply for a job we're excited about or that meets our family's needs, and/or reading a book on an interesting topic. No learning is too small :).

Play starts young! And we learn from playing with people of different ages - they help us set high goals :).

So, what can I try at home or in my classroom?

  1. Start off by listing at least five strengths and three weaknesses or things you want to improve at.

  2. Then, note one skill you want to learn or concept you want to understand or one goal you have. Choose something you are really interested in OR that will really benefit you. This is a huge part of staying motivated. Often we don't meet goals because we set ones we don't like. If you hate running, don't plan to go run a marathon. If you don't know how to cook, budgeting time and money to do a meal prep service might be a better idea than aiming to cook each meal every day without - you can work towards that after prepping meals with some help first! In the classroom, the teacher may do some of the prepwork here, identifying what skills and understandings each student needs to end the year with and identifying where they already are.

  3. List resources that you know of that can help.

  4. If you need deadlines and accountability buddies, set and find those dates and people! Setting an end date and working backwards with mini-tasks is a great practice! Teachers, you can assign mini-deadlines or have students propose their own and then conference with them for approval.

  5. Work on!

  6. Each time you work toward your task, notice and note if you are struggling, succeeding, or excelling. Adjust your goals as needed. Ask yourself if this goal is still the right goal or if you need to tweak it. Teachers, during this process, you'll want to conference with students or provide log/journal prompts to spark reflection and to help troubleshoot as needed. This is where you get to #watchwonderbloom!

  7. When you have met your goal, reflect on how long it took you to get there, the fun moments and the struggles along the way. Note what you might do differently in the future.

  8. Celebrate your success and #neverstoplearning.

Share your goals and wonderings in the comments or via instagram using the hashtag watchwonderbloom!


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

9 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All