What does self-regulate mean? The key to learning how to learn


There are two fundamental aspects that have a direct influence on teaching practice and that make it necessary to reflect on it today to adapt to the current needs of students.

On the one hand, we find globalization and instant and massive access to information. How should we approach teaching , if the conceptual and procedural contents are already available to everyone with a single click? What should we teach then, beyond “attitudinal” content?

As the American philologist and intellectual Noam Chomsky said , “the purpose of education is to show people how to learn for themselves.” We’re making it?

Mental health in free fall

On the other hand, the mental health and well-being of students have become a concern, given the consequences generated by the pandemic, which we are still beginning to glimpse today.

Beyond the specific effects of the pandemic, the truth is that the emotional well-being of students has always been a factor that has affected the academic field. We must allow for direct and concrete intervention by the teacher who addresses both emotions before, during and after the activity, as well as the students’ beliefs about their ability or their self-concept.

A void to fill

Generating teaching dynamics and praxis that respond to these needs is a common goal. It can be attended from the self-regulation of learning.

Many students live daily with feelings of anxiety, frustration and disengagement with the learning process. Although there are many causes that can generate low motivation among them, in many cases, we observe that they have neither knowledge nor control over their own learning process.

That is, they do not know how to learn, they do not know how to regulate their actions to achieve a specific goal.

An autonomous learning

On too many occasions, teachers focus solely on supervising the correct learning of the students, forgetting that our duty is to also give them tools that help them to be completely autonomous in learning.

Self- regulated learning is that set of multiple self-direction processes that allow students to  transform their abilities into academic performance.

Self-regulated learning can occur in different areas, such as cognitive, motivational, behavioral or contextual. It is implemented through the use of concrete strategies.

When is it possible to start?

We know that the ability to self-regulate emerges very early in childhood and continues to develop through the preschool years. Despite this, currently we continue to observe in teaching practice -in early childhood education levels and in the first levels of primary education- the teaching of self-regulated learning strategies is not usually worked explicitly. These would serve to know and control the various dimensions of the process (motivation, behavior, context, cognition).

Multiple investigations have explored the relationship between self-regulation skills (cognitive, behavioral, motivational, contextual) and certain [academic competencies].

In this way, mastering the tasks, adapting to them or increasing control and adaptation over the context have a positive impact on the academic performance of students. And this not only happens in higher educational stages such as university, but also in initial stages such as primary education.

Control your own process

When a student is asked to listen carefully, wait patiently, select strategies to complete a task, plan his week, review a problem or simply organize his school material, he puts into operation certain highly relevant self-regulation skills. Without them, the educational act would be very difficult.

For this reason, the explicit teaching of cognitive, contextual, motivational or resource management strategies enables students to have greater control of the learning process. Especially if the teaching includes metacognitive strategies such as supervision or review of the task.

The use of this type of strategy provides the student with highly relevant information regarding the process (where I have failed, what mistake I have made, what change has solved the situation).

This information is vital to improve performance, as it encourages the student not to make the same mistakes when conducting a new, similar educational experience.

Impact on student well-being

Beyond educational tasks, self-regulatory skills are also related to student well-being.

The self-regulation of the process makes the student autonomous. It provides relevant information to increase that perception of control, pushes the student to establish clearer goals, since they know the objectives and ins and outs of the activity and, above all, by controlling the activity they feel capable of doing it well.

In this way, improving autonomy, goal setting, and self-efficacy could improve students’ well-being by visibly decreasing their stress .

The self-regulatory strategies that also present a consolidated relationship with the student’s well-being are those focused on the management of negative emotions. This management is also related to self-esteem and student satisfaction.

In summary, it seems that the key to performing and “being well” is to know how to learn to encourage control and autonomy during the learning process. Now we need to learn to teach them how to learn.

Author Bios: Isabel Pineiro Aguin is a Contracted PhD professor in the area of ​​evolutionary psychology of the Department of Psychology (Faculty of Education Sciences) and Rocio Gonzalez Suarez has a PhD in Educational Psychology both at the University of A Coruña