Self-regulation: A Key Tool Used To Improve Students’ Learning Behaviors

by Lester C Long Jr.

Self-regulatory learning is critical to a student’s learning development. It underlines the essence of the mindful, intentional, and thoughtful behaviors of learning and exemplifies metacognition. Self-regulation is the capacity of a learner to control their impulses by both stopping their behaviors that are not consistent with accomplishing specific tasks or the ability to move forward with behaviors that will accomplish them. Self-regulation is often confused with obedience or compliance but self-regulation is the student’s behaviors whether a parent and/or teacher is or is not watching. Self-regulated students are students that can delay gratification and to think ahead of the possible consequences of their actions or the ability to consider different or alternative actions. A key element of self-regulation is that it is not limited to just a social-emotional domain but can be applied to cognitive behaviors such as remembering or paying attention to instruction. Research has indicated that these two aspects are extremely relevant because children who have a difficult time controlling their emotions at age four are not likely to be able to follow teacher’s instructions at age six and most likely will have difficulties becoming a reflective learner in middle and high school.

Research has shown that interventions early in a child’s development have a positive and lasting effect on his or her social-emotional well-being as well as their academic success. This tool of mind provides benefits to all children not only those who may develop self-regulatory deficits. One of the primary keys to this process relates to human motivation. This importance of how one see a particular task or circumstance will determine the level of their self-regulation processing. This is important because accomplishing the goal has a lot to do with the child’s cognitive processing the self-regulatory process.

In this paper it is intend to demonstrate how self-regulated learning is central to student learning and development. This paper will focus on how self-regulated learning not only touches the lives of  student’s educational experience related to the three R”s (Reading, writing, and athematic) but how all students benefit from this process whether they are gifted or have learning deficiencies; whether they have intelligence or challenges; able or unable to meet projected expectations. It is important to understand that even if a child is not able to fully complete a particular task the effort made through a self-regulatory process demonstrates a willingness to learn and develop. Ashton (2008) point out that research contains to many weaknesses in their critical analysis of self-regulation because too much dependency on self-reporting, use measures that provide inadequate sensitivity to identifying important relationships, and models that include many relevant variables such as prior knowledge and achievement. They further point out that the objective of developing self-regulation should be the major goal of all persons entrusted with educational process of children.

The Goal of Self-regulated Learning

The implementation of self-regulatory learning by educators can be very effective in determining whether underachievement and behavioral issues are related to the characteristics of a student or whether it stems from more serious issues such as physical, cognitive, or emotional issues (Reis and Greene, 2014). Florez (2011) point out that self-regulatory process of moving from intentional to automatic regulation is termed internalization. The goal of self-regulatory learning is for the student to internalize learning so their response to stimuli is to respond by positive processing. In examining self-regulated learning research it is a cognitive processing that determines how a given task should be approached as well as how it’s comprehended, or   evaluated on the progress towards goal completion. Researchers at The University of Connecticut in a study conducted in 2013 point out that there is tremendous evidence that a number of children, especially those at risk begin school with a low amount of self-regulation.

Rafferty (2011) explains that the major goal of educators is to enable students to become independent and self-sufficient. It is the desire of educators to enable students to manage their behaviors without other individuals providing directions. Rafferty goes on to explain that there are five different types of self-management intervention that develops self-regulation: (1) self-monitoring, (2) goal setting, (3) self-evaluation, (4) self-instruction, and (5) strategy instruction. But what type of student that can receive and implement a self-regulatory process? Rafferty (2011) points out that students from many diverse backgrounds can develop the ability of self-regulation including preschoolers. However, socioeconomic status (SES) does play a role in the student ability to adjust to school and often have more of a difficult with self-regulatory management. Miech, Essex, and Goldsmith (2001) points out that longitudinal evidence has shown that a child’s capacity for developing self-regulated behaviors in childhood is directly related to the (SES).

Self-regulation and Motivation

Motivation is a critical factor in the framework of self-regulated learning. Motivation is one of the interconnected frameworks that help to determine the development and sustainability of self-regulated learning. Self-regulation and motivation work hand and hand. The learners’ proactive efforts to learn is directed by their personal goal setting task strategies. Zimmerman (2002) points out that because of their motivation they develop an adaptive learning method that allows them to improve their abilities. He further explains that few persons who begin a new discipline right away develop powerful self-motivational benefits. They could easily lose interest in the discipline if not encouraged socially. The self-regulatory process helps to develop very powerful motivation especially for individuals in the beginning of the study of new a disciple (Zimmerman, 2002). For example the motivation of a music novice may be greatly enhance when they use high quality self-regulation such self-monitoring.

Research shows that the self-motivated quality of self-regulated learners is related to a number of underline beliefs: the amount self-efficacy and intrinsic validation. The motivation that comes through self-regulation is self-directed and involves a large degree of self-awareness. Studies reveal that self-directed study is highly motivating. For example, experts spend about four hours a day studying and practicing their craft to discover new strategies for self-improvement. Zimmerman (2002) research showed that this type of commitment to a self-regulatory process is highly predictive of the learner’s skill level. He further found that motivation is not a process that basically stem from the task itself but things such as self-monitoring and the effects of self-belief.

In a study conducted by Schwinger, Steinmayr, and Spinath (2009) demonstrated that the self- regulated motivation in itself does not substantially enhance one’s GPA, it does influence and increase effort management and persistency which helps to improve the overall educational experience. Self-regulation of motivation is defined is conscious control over one’s own motivation that helps to increase effort and persistence. In recent years there has been a great deal of attention given to the works yielding the taxonomy of motivational regulation strategies. Schwinger et al (2007) constructed a German questionnaire which consisted of an eight motivational strategy scale. The study which translated the works of Wolter’s was given to college students of Germany. They students had to answer open questions regarding motivation in everyday life study situations. An analysis of the psychometric properties and the examination of the open responses given, item were re-worded the questionnaire and extended it to eight strategies. Two of the eight revised questionnaires yielded good psychometric properties (i.e. internal consistencies). They also demonstrate that there was an extremely strong correlation with external criteria; things such as (cognitive learning strategies and goal orientation).

This demonstrates that cognitive learning strategies influenced self-directed motivation along with goal orientation. The more internal motivation one has towards accomplishment of the goal the greater self-directed process. The self-regulatory process comes into play as the motivation increases. Schwinger et al (2009) found that motivational regulation strategies in general only demonstrate a moderate positive effect on effort management, motivational self-talk has a major correlation on a student’s GPA. Schwinger et al (2009) point out that even though some results show those motivational regulation strategies generally have a week effect on achievement; they argue that motivational regulated strategies are underestimated and do in fact have a direct correlation between effort and performance. This is where the self-regulatory process come into play because self-efficacy, self-belief, and self-direction all elements of self-regulation must be implored to achieve high performance. Motivation is a very important element in the self-regulatory and provides for a self-directed oriented process.

Self-regulation and Self-efficacy

The other self-regulatory strategy is self-efficacy (Zumbrunn, Tadlock, and Roberts, 2011). Motivated self-regulated students with high self-efficacy plan ahead, gives forethought to task, how much effort id needed to complete a given task, and their values and interest are considered as factor in the decision to move forward. Zumbrunn, Tadlock, and Roberts (2011) research found that students with high self-efficacy when seeing the value in learning tasks order increase the self-regulatory process. If not those students are less likely to utilize time setting goals and planning strategies to accomplish a given goal. They further found that a student’s self-efficacy (their confidence level in their ability to accomplish a goal) will play a major role in determining a student’s motivation level. Their research found that self-efficacy and self-regulated strategies have a great impact student behavior as it relates to goal completion. They found that the higher the motivation and self-efficacy beliefs by a student the greater he or she will utilize self-regulated strategies.

Research has shown that the self-regulatory strategy can lead directly to increasing a student’s self-efficacy beliefs and motivation and this improves academic achievement. Pajares goes on to explain that intrinsic motivation is an important guide to effort and persistency used in completing assigned task and self-regulatory strategies. In addition, as one accomplishes given tasks their self-efficacy is increased. Self-efficacy becomes a key element in self-regulatory strategies because it increases motivation towards goal completion. Orhan (2008) explains that the greater degree of self-efficacy confidence the greater the degree of self-regulation. In his research using the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire in 1993 and the Teachers Self-efficacy Scale developed in 2005, he found that students with a high degree of self-regulatory skills have a greater degree of self-efficacy. He further found that that motivation was encouraged by goal orientation and that self-efficacy required that individuals judge their success or performance not just by obtaining the goal but how and what methodology was used to accomplish it. He also found that when extrinsic goals are set like test scores, rewards, or performances was the basis for motivation when measured against their peers students performed well. However when examining extrinsic goals vs. performance goals, performance are much more relevant to motivation and self-efficacy as is intrinsic goals to learning goals. The research found that performance goals encourages the belief that one’s intelligence is established and learning goals are associated with the belief that one’s intelligence is pliable and can be enhanced..

One of the ongoing questions that must be addressed by those in the field of educational psychology is the integration of a single conceptual framework. There is a need to integrate the many theoretical process of self-content (e.g., beliefs, values, goals and self-processes) that maintain a student’s motivation to learn (Roeser and Peck, 2009). The analysis of motivation studied by Roeser and Peck (2009) revealed that goals, beliefs, and emotions are consistent with many theorists’ observation of the self. They further contend that the context of self-gain is measured by individuals through their importance and how they exert their influence through self-efficacy through motivational values. This is important when understanding the processes of self-regulation because it demonstrates how the integration of self-efficacy and a belief in one’s own ability is vital to the self-regulatory process.

Self-regulation and Reinforcements

The self-regulatory process in order to enhance positive learning behaviors requires good self-efficacy. One of the primary aspects of the enhancing self-efficacy is positive reinforcements as a result task completion. Ruiz, Ruiz and Sherman (2012) conducted a longitudinal quantitative study over a year period from the school year 2005-2007 to 2007 to 2008. The study utilized student discipline referral data to assess the how effective the use of school –wide positive reinforcement and behavior support initiative on middle school children. The study reviewed classroom offenses such as class disruption, general disruptive behavior, disobedience, and leaving the class without permission. As positive behavior interventions were implemented as opposed to punishment over the three year period. As a result there was a significant decrease in incidence involving leaving class without permission from 203 to 64, disruptive behaviors from 471 to 40. This study helped to reveal that students who received positive behavior reinforcements tend to have a greater sense of self-regulation.

One of the most significant processes of re-enforcement is importance of self-reinforcement. In research conducted by Bandra (1976) he found that the theorist that did not included self-re-forcemeats has restricted their research important aspects to examining only external influences on behavior. His examination of research showed that people do in fact have control over their behaviors. He found that the integration of the self-regulatory process in understanding the process of learning has added a new aspect to experimental analyses of reinforcements. He points that studies show that individuals can regulate their behaviors by employing self-reward through a process of matching self-prescribed standards. As interest in education shifted from managing behavior through a process of imposed their will through instruction to a self-regulated process, self-reinforcement became vital to the self-regulatory process. He further explains that research shows that the major issues that come into play self-reinforcements is standard of performance. Bandra explains that research has found that when children have observed the reaction of others to their performance positively if they achieve or exceed standards or negatively if they do not, the child eventually begins self-regulating his or her own self-reward or self- punishing system.

Bandra (1974) points out that these findings show that children adopt the standards set by others. The influences of modeling have received substantial attention of late. Students who are exposed to models that present high rewards for a superior performance tend to reward themselves for high performance where children exposed to low achievement as sufficient re-enforce themselves as a result of minimal performances. Re-enforcements tend to enhance the self-regulatory process and increases self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-awareness.


In summary the aim of this review was to provide a better understanding of the literature written on the process of self-regulation. Self-regulation has become an increasingly popular subject in the field of educational psychology. There are many individuals who attempting to find better understanding of its operation and impact it has on learning. Researchers have discovered that the self-regulatory process can help to assist students in with goal completion through a self-directed, self-aware, and self-oriented process. Self-regulation has been shown to have a significant impact on changing students’ learning behaviors. It has become a catalyst in contributing to positive learning experience.

The review has attempted to demonstrate that the self-regulation process is not only important to the student but parents and teachers as well… This review analyzed self-regulation, the relationship of self-regulation to motivation, as well as self- regulation to self-efficacy, and self-regulation to self-re-enforcements and how they  all work together to enhance learning and positive behaviors. The understanding of the self-regulatory process has revolutionized the educational process of learning and brought new meaning to education instruction. This review is hoped to have brought a meaningful and productive assessment of the literature.


Ashton, P. (2008), What do we know about motivation’s role in developing hardy habits of learning? PsycCRITIQUES, 53, (38), pp.1-6.

Bandra, A. (1976), Self-re-enforcement: Theoretical and methodological considerations. Behaviorism, 4 (2) pp.135-155.

Florez, I. R. (2011), Developing Young children’s self-regulation through everyday experience. . Retrieved February 23, 2014 from https://www,

Miech, R., Essex, M. J. and Goldsmith, H. H. (2001), Socioeconomic status and the adjustment to school: the role of self-regulation during early childhood. Sociology of education, 74, pp.102-120.

Orhan, F. (2008), Self-regulation strategies used in a practicum course: A study of motivation and teaching self-efficacy. H. U. Journal of Education 35, 251-262.

Rafferty, L. (2011), Step by Step teaching students to self-monitor. Teaching Exceptional Children, 43, (2), pp.50-58.

Reis, S. and Greene, M. J. (2014) Using self-regulated learning to reverse underachievement in talented students. Neag Center for Gifted Education and Talent Development: University of Connecticut. Retrieved February 23, 2014 from http://www.gifted.uconn

Roeser, R. W. and Peck, S. C. (2009), An education in awareness: Self- motivation, and Self-regulated learning in contemplative perspective. Educational Psychology, 44, (2), pp. 119-136.

Ruiz, A, Ruiz, G. V. and Sherman, N. W (2012), A longitudinal study on the effects of the Texas behavior support initiative on rural middle school students. Rural Research Brief: Texas A &M

Schwinger, M., Steinmayr, R., and Spinath, B. (2009), How do motivational regulation strategies affect achievement: Mediated by effort management and moderated by intelligence. Learning and Individual Differences, 19, pp.621-627

Zumbrunn, S., Tadlock, J. and Roberts, E. D. (2011), Encouraging self-regulated learning in the classroom: A review of the literature. Metropolitan Educational Research Consortium: Virginia Commonwealth University. Retrieved February 23, 2014 from


About lester long Jr.

Lester Long Jr. has a Master of Science degree in Psychology from Walden University, a Certificate in Professional Counseling from Capella University. He has a BS in Public Administration and Political Science from Western Michigan University. He is also Certified in Clinical Supervision and an Alcohol and Drug Counselor through the International Certification & Reciprocity Consortium. He is Certified as a Peer Specialist in the State of Georgia. Mr. Long is also a former member of the Kalamazoo County Board of Commissioners in Kalamazoo County, Michigan.. Please leave any comments for Lester Long at
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