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How to be a Self-Regulated Learner

Mohan is a family physician and a postgraduate associate dean working in the UK. He has a keen interest in self-regulated learning.

How to be a Self Regulated Learner?

How to be a Self Regulated Learner?

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

“It is not that I'm so smart. But I stay with the questions much longer.”
Albert Einstein

Learning to Learn

One of the fundamental skills necessary for academic and lifelong success is the skill of learning to learn. Yet, I can never remember being systematically taught 'how to learn'. I may have been given the methodology and various logical steps to learn a variety of subjects or 'problems' by the individual teachers. These steps were often just pertinent to the goals of an exam or a piece of homework.

With regards to how to learn- there are generic snippets of advice about time, effort and motivation. The advice itself may feel didactic and uninspiring. This leads to bad habits such as lack of focus, procrastination, disorganised learning, low aspirations and general apathy towards learning in the young and the old. One wonders how many learners have been labelled as disengaged and lacking in aspiration when their apathy could be due to the teaching style.

At the other end, fully engaged hard working learners may burn themselves out by attempting to learn everything as our knowledge base continues to expand like the Universe itself. They need facilitation of how best to learn, anchored on evidence base and educational psychology. Hard working learners may need support on how to learn effectively and efficiently to harness their energies in the most appropriate way.

There is a danger that learning skills may stagnate or reverse if not reviewed and applied towards successful outcomes.

In these days of social media, 'always on' digital devices and information overload there are enough distractions to us that may potentially reduce our effectiveness- unless we harness these very distractions constructively and make learning an enjoyable experience.

Learning to Learn

Learning to Learn

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
Benjamin Franklin


The 'Good' Learners

There are those who are naturally self motivated, spontaneous good learners who seem to have the knack of 'putting their mind to it' and learning every subject with relatively less effort. These self regulated learners are successful in whichever field they chose - academic or creative.

It is easy to attribute it to nature and nurture and use terms like 'born' genius and 'natural' intellectual. Are there lessons to be learnt from these life-long learners that would be of use to many others? Lifelong learners share common skill sets that may be worth looking at.

This is an attempt to break down step by step what usually is a natural and intuitive process in order to see how it works. It also helps to diagnose problems in learning should some steps be missing.

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  • So what is the secret of these self-regulated, self-motivated, self -directed learners?
  • How can we learn to learn effectively?
  • What key attributes do successful learners have?
  • How can we learn and facilitate Self- regulated learning?
  • What is the evidence underpinning those strategies?
EM Forster

EM Forster

“Spoon feeding in the long run teaches us nothing but the shape of the spoon.”
E.M. Forster

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What is Self- Regulated Learning?

The term Self-Regulated Learning is defined as the process of taking control of and evaluating one's own learning. It indicates a degree of autonomy and control over the learning habits and processes. The Learners are not 'passive receivers of knowledge' but 'active participants' in the process of their own learning.

Self Regulated Learning implies an intuitive understanding of one's own learning strategies and a continuous effort to implement, review and refine these. The process doesn't imply persistent success but rather the ability to learn from unsuccessful strategies and deploy successful ones.

It also indicates learning guided by intrinsic motivation to learn, meta-cognition ( thinking about thinking) and strategic action ( planning, monitoring and evaluating personal progress)

This concept fits in perfectly with the constructivist approach to teaching. A combination of a Constructivist Teacher and a Self Regulated Learner is a powerful one.

Self Regulated Learning Principles

Self Regulated Learning Principles

John Caldwell Holt

John Caldwell Holt

"Over the years, I have noticed that the child who learns quickly is adventurous. She's ready to run risks. She approaches life with arms outspread. She wants to take it all in. She still has the desire of the very young child to make sense out of things. She's not concerned with concealing her ignorance or protecting herself. She's ready to expose herself to disappointment and defeat. She has a certain confidence. She expects to make sense out of things sooner or later. She has a kind of trust.”
― John Caldwell Holt

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    We don’t like change, we like things as they are. Not many of us like to be told to change. This can be intimidating, upsetting and downright patronising. We have the right intentions. Yet changing unhelpful behaviours is the key to success.

The Phases of Self Regulated Learning

Successful self regulated learners achieve better academic success and also tend to have lifelong retention. They approach every new aspect of learning with clarity of thought. According to Winne and Hadwin (1998) the whole process unfolds over four phases.

Task Perception: Firstly when approaching a study task the learner sets to understand the task, its purpose and their motivation towards it. They gather information on the task itself, their own current levels of understanding, their readiness and the environmental factors that may help or hinder.

Goal Setting & Planning: Once the task is fully perceived, the learner then sets about making tangible goals and makes a plan to achieve this goal. The goals may depend on how they perceive the task. If they find they lack motivation to do the task, they may seek how to motivate themselves. They may set personal rewards. If the environment is not conducive to learning they may set about changing this. If the task needs a particular amount of protected time the goal will also involve freeing up this time. This step shows clear ownership of the task and not a begrudging procrastination. The plan will be on how to achieve these goals.

Enacting the Plan/Study Tactics: Once the plan is set, they will set about deploying the study strategies and enacting this plan. The action may use various learning strategies both intrinsically present but also extrinsically learnt. It is apparent from research that successful learners employ a variety of learning strategies. They may read, watch a video, consult a friend or a peer, practice problem solving, seek out other resources and all in all take control and ownership over their learning strategies.

Adaptation: This is the last phase according to Winne and Hadwin. Here students evaluate their learning and see how successful they have been against standardised measures. They may then modify their learning goals, plans and strategies towards a better outcome. This self evaluation is key to ongoing motivation. Self regulated learners do not beat themselves up if a strategy fails, they simply adapt and move on.


The 'Habits' of a Self Regulated Learner

Many of us may possess aspects of SRL to varying degrees. It is worth identifying all the habits and traits of a Self Regulated Learner so that we can understand, nurture, develop and self assess these skills and behaviours.

So what are the habits of a learner who can successfully self- regulate?

The habits can be categorised as personal study habits, personal behaviours and environmental structuring.





Organising Information

Task Outlining, summarising, highlighting, flash cards, index, drawing diagrams, mind maps, charts.



Goal Setting/ Planning

sequencing, Time Management, task breakdown into bite sized chunks, pacing.



Monitoring/ Keeping Records

Notes keeping, list of errors made, personal record of marks and progress, portfolio based learning, keeping list of assignments.



Memorising/ Rehearsing

Teaching someone else, verbal or written rehearsals, repetition, mnemonics.





Self Evaluation

Checking quality / progress, Reflective questioning: what am I being asked to do? Self- assessment, Self- feedback, Self instruction.



Self -consequating

attributing success of failure more to one's own efforts than external factors; self treats and self punishments; delayed gratification; allowing personal reinforcement.





Seeking information sources

Library, Internet, Peers, Past tests, records, notes.



Environmental Structuring

arranging quiet room, arranging study area, declutter, minimising distractions, task breakdown and timing breaks and relaxation in between.



Social Assistance

Teachers, peers, family, role models

Self-Regulated Learners

Self-Regulated Learners


“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.”
― Richard Buckminster Fuller

  • In Pursuit of Excellence
    The pursuit of excellence is a vocation, a lifestyle and perhaps a lofty ambition. Just what is excellence? Can this be taught? If so do we have to be excellent ourselves in order to teach it and cultivate it?

In Summary

  • Self regulated learning is emerging as a strong foundation for life long learning. It can be intrinsically present and also extrinsically facilitated and taught.

  • Not all successful learners are self-regulated- they may just be naturally 'gifted' and may perform well in an unchallenging curriculum but may fail to engage in a later context of a more intellectually demanding setting if they don't learn self-regulation.

  • Research into self-regulated learners shows they share common traits and go through certain phases of self-regulation.

  • The self regulated learning process involves key stages of seeking motivation to learn, strategising and enacting the strategy, self evaluation, self instruction and adaptation.

  • Self-regulated learning leads to improved performance and successful outcomes lifelong.

  • Self regulated Learning maybe context specific - where one maybe more self-regulated in one area and less so in another.

© Mohan Kumar 2012



Zimmerman, B.J. (1990). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An overview. Educational Psychologist, 25, 3-17.

Butler, D. L. & Winne, P.H. Feedback and self-regulated learning: A theoretical synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 65, 245-281.

Dweck, C.S., & Master, A. Self-Theories Motivate Self-Regulated Learning. In Schunk, D.H., & Zimmerman, B.J. (2008), Motivation and Self-Regulated Learning: Theory, Research, and Application (pp. 31–51). New York, NY: Routledge.

Thank You!

Thank you for your time and hope you enjoyed this hub.

Please leave some comments below as it is nice to know what you think. If you like this and think others will too, do share on Facebook ,Twitter, Pinterest, Google + or other sites using the buttons below and don't forget to vote your opinion.

Do visit often and read the other hubs if you like the writing. There's plenty to entertain you!

Thank you!


Copyright © Mohan Kumar 2012



Christopher Peruzzi from Freehold, NJ on April 28, 2013:

Same here. Bookmarking it for future reference and motivation.

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on April 27, 2013:

Docmo-I am definitely bookmarking this hub. I love all of the quotes, but the one about 'learning the shape of the spoon' hit home. I have been saying this to my nephew regarding his high school. I was appalled when I attended a science field trip and discovered the assistant teacher giving the kids the answers to the questions on the study sheet. These were basic math questions with some 'critical thinking' skills involved. This happens throughout the school year. I would be fired if I was a teacher there-I'd be the least popular because I would require them to use their brains.

Voted UP/across except funny and will share! LOVED IT.

Kymberly Fergusson from Germany on April 25, 2013:

I also think that in today's 'always-on' distracted society, bombarded by media of all types, the drive to learn and the ability to be self-directed in learning is being lost, drowned out by the noise.

Fantastic article - thanks!

Amanda Littlejohn on March 12, 2013:

Wow that's a fabulous hub, Docmo!

You have 'hit the nail on the head' it seems to me in terms of the most important principle of education either for children or adults. You also give some solid suggestions for how to enact this learning experience and enable others to achieve it. As a home-educator, you can imagine that I would be sympathetic to this ideology and you give such a thorough and engaging treatment. I've voted this one up and shared it because I think that more people should get to read this very important hub.

Bless you. :)

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on February 21, 2013:

Incredible of how you approached the subject, you have accomplished one of the best Hubs here, the presentation is top of the list. Thanks for this information

sarahshuihan on December 18, 2012:

I've been reading a lot of your hubs and they are really awesome. I particularly like this one because I think it is important that people become lifelong learners. I don't think it matters what the topic is, as long is it leads people down a path of self-fulfillment. I also believe that people learn everyday, it just depends on whether or not those people see the lesson in front of their eyes.

D.Juris Stetser from South Dakota on December 08, 2012:

Docmo, I just love this Hub! I've always been fascinated by Learning, and especially anything that teaches how to learn better, faster, and with better retention! You might find a favorite book of mind interesting, It's called "Superlearning", and covers different learning 'programs' from many of the former 'Eastern Bloc' countries, and actually gives the gist of their programs, which also, amazingly include learning techniques in Performance fields, such as the Russian programs for Olympic training. Talks of using Baroque background, as an adjunct to Language learning tapes, etc. My own book is now, mostly a bunch of loose pages, in the cover and held together by a rubber band! lol such a fascinating subject. I plan to copy your hub, and carefully fold it into my little book. It's a perfect addition to a much-loved subject. Thank you so much. Once again, you've been so thorough , and cover what many might think a dry subject with your typical style and sparkle! Hugs! Voting Up, Awesome, Interesting, Useful and Sharing! Dotti

Dianna Mendez on November 10, 2012:

Very interesting and so well done! I like this concept of self regulated learning. It is true that we must now ourselves, how we respond to stimuli and then turn it into useful information. Great read! Voted up ++++

Mary Craig from New York on November 10, 2012:

After reading this and watching school age children I think their biggest problem is the lack of motivation. We know that comes from the 'disinterest' of parents but if teachers are able to instill that motivation it may help push some of the them along.

The "intellectually demanding setting" can be set up when we are young, by our parents reading and challenging. I don't want to copy Effer here, but I refer to my three year old grandson who boggles my mind. His mother reads to him every day and no one has ever spoken baby talk to him. When I pointed out something that was "like" something he had, his reply was "actually, its similar not the same"!! HE is learning!

Great hub Mohan. Your content, summaries, and points of interest really make the point...of course I have to admit, I had to read it twice too!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on November 10, 2012:

Dear Mohan,

In Pursuit of Excellence has been a treasure to me and this piece has every bit the same potential.

SRL is what I attempt to instill in my nurses. It is impossible to retain, so why be stressed about...every piece of information that crosses our path. To hone critical thinking abiliies and our knowledge of who, where, how to get information is so much more meaningful and relevant.

I love your style of this case a similar style in your teaching. Voted UP and UABI...outstanding! Hugs, Maria

drbj and sherry from south Florida on November 09, 2012:

You are a model, dear Mohan, for parents, teachers and caregivers everywhere. As you pointed out, self regulated learners are self-confident and risk-takers and above all are motivated to learn. We, the adults, must be aware of how to create environments that encourage our children to be self-motivated. That's the hard part. Outstanding article and voted Up.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on November 09, 2012:

This is great Doc. I love to learn new things, i always have. Your outline on learning techniques is informative and well described. I don't think we ever cease to learn, for me, it's a lifelong process.. Thank you for sharing...

Martie Coetser from South Africa on November 09, 2012:

We are not born with a desire to learn anything we are not interested in. We do learn from experience. But since life is too short for us to learn how to survive in a civilized world, we must introduce our children to interesting and essential knowledge AND teach them how to learn what others have already learned.

Excellent hub about learning to learn, informative, encouraging, well-presented, Docmo's brilliant style.

Amy Becherer from St. Louis, MO on November 08, 2012:

I completely relate to the quotes you have included, especially from the well known Einstein and John Coldwell Holt, who you just introduced me to. What I believe, from personal experience over the years, is the advantage that curiosity brings to learning. With it, learning is motivated without prodding, but is, rather, seen as an adventure. It seems like some personalities are naturally more extroverted, often resulting in more risk taking and a fearlessness about satisfying curiosity. Even healthy, young animals explore and learn through innate curiosity. When I was young, bound up and fully occupied by worry, anxiety and "fitting in", I felt too fearful to explore. Now, after surviving my worst fears, losing my job and living on my own, I realize the abject waste of worry, anxiety and fear. Those negative emotions change nothing for the better. What will be, will still be. And now, as its never too late, I am curious about everything. I have discovered strengths in myself, that easy livin' would never have made me face. I am learning and growing everyday, Docmo, and loving it. Though parental responsibilities often necessitate instilling caution in our children, when overdone, esp in introverted children, it can instill fear that can thwart curiosity. I think one of the most difficult decisions as a parent is the fine line between teaching children to be careful, yet encouraging and fostering the risks inherent in being fully alive. To be alive involves weighing the benefits and consequences in risk taking to reach our greatest potential. I have never been more excited about each new day, marveling at the world, seeing something new, reading a new idea. I know that nothing is perfect, yet I've never been happier.

I think this is one of my all-time favorite writings by you, Docmo. It is of utmost importance. After all, what you have learned has allowed you to write the magnificent stories, poetry and articles, such as this, that make a difference in the lives of all of your readers.

Linda Bilyeu from Orlando, FL on November 08, 2012:

I'm like a kid in a candy store when I learn something new, as long as it interests me. If it doesn't I just give the candy to someone else. I know I learned something new today, but I can't remember what it was. I'm sure it will come back to me when I need it. Fantastic hub Doc! :)

Alecia Murphy from Wilmington, North Carolina on November 08, 2012:

Wow, this is a great hub! I think learning is a lifetime process and while schooling ends I think the learning shouldn't. I love to learn and I'm definitely going to try to put these tips to use! Great hub! Voted up and shared :).

Suzie from Carson City on November 07, 2012: is the secret to how you honed your genius!! Thank you for this great article, Docmo....which of course, all of your work is...Baby's are BORN today, having evolved eons....Is there no end to the limit we push the brain?

My brand new grandson....(3 mos) literally takes my breath away. Really, all Grandmother bragging aside. He came home from the bright-eyed and alert and strong.....began following and focusing almost immediately and reacting (smiling) so soon.....He's amazing. OK.....Ok...yeah, maybe I do sound like a grandmother.... No apologies!!............UP+++ and shared

Dana Strang from Ohio on November 07, 2012:

I LOVE this article. And the little summaries that you included throughout. Very helpful.

This reminds me a lot of myself. I use most of those strategies when I have to learn - like when I had to teach myself how to run a cemetery. I went from knowing nothing to practically being abe to run the place using all of the strategies you described. I guess I am a walking example of SRL.

ps - now among my favorite words is metacognition. i love to think about thinking.

pps - this has made me want to go learn something :)

Ruchira from United States on November 07, 2012:

Well researched hub.

I am from an era where self learning was implied, there were no guiding books for my parents to read and show how to learn things. There sure are pros and cons to that kind of learning, but looking at the cons which are quite a few...I think I fared well ;)


Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on November 07, 2012:

Audrey- Thanks for your visit- i agree about classical music- it is not a kind of skill that one could learn purely from instruction alone: motivation to learn, rigorous practice, repeated self assessment and self correction, seeking to excel, looking for inspiration, listening to examples of music - all can be traits of self regulation. you are a true SRL master!

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on November 07, 2012:

Thanks Janine- I knew you'd appreciate this one as a teacher and enthusiast... I'm thinking of writing a follow up on 'how to teach self regulated learning' ...

Mohan Kumar (author) from UK on November 07, 2012:

Thank you Daisy - much appreciated. sorry that this is fairly jargon heavy but I wanted to capture the theory without losing the principles.

Audrey Howitt from California on November 07, 2012:

What an interesting article. Sharing this one because everyone should read this--I find that singing classical music means a rigorous adherence to discipline, aesthetic values and curiosity about one's instrument. Does that make me a self-regulated learner?

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on November 07, 2012:

Docmo, wow this was such an informative and great read. I am with Daisy and had to read more than once and even pinned to refer back to. Thank you and have also voted up and shared all over!!

Daisy Mariposa from Orange County (Southern California) on November 07, 2012:

Mohan (Docmo),

What a well-researched, thought-provoking article! I'm going to have to read it more than once to absorb all the information you have presented. Well done, polymath! Another brilliant piece of writing.

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