How to Promote Self-Regulated Learning in an Online Environment

Kelly Brouse
Kelly Brouse
Elementary school principal; M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction

The term self-regulation is central to our work with students, and is one of the primary aspirations we have for them as we consider “College & Career Readiness”. Self-regulation is a broad umbrella term that defines how we independently plan, monitor, manage, and succeed with responsibilities and challenges in our lives. This may include things like daily living tasks and academic challenges, but also social dilemmas and uneasy emotions. Social-emotional learning is one key component to self-regulation, where we provide students with skills and practice in identifying and managing their own emotions, but when it comes to academic learning, self-regulation may take on a slightly different meaning, especially if you are online!

What is Self-Regulated Learning?

Self-regulated learning is how a student manages their own learning through organization, self-monitoring, and reflection. These are also known as executive functioning skills, which are skills required to execute tasks independently. Things like making a to-do list, watching the time to keep yourself paced, and reviewing your work to make sure you completed all the parts of a task are all common ways we use these self-regulation skills daily.

What are the Benefits of Self-Regulated Learning?

There’s little that feels better for a child than accomplishing something on their own. Independence is a goal all teachers and caregivers share for their children, and it must be taught in thoughtful ways over time. The benefits are exponential. As students begin to internalize skills like task organization and self-monitoring, they become more willing and successful with task initiation.

Often starting a task can be the most challenging step, so for students to feel equipped to begin something on their own allows for their learning time to be maximized, their teachers to dedicate more instructional time to extension and depth of thinking, and students to be overall more successful. Students develop resourcefulness as they problem solve steps they may have previously gone directly to an adult for help, and as they develop self-assessment skills they are able to critique their own work, set new goals, and accept feedback better. Of course, the sense of accomplishment remains the most priceless outcome for a child.

Encouraging Self-Regulated Learning in the Classroom

As we continue to explore the benefits and drawbacks of online learning, this is notably one of the most critical components to online instruction we can provide for our students. Dedicating time to self-regulated behaviors within an online instructional program significantly contributes to a student’s overall success, considering the amount of time that is self-directed in online learning. So how do you do it?

At the primary grades:

  • Keep learning targets clear and manageable. Ensure student learning activities are closely tied to this goal statement, and have students self-monitor their progress towards mastering the learning target throughout the lesson/unit. When students are ready, have them contribute to learning target goals in later lessons of the unit, reflecting on what they have learned and guiding what they should attack next.
  • Use graphic organizers wherever possible! Introduce students to different types of organizers and then build in self-regulation by offering them choice of organizer when all have been introduced. If possible, provide them the option of creating their own organizer once they are familiar with the concept.
  • Create checklists, and require that students use them! Modeling the to-do list early on in online learning develops important habits for learners to keep track of what they have accomplished and what’s left. Over time they can begin to create their own checklists, but your model is critical for the self-regulation skill to develop.
  • Have students identify their own strengths and areas of growth related to academics. Implement social-emotional lessons that encourage a Growth Mindset (Dweck, 2001) so that students develop a learning attitude of perseverance and grit when working on an area of growth.
  • Use child-friendly rubrics to have students reflect on their work across various categories. Capture student reflection in video format or during a conference to carry forward “glows” and “grows” for next time.

At the intermediate grades:

  • Have students create “WOW” goals (Within-One-Week) where they identify one key skill or habit they want to improve over the course of the week, articulating actions that will help them achieve the goal. Consider assigning goal-buddies who know of the classmate’s WOW goal and check in or motivate one another with virtual messages and contacts over the course of the week.
  • Have students engage in the planning process of a larger task with you by breaking down what steps need to be done in chunks. Take time early in the year to do this with the students, modeling and embedding their voice into what is manageable for different chunks of time. Be sure these chunks of a task are recorded for students to reference over the course of a project or unit. Over time, turn the reins over to students and have them record what their time management of a larger task will look like at the onset. Be prepared for very different schedules in an online learning environment! Some students like to take it a little at a time over the course of a week, and some like to dedicate four hours straight to the task. Adults have these varied approaches too, so be flexible with what works for the remote learner and have conferences along the way to provide adjustments if their plan isn’t panning out.
  • Again, we can’t say enough about graphic organizers. Scaffold by offering various styles to most, directing the choice to those who need your guidance, and offering open-ended development to those who are ready.
  • Use rubrics that encompass both content, quality, and process of work for students to reflect on after completing a larger assignment. Include a goal statement for future work based on where they self-reflected.
  • Have students chart their progress of goals over time to develop a sense of accomplishment and engage in the process of self-monitoring. Simple Google Doc tools provide easy-to-use charts or use something more complex like ChartDog Maker to have students track progress over time.

At the secondary level:

  • Place value on the learner’s process. Consider assigning grades to components of the student’s learning process by having them submit checklists, plans, organizers, and self-monitoring tools used to ensure work is completed and self-regulation is being nurtured and developed.
  • Use synchronous and asynchronous opportunities for self-reflection on the learning process. Have students submit a video reflection with larger projects that identify what elements were easier, which components they are most proud of, and what they would do differently next time. Afford live instructional time to share so that students can learn and get feedback from one another on managing long-term projects.
  • Use rubrics, from start to finish. Ensure criteria for success is clear to students at the onset, implement mid-point checks where students reflect on the rubric and set goals for completion, and end-of-task rubric assessments.
  • Make the link to post-secondary life when spotlighting self-regulation skills. Where will they need these tasks in adult life on their own? How about using a calendar to set checkpoints for larger assignments like financial management? Ensuring students leave your classroom knowing these self-regulation habits of mind are what may in fact be most critical to their success after graduation.
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