Promoting Online Learner Success through Self-Regulation

Self-regulation—controlling the factors that affect one's learning—is an important skill for online learners to possess. Course design that encourages metacognition can help online learners develop their ability to self-regulate. In an interview with Online Classroom, Maureen Andrade, associate vice president for academic programs at Utah Valley University, explained how she helps students develop self-regulation.

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Self-regulation—controlling the factors that affect one's learning—is an important skill for online learners to possess. Course design that encourages metacognition can help online learners develop their ability to self-regulate. In an interview with Online Classroom, Maureen Andrade, associate vice president for academic programs at Utah Valley University, explained how she helps students develop self-regulation.

According to the self-regulation framework of Zimmerman and Dembo, there are six dimensions to self-regulated learning: 

Course design plays a major role in helping students become self-regulated. In an online English as a second language course, Andrade has developed a model that integrates content learning with self-regulated learning activities. In each unit, students select an activity related to one of the six self-regulation dimensions and link it to what they're learning.

These “Manage Your Learning” activities help students analyze their strengths and weaknesses related to the six dimensions and help them set goals. Students also report on each of these activities in a learning journal that they share with the instructor, who provides feedback.

For example, one activity has students analyze their strengths and weaknesses as language learners. Another activity has students track how they spend their time and asks them to reflect on how their time management affects their performance in the course, and to identify ways to find more time for study. Another activity has students analyze the physical environment where they work on the course.

Through these activities, students reflect on questions such as the following: 

“It's very metacognitive, asking students to think through all the different factors, how they learn, and reflecting on their performance and what they can change or do differently,” Andrade says.

These Manage Your Learning activities are a required part of the course, and they are worth a small percentage of the grade. At the end of each activity, each student summarizes the activity and explains what he or she learned from it and submits the write-up to the instructor. This gives the instructor the opportunity to provide student-specific suggestions for improvement.

In addition to helping students become more self-regulated, the feedback can be related to the course learning goals. For example, if a student makes a general statement, the instructor might ask the student to provide more examples or more details to support development of the writing skills taught in the course and support the development of language acquisition. “The feedback you give has some similarities to [the] feedback you would give on other kinds of assignments, but you have in your mind all the time that you're trying to give students less structure and help them develop the ability to be more self-regulated, to use metacognitive skills and dig more deeply into what they're doing and how successful it is and how they can change. You're trying to prompt that development in the student,” Andrade says. “As students develop more of this ability to be autonomous or self-regulated, they need less structure and feedback on assignments, because they have reached the point where they're able to use self-reflection and self-regulated learning behaviors. That's the goal of this model—as students work through the assignments, they will become more self-regulated. And, of course students, will progress at different rates.”

This is an effective but potentially time-intensive approach for the instructor. Andrade says that providing individualized feedback works for online classes of up to 20 students. “If I had a larger class, I would give more whole-class feedback. After I read all the learner journals I might pick some that were well done and post them in the announcement section of the course, and students would have to review them. They'd have to go back and analyze their own responses or compare [them] to the model. In that way it's effective because it's pushing students to do more on their own,” Andrade says.

Another option in a large class would be to do peer feedback or have students share goals, strategies, and other ideas on the discussion board. Andrade has found that there needs to be some portion of the grade attached to this type of activity. “Students tend not to utilize optional discussion boards too much,” she says.