Self-regulatory learning


Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance

How students learn, both generally and within their subject/disciplinary area(s)

Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities

What can I do?

  • Self-regulatory learning: Learning HOW to learn improves academic achievement
  • Ask students to reflect on which study behaviours they're going to keep doing which they're going to stop
  • Provide opportunities for students to monitor their progress towards their study goals and regulate their effort

What is this about?

Self-regulatory learning in higher education refers to the ability of students to monitor, control, and evaluate their own learning process. This can involve setting goals, developing strategies for learning, monitoring progress, and seeking feedback, among other things. The goal of self-regulatory learning is to help students become more independent and self-directed learners, who are able to take ownership of their own learning and development. Self-regulatory learning can be facilitated through the use of learning strategies, such as goal setting, self-monitoring, and self-evaluation, and can be an important aspect of student success and academic achievement in higher education.

What's the evidence say?

Self-regulated learning interventions help the student think about how they're going to learn.

Examples of self-regulated learning approaches

When preparing to engage in learning
  • Set goals for study (e.g., review my notes from class on Wednesday afternoons; start mapping out my essay this weekend)
  • Plan how to study (e.g., go to the library and transpose my notes from the lecture into my study notebook in my own words; on a Word document, write down the key headings I want to include in my essay and put down 2-3 points under each heading)
When engaged in learning
  • Monitor study behaviours (e.g., I've only transposed 1/3 of my notes, which is less than I planned to do; I've written a few paragraphs, which is more than I planned to do)
  • Regulate learning (e.g., I'll do an extra hour of work today to get these notes transposed; I'll take a break from my essay for a while and focus on my other assessments)
  • Allocate time and help (e.g., I need to speak with my tutor next week about this point because I don't understand it; I'll come back to my essay next week, but focus my attention on my other work for now)
When learning has finished
  • Reflect on what did and didn't work (e.g., the library was too noisy, I need to study in a quieter location next week; having my class notes next to me really helped me put together my essay, I'll keep doing that)

Self-regulatory learning interventions are effective for improving student achievement. They are also effective for improving students' self-regulatory learning, which might seem obvious, but highlights that teaching students these kinds of skills help improve them. Self-regulatory learning interventions are more effective in the humanities than the sciences. The effect of self-regulatory learning interventions on achievement is strong in the humanities and small in both formal and applied sciences.


Metacognition is defined as thinking about your own thinking. In education circles, metacognition has focused on how students learn as opposed to what they learn (although what they learn is connected).

What's the underlying theory?

There are several theories that help explain the benefits of self-regulatory learning on student outcomes in higher education. These include self-determination theory, which suggests that people are more motivated and engaged when they feel a sense of autonomy and control over their own learning; social cognitive theory, which emphasises the role of cognitive and social factors in learning and motivation; and self-regulation theory, which focuses on the importance of self-monitoring and self-control in learning. According to this latter theory, people are able to regulate their own learning and behaviour by setting goals, developing strategies for learning, and monitoring their progress. Self-regulation involves both cognitive and metacognitive processes, such as planning, monitoring, and evaluating, and can be an important factor in academic success and achievement. By teaching students self-regulation skills, educators can help students become more independent and self-directed learners who are able to take ownership of their own learning and development.

Where does the evidence come from?

Strong confidence in the evidence.

This evidence summary is informed by one meta-analysis. This meta-analysis, by Jansen et al. (2019) was well-conducted. It included studies with control groups, but not necessarily randomised designs. There are some concerns about the reliability of some of the findings (high heterogeneity scores), but there is reasonable reliability for the effect of self-regulatory interventions on achievement (I2 = 69%).


Jansen, R. S., van Leeuwen, A., Janssen, J., Jak, S., & Kester, L. (2019). Self-regulated learning partially mediates the effect of self-regulated learning interventions on achievement in higher education: a meta-analysis. Educational Research Review, 28, 100292.