Self-Regulated Learning


Learning taking control of their own learning

Principal Metaphors

Self-Regulated Learning does not align with a particular theory of learning, which means that almost any theory of learning can be aligned with it. Consequently, the theory makes just as much sense whether invoking the Acquisition Metaphor or the wildly incompatible Radical Constructivism. That said, on close analysis, the metaphors and images most often invoked within Self-Regulated Learning appear to fit most closely with two Mentalisms – firstly, the Attainment Metaphor
  • Knowledge is … a territory/area/domain/field (typically involving challenge)
  • Knowing is … attaining a goal
  • Learner is … a seeker
  • Learning is … journeying (arriving at, reaching, progressing, accomplishing, achieving)
  • Teaching is … leading, guiding, directing, facilitating
… and, secondly, Brain-as-Computer Discourses
  • Knowledge is … information
  • Knowing is … using information
  • Learner is … a computer
  • Learning is … inputting (and associated computer-based notions, such as processing, storing, and retrieving)
  • Teaching is … transmission (of information)




Self-Regulated Learning, as the name suggests, is about one’s control of one’s own learning, which entails an awareness of strengths and weakness, a repertoire of learning strategies, and a growth Mindset or high sense of Self-Efficacy. Many subdiscourses of Self-Regulated Learning focus on effective management of Cognitive Processes and Metacognition. Across all variations, Self-Regulated Learning is concerned with strategies to develop, direct, monitor, and evaluate control of one’s own learning. Associated discourses and constructs include:
  • Action Control Theory – an umbrella category that includes any theory that emphasis the role of personal volition in learning
  • Self-Schema (Working Self-Concept) – one’s sense of one’s own abilities, willpower, and agency – typically considered against the backdrop of one’s interest and aspirations
  • Volitional Learning Strategies (Regulation of Motivation; Volitional Control; Volitional Regulation; Volitional Style) (L. Heckhausen, P. Gollwitzer; 1980s) – conscious strategies and/or personality traits associated with persistence in one’s efforts to achieve learning goals.
The literature around Self-Regulated Learning is peppered with models, some of which include (listed chronologically, by decade):
  • Multi-Level Model of Self-Regulated Learning (B.J. Zimmerman, 1980s) – a four-state model: observation; emulation; self-control; self-regulation
  • Active and Dynamic Self-Regulated Learning Processes (A. Iran-Nejhad & B. Chissom, 1990s) – a model positing three sources of SRL: active/executive; dynamic; interest-creating discovery
  • Co-Regulated Learning (Mary McCaslin, 1990s) ­– the sharing of responsibility (for directing the learning process) between an adult and one or more children – typically understood as scaffolding toward Self-Regulated Learning
  • Structural Model of Self-Regulated Learning (M. Boekaerts, 1990s) – a six-component model: domain-specific knowledge and skills; cognitive strategies; cognitive self-regulatory strategies; motivational beliefs and theory of mind; motivation strategies; motivation self-regulatory strategies
  • Dual Processing Self-Regulation Model (M. Boekaerts, 1990s) a model positing two parallel-processing modes: mastery or learning mode; coping or well-being mode
  • Winne Self-Regulated Learning Model (P. Winne & A.F. Hadwin, 1990s) – a four-phase, recursive model: task perception; goal setting and planning; enacting; adaptation.
  • Cyclical Phases Model of Self-Regulated Learning (B.J. Zimmerman & A.R. Moylan, 2000s) – a three-phase, cyclical model: forethought; performance; self-reflection
  • Metacognitive and Affective Model of Self-Regulated Learning Model (A. Efklides, 2000s) – a model in which SRL is parsed into two levels: Person/Macrolevel (cognition, motivation, self-concept, affect, volition, metacognition); Task ´ Person/Microlevel (cognition, metacognition, affect, regulation of affect and effort)
  • Pintrich’s Self-Regulated Learning Model (P.R. Pintrich, 2000s) – a four-phase linear model: forethought, planning and activation; monitoring; control; reaction and reflection.
  • Meta-Analysis of Self-Regulated Learning Models (E. Panadero, 2010s) – most SRL models comprise three phases: preparatory (analysis, planning); performance (doing, monitoring); appraisal (reflecting adjusting)
  • Socially Shared Regulated Learning Model (S. Jävelä & A.F. Hadwin, 2010s) – a model positing three modes of regulation in collaborative settings: self-regulation; co-regulation; shared regulation

Self-Regulated Learning is a subdiscourse of a grander, Psychology-based discourse:

  • Self-Regulation – processes associated with one’s conscious monitoring and management of thoughts, actions, and emotions – most often in relation to desires and goals
  • Self-Regulation Theory (Albert Bandura, 1970s) – any perspective on Self-Regulation that offers insight into the enablement or amplification of one’s capacities to self-monitor and self-manage. Examples include:
    • Regulatory Focus Theory (Tory Higgins, 1990s) – a perspective on motivation and action that suggests that one’s decision-making leans toward one of two orientations: (1) promotion-focused Self-Regulation (oriented toward the pleasures associated with gains and accomplishments) or (2) prevention-focused Self-Regulation (oriented toward security and associated with avoidance of losses and failures). A main implication is that educational, communication, and management efforts should be consistent with one’s dominant orientation.
    • Self-Regulatory Resources Theory (Mark Muraven, 1990s) – a Self-Regulation Theory that states Self-Regulation is dependent on finite cognitive resources, and so it can be compromised when those resources are over-taxed or depleted
  • Self-Reinforcement (Self-Reaction) – a Self-Regulation strategy focused on changing one’s own behaviors through self-managed Operant Conditioning – that is, by reinforcing oneself for desired behaviors and otherwise withholding reinforcement

Constructs used within education and Psychology that are similar or closely related to Self-Regulation include:

  • Self-Control one’s ability to manage one’s impulses, especially in situations that might amplify desires. Self-Control is often framed in terms of “short-term pain over long-term gain.”
  • Self-Discipline – often a synonym for Self-Control, but sometimes a broader reference to an organized regimen or planned course of action designed to achieve explicit goals
  • Self-Management – often a synonym for Self-Control, but sometimes associated with self-repressive tendencies that can impact well-being
  • Self-Mastery – a construct common in the self-help literature that tends to be interpreted in ways similar to Self-Control,Self-Discipline, and Self-Management, but that typically places more emphasis on steering one’s own future than on existing effectively in the present
    • Psychitecture (Ryan Bush, 2020s) – a model of Self-Mastery founded on a brain-as-computer metaphor that aims to equip users with strategies to reprogram their “psychological operating systems”


The most obvious criticism of Self-Regulated Learning is, as signalled above, its lack of attendance to defensible theories of learning. Consequently, research on Self-Regulated Learning is overwhelmingly focused on proving the obvious – namely that people who see themselves as competent and engaged learners tend to do better at school-like tasks than those who don’t.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Diffuse. See above.

Status as a Theory of Learning

Self-Regulated Learning is not a theory of learning.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Self-Regulated Learning is a theory of influencing learning, which pushes it into the space of pedagogy. Indeed, the discourse tends to have lots of advice for educators – but, ultimately, it’s most focused on learners influencing their own learning. It might thus be best characterized as a theory of self-teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

With regard to research, educational researchers associated with Self-Regulated Learning tend to lean in the direction of the rigorously empirical. However, while they are generally explicit about their models and reasonably careful in their calculations when doing factor analyses, they are rarely attentive to assumptions on the complex dynamics of learning – and, consequently, most of the research is associated with uncritical and/or untenable characterizations of the phenomenon. That shortcoming means that Self-Regulated Learning does not meet our criteria for a scientific theory.


  • Action Control Theory
  • Active and Dynamic Self-Regulated Learning Processes
  • Co-Regulated Learning
  • Cyclical Phases Model of Self-Regulated Learning
  • Dual Processing Self-Regulation Model
  • Metacognitive and Affective Model of Self-Regulated Learning
  • Multi-Level Model of Self-Regulated Learning
  • Pintrich’s Self-Regulated Learning Model
  • Psychitecture
  • Regulatory Focus Theory
  • Self-Control
  • Self-Discipline
  • Self-Management
  • Self-Mastery
  • Self-Regulation
  • Self-Regulation Theory
  • Self-Regulatory Resources Theory
  • Self-Reinforcement (Self-Reaction)
  • Self-Schema (Working Self-Concept)
  • Socially Shared Regulated Learning Model
  • Structural Model of Self-Regulated Learning
  • Volitional Learning Strategies (Regulation of Motivation; Volitional Control; Volitional Regulation; Volitional Style)
  • Winne Self-Regulated Learning Model

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2023). “Self-Regulated Learning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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