Developing Teachers: Reflections on Self-Regulated Learning in Professional Graduate Education

by Elaine Kessy, Sarah Eaton, Jennifer Lock


Elaine Kessy, MEd
Doctoral Student
Werklund School of Education
University of Calgary

Sarah Eaton, PhD
Assistant Professor
Werklund School of Education
University of Calgary

Jennifer Lock, PhD
Werklund School of Education
University of Calgary



In this article, Cho and Shen’s (2013) five constructs of self-regulated learning are used as a framework for discussion on three levels. First, the five constructs are used to define and examine the concept of self-regulated learning (SRL). Second, Cho and Shen’s (2013) five constructs provide a framework for a teacher to reflect on her experience of returning to formal learning as a graduate student. Third, the five constructs are revisited to offer concrete recommendations for educators to empower students in developing their capacity as self-regulated learners.



When a teacher decides to pursue a graduate program he or she may experience trepidation and uncertainty about returning to formal study. Despite having worked for many years as a classroom teacher, they will find themselves once again in the role of the learner. They will need to develop the competence and confidence of learning in a demanding new context. Self-regulated learning is essential in professional graduate programs given “learners must assume greater responsibility for, and ownership of, their learning” (Huh & Reigeluth, 2017, p. 265). 

The purpose of this article is three-fold. First, we use Cho and Shen’s (2013) five constructs to define and discuss self-regulated learning. Second, Mary (pseudonym for one of the authors) reflects on her experience shifting from being a teacher to a learner and the importance of developing self-regulated learning strategies to succeed in a graduate program. Third, we conclude with recommendations aligned with Cho and Shen’s (2013) five constructs to support educators in developing their self-regulation capacity and helping learners to do the same.


Self-Regulated Learning (SRL)

Huh and Reigeluth (2017), drawing on the work of Pintrich (2004) and Zimmerman (2008), noted, “self-regulated learning (SRL) refers to an ability of learners to actively and intentionally set goals for their learning and to monitor, regulate, control and evaluate their cognition, behavior, motivation, and environments to achieve those goals” (p. 247). Learners are active participants who can potentially monitor, control and impact various aspects of their learning (Pintrich, 2004). SLR is achieved by setting goals and monitoring the progress towards the achievement of these goals. This involves adapting cognition, motivation and behaviour depending whether the goal is achieved or not. “The ability to self-regulate learning not only helps learners accomplish learning tasks and achieve the goals, but also helps learners become effective life-long learners, which is important now we are living in a knowledge society” (Huh & Reigeluth, 2017, p. 251).

Five constructs of self-regulation, according to Cho and Shen (2013), are: (1) Goal orientation. Setting learning goals is as an essential component of self-regulated learning (Zimmerman, 2008). Riedinger (2004) discovered that online goal setting allowed learners to articulate and share goals with their peers and receive feedback. (2) Academic self-efficacy. This is a learner’s belief in their ability to learn. Academic self-efficacy is positively correlated with high levels of self-regulation (Pintrich, 1991). (3) Effort regulation. This relates to how students manage their academic tasks and how they respond to difficulties that may arise (Pintrich & Garcia, 1991). (4) Metacognitive regulation. This involves thinking about orienting oneself to the task at hand, with a timeline for completion in mind (Crescenzi, 2016). (5) Interaction regulation. This is one’s ability to regulate interactions with classmates and instructors (Cho & Shen, 2013). The ability to recognize and mediate interaction opportunities in an online course is important for learning (Cho, 2009; Garner & Bol, 2011).


Experiencing SRL as a Teacher in the Role of Learner

After 20 years working as a teacher, Mary was a confident, seasoned professional. When she enrolled in a professional graduate program, she felt both excitement and trepidation. Mary noticed she felt uncomfortable envisioning herself as a novice again, noting that she would need strategies that would enable her to be successful in this new role.

In this section we use Cho and Shen’s (2013) five constructs to share lessons Mary learned in self-regulation, which informed her success as a student and forever altered her teaching practice. These lessons were fostered by instructors who were cognizant of the importance of teaching self-regulation. Mary learned that self-regulation is an essential component of teaching and learning. Self-regulation constructs must be woven into teaching practice in consistent and deliberate ways, so that students experience increased engagement, academic success and cultivate lifelong learning skills.


Goal orientation.

In graduate programs there are unique opportunities for the creation and consideration of learning goals. For instance, in one of her online classes, the instructor asked that each student provide a suggestion for being successful in an online graduate setting. Then each student explained their choice in a synchronous online meeting with members of the class. Mary appreciated this type of orientation at the beginning of a course. It allowed her to share ideas with her classmates, which in turn expanded her perspective and contributed to a sense of self-efficacy. As such, this activity helped to inform her work plan and goal setting process in setting specific and achievable goals. With the instructor’s involvement in this sharing process, Mary found this helpful because with the benefit of the instructor’s experience, goal-setting practices could be clarified and refined even further. This process also set the stage for future collaboration and support amongst the students in terms of each other’s learning process. It also became clear to Mary that others shared her thoughts and concerns, and this was reassuring.


Academic self-efficacy.

As a graduate student, one of Mary’s most significant challenges was believing she would be able to accomplish her goals. Mary found it particularly helpful when an instructor facilitated a discussion with other students about starting the graduate program. Students were encouraged to share their thoughts and concerns about beginning the program. Mary was surprised to discover that others felt the same as she did, which reassured her. Students learned they needed to let go of the idea they had to know everything, and embrace the idea of being a beginner again. They shared ideas about how to organize their time and manage workloads. It was productive to share these ideas, and Mary found it informed her own learning plan. The instructor shared a detailed course outline, which broke down the tasks into realistic deliverables, which also contributed to Mary’s sense of self-efficacy.

A key factor that impacted Mary’s self-efficacy was a mentoring relationship with the instructor. Students have a greater chance of being successful when exemplary mentors provide guidance, role modeling, support, and sponsorship (Bol & Garner, 2011: Schunk & Zimmerman, 2011). Mary worked with different instructors over the three-year program and, although all were professional and knowledgeable in their respective discipline areas, only a few saw themselves as mentors to their students. These instructors had a great impact on her learning by increasing her capacity to self-regulate. Mentor instructors were willing to spend time with her and foster self-regulator behaviors. For example, one instructor blocked time in her schedule to ensure that she was available to meet virtually, by phone or in person.

This instructor shared strategies that she herself used to create work plans and navigate the research and writing process. Sharing this example had a direct and powerful impact on Mary’s sense of academic self-efficacy.


Effort regulation.

There were times during the program where Mary felt stuck. One particularly problematic instance was learning how to conduct research and write about it, because this concept was new for Mary. When she was feeling particularly frustrated with the process, an instructor spoke with her on the phone, helping her overcome these feelings and create a work plan instead. The instructor helped Mary see it was unproductive to focus on one’s own possible inadequacies. Instead, the instructor helped Mary identify strengths and weaknesses what she needed to do next. Subsequently, Mary used this strategy throughout her program. Even today, when faced with an obstacle, Mary returns to that conversation and the strategies that were identified. She had a completely different outlook after talking with my instructor for 10-15 minutes on the telephone.


Metacognitive regulation.

When instructors built in self-reflection activities into the course tasks, Mary was able to see how outcomes were directly related to her learning strategies, and this helped her refine her learning process. Self-reflection activities also helped Mary to express her thoughts and concerns, which enabled her to identify actions she could take to move forward and solve the issue at hand, rather than focus on negative feelings.


Interaction regulation.

One instructor’s willingness to interact with students in the discussion area of the course was powerful. When she first began the program, Mary felt reticent about participating in discussions. She was holding onto the idea that she had to know everything, and was worried she would be “found out” if she participated in discourse with my classmates and my instructor. Gradually, she became more comfortable and confident with the process. Mary began to see that some of her greatest learning came from interacting with other people. She also came to understand that she played an important role in others’ learning, and so it was doubly important to participate. From then on, she embraced the idea and sought out opportunities to interact with others. Interacting and learning with others is an essential component of a graduate program, and it is critical to be able to self-regulate in this regard. Instructors can be helpful by modeling effective communication practices. This communicated to students this task was important and also ensured that discussions remained on track.

Bembenutty (2011) found that instructors should be taught how to promote self-regulation in their students. Instruction in teaching self-regulation is not generally offered in teacher education programs. Having experienced the benefits of self-regulation practices herself, Mary is now committed to fostering self-regulation in her own teaching practice, in deliberate and consistent ways. Mary found that learning self-regulation was an added bonus of her graduate studies. She was grateful given it not only impacted her own students, but in the capacity for her students to be self-regulated learners in other classes. Mary also discovered that many of her colleagues were interested in learning about self-regulation. As such, numerous collegial conversations occurred on the topic of self-regulation and its implications for teaching practice.


Recommendations for Teaching Practice.

Drawing from the literature, as well as the experience of our colleague, instructors need to purposefully design for and help facilitate the development of self-regulated learning. We revisit Cho and Shen’s (2013) five constructs to offer recommendations for instructional practice in support of self-regulated learning.


Goal orientation.

Cho and Shen (2013) found problem-based learning helps to foster learner goal orientation. When students are given a problem to solve, they can become motivated to find a solution and this can lead to increased engagement and learning. Huh and Reigeluth (2017) also advocated for the use of problem- or project-oriented task when they note, “learning is better promoted when learners are engaged in real-world tasks” (p. 253). If students are interested in the process of learning, they are more motivated which impacts self-regulated learning (Hug & Reigeluth, 2017).

Ley and Young (2001) suggested giving feedback to learners on their learning process and discussing whether goals are being met or not, and then tweak the strategy, if necessary. Instructors cannot assume that all students are adept at setting realistic goals, and their expertise in the matter is beneficial for students. Terry and Doolittle (2006) discovered that goal orientation that includes “chunking” of work into realistic time frames and having a weekly and daily “to do” list helped students stay on track and manage workloads.


Academic self-efficacy.

Instructor presence, according to Cho and Shen (2013) was essential for student self-efficacy. Instructors play an essential role in creating favorable conditions for this construct. Ley and Young (2001) suggested that teachers help students design a work space that will be free of distractions and record their study time and academic results. Bembenutty (2011) felt that learning to delay gratification was an important component of effort regulation. He also suggested that using cognitive strategies such as elaboration and re-organization of learning was beneficial. Educators can promote academic self-efficacy through frequent, meaningful and personalized feedback. When instructors consider mentoring approaches, there is even greater capacity for fostering academic self-efficacy.


Metacognitive Regulation.

Sen and Yilmaz (2016) found that metacognitive self-regulatory activities include planning, monitoring, and regulating. Instructors can assign planning activities, which help to activate prior knowledge. They can also require that learners complete self-testing and self-monitoring tasks. Pintrich (1991) found that regulating activities could help learners control and improve learning behaviors. Instructors can supplement these activities by communicating to their learners that they believe in their ability to become better learners. Further, instructors can share personal stories about their own process as a learner, and discuss both failed and successful attempts at task management.


Interaction regulation.

Bembenutty (2011) suggested that learners engage in adaptive help seeking. For learners to feel comfortable doing this, the instructor must be present and approachable. Instructors can accomplish this by booking time to meet with learners, and providing several different modes of communication (e.g., virtual meeting, telephone). It is important that instructors interact with learners and to model appropriate and effective communication strategies. Instructors can also create opportunities for learners to interact and learn with each other. When instructors participate in the discussion themselves, they are able to keep the discussion on track and model effective discussion techniques, including the sharing of resources and learning to ask good questions.

A variety of instructional methods can be used to support self-regulated learning. Instructors can design and facilitate this development with their learners, particularly when they are adults. At the same time, learners need to be open to develop their self-regulated learning capacity.



For Mary, completing her Master’s program was a dream come true. This experience shifted her from being the teacher and the designer of learning to be being a self-regulated learner. As a novice learner, she became more aware and knowledgeable about self-regulation and the effect it had on her learning experience. With her transition back into the role of instructor, she has a raised consciousness for not only for how to better design learning, but also how to help her own students develop their self-regulation capacity. This new awareness is helping to better her students for future academic success and life-long learning. Ultimately, self-regulated learning is less about being a student in a classroom than it is about developing lifelong capacity as an effective learner and developing belief in one’s own abilities. In turn, we can use the skills we have developed in SLR to engage and inspire others on their learning journeys, too.



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