Expert Learners:

Self-Regulated Learning

Definition of Self-Regulated Learning

Self-regulated learning (SRL) refers to some rather specific ways that learners take control of their own learning. Schunk and Zimmerman (1998) define SRL as:

learning that occurs largely from the influence of students' self-generated thoughts, feelings, strategies, and behaviors, which are oriented toward the attainment of goals

Mentally take this definition apart, piece by piece. Ask yourself what each of the following terms means in context:

  • self-generated
  • thoughts
  • feelings
  • strategies
  • behaviors
  • goals

Now that we've defined SRL, what does this learner control "look like" in practice? It takes the form of the SRL cycle. In fact, expert learners go through many iterations of the SRL cycle each time they sit down to achieve a learning goal.

The SRL Cycle

Figure 1: The SRL Cycle

There are three major phases in the SRL cycle:

  1. planning one's learning;
  2. monitoring progress while implementing the plan; and
  3. evaluating the outcome of the plan once it's completed.

Figure 1 shows the three phases of the SRL cycle, along with the central importance of reflection throughout the process:

Don't be scared off by the SRL cycle, though it can be a little intimidating at first glance. In fact, it is an involved process that takes lots of practice. Once you have mastered the process, however, the amount of time you will save—and your ability to understand and remember the information—will surprise you.

Planning Phase

The planning phase of SRL "sets the stage" for learning. During this phase, you do the following:

  1. Analyze the learning task
  2. Set learning goals (make sure these goals are very clear)
  3. Plan learning strategies (consider a variety of ways to approach the learning task)

Therefore, you'll be asking yourself questions such as:

  • What is the goal of this task?
  • What strategies are most effective with this type of task?

Monitoring Phase

During the monitoring phase, you implement your plan from phase one, all the while monitoring yourself to make sure you're making progress toward your learning goal. During this phase, you'll need to ask yourself questions such as:

  • Am I using the strategy as planned?
  • Am I slipping back into my old habits?
  • Am I staying focused?
  • Is the strategy working (am I meeting my learning goals) or do I need to adjust the strategy?

Evaluating Phase

During the evaluating phase, you determine how well your chosen strategy worked. Consider issues such as:

  • What did I think and feel about this particular strategy (or set of strategies)? Did I use them properly? [i.e., evaluate the process]
  • How well did the strategy work—what learning did I achieve? [i.e., evaluate the product]
  • Was the strategy a good match with the type of learning task?


Reflection is not a fourth or separate phase in the SRL cycle—reflection goes on throughout the SRL cycle. Ertmer and Newby (1996) state that reflection provides the link between what expert learners know about learning (metacognitive knowledge) and what they do about learning (self-regulation). They also suggest that we conceive of reflection as a strategy or skill that operates on other strategies.

Self-questioning facilitates the reflective process. Re-read the example questions mentioned in the SRL phase descriptions above—these are good examples of what Ertmer and Newby (1996) call reflection-in-action.

How Does A Learner Become Self-Regulated?

Research indicates that there are some key factors that help create expert learners:

  • Explicit instruction in the use of learning strategies, which include:
    • rehearsal strategies
    • elaboration strategies
    • organizational strategies
    • comprehension-monitoring strategies
    • affective strategies
  • Development of reflective thinking skills (including self-questioning)
  • Extensive long-term practice applying self-regulated learning followed by informative, corrective feedback


  • Ertmer, P. A., & Newby, T. J. (1996). The Expert Learner: Strategic, Self-Regulated, and Reflective. Instructional Science, 24:1-24.
  • Robinson, A. (1993). What Smart Students Know. New York: Three Rivers Press.
  • Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (1998). Self-Regulated Learning: From Teaching to Self-Reflective Practice. New York: Guilford Press.
  • Weinstein, C. E., & Van Mater Stone, G. (1993). Broadening Our Conception of General Education: The Self-Regulated Learner. New Directions in Community Colleges, 81:31-39.
  • Zimmerman, B. J., Bonner, S., & Kovach, R. (1996). Developing Self-Regulated Learners. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Page last modified: September 04 2011.