Barry Zimmerman Discusses Self-Regulated Learning Processes

Emerging Research Fronts Commentary, December 2011

Barry J. Zimmerman

Article: Investigating self-regulation and motivation: Historical background, methodological developments, and future prospects

Authors: Zimmerman, BJ
Journal: AMER EDUC RES J, 45 (1): 166-183, MAR 2008
Addresses: CUNY, Grad Ctr, 365 5th Ave, New York, NY 10016 USA.
CUNY, Grad Ctr, New York, NY 10016 USA.
(Addresses have been truncated)

Barry J. Zimmerman talks with and answers a few questions about this month's Emerging Research Front paper in the field of Social Sciences, general.

SW: Why do you think your paper is highly cited?

I believe the paper was highly cited because of its timing, scope, and the topic. In terms of timing, it was published after approximately 25 years of highly productive self-regulation (SR) research and compelling applications by a productive group of researchers. Its publication also marked the beginning of a new generation of SR researchers who are taking the field in new directions methodologically.

In terms of its scope, the field of SR addresses the content of diverse learning tasks (e.g., academic, sport, music, etc.) and has been studied by researchers from around the globe.

Finally, in terms of the topic, SR researchers feel that it is not only intuitively appealing, but it is also contemporaneous with the advent of technology that renders new forms of self-regulated learning practical.

SW: Does it describe a new discovery, methodology, or synthesis of knowledge?

The paper seeks to discuss all three of these issues to some degree, but particular attention was devoted to new "event" methods to assess self-regulated learning that can be applied during the act of learning, such as thinking aloud, structured diaries, microanalysis, electronic trace logs, and direct observation.

Barry J. Zimmerman

From "Motivating self-regulated problem solvers" by B. J. Zimmerman & M. Campillo (2002). In J. E. Davidson & R. J. Sternberg (Eds.), The nature of problem solving. New York: Cambridge University Press. Copyright by Cambridge University Press. Reprinted with permission.

SW: Would you summarize the significance of your paper in layman's terms?

Self-regulated learning refers to how students become masters of their own learning processes. It is not a mental ability or a performance skill but rather is the self-directed process through which abilities are transformed into task-related skills in diverse fields. This article describes research on key self-regulatory processes, such as goal setting, strategy use, and self-recording, that are used by expert learners. It also considers how these skills can be taught and measured.

SW: How did you become involved in this research, and how would you describe the particular challenges, setbacks, and successes that you've encountered along the way?

From the outset of my career, I have been interested in how learners are able to learn more effectively on their own. I struggled to devise effective ways to measure self-regulation—particularly as it occurs in naturalistic settings, such as during studying in non-classroom environments. Initially, I used a structured interview methodology that assessed students' use of SR strategies to solve hypothetical problems. This scale measured a common SR factor, which correlated highly with student achievement, and with teachers' ratings of students' SR in class.

Despite such accomplishments, these measures were limited because they were not online indices of specific SR processes as they were being used during learning. I also became aware of the need to explain motivational processes and beliefs that underlie students' initiation and persistence in their learning efforts. This led me to formulate a cyclical phase model of SR, which depicted learning processes and motivational beliefs in three phases: forethought, performance, and self-reflection.

SW: Where do you see your research leading in the future?

One emergent issue deals with the calibration of self-reported SR measures when compared to trace measures of these event processes. There is evidence that overestimates of self-efficacy beliefs are linked to poorer academic outcomes, such as test results. One possibility is that overconfidence may undermine students' motivation to study diligently.

"Self-regulation research was designed to discover the cognitive, motivational, and behavioral sources of personal mastery during learning..."

A second emergent issue involves whether teachers can modify their classrooms to foster increases in SR learning among their children. For example, does asking students to record their performance during learning lead to greater self-awareness and acquisition?

A third emergent issue involves the interrelation of students' motivational feelings and beliefs and metacognitive shifts in learning processes. For example, does setting of process goals lead to strategy attributions regarding outcomes and to more adaptive learning? These are just a few of the possible paths for future research.

SW: Do you foresee any social or political implications for your research?

SR research was designed to discover the cognitive, motivational, and behavioral sources of personal mastery during learning. The article discussed how event measures of SR offer a detailed understanding of advantageous learning processes that enable expert learners to succeed at higher rates.

These measures were also found helpful in diagnosing and remediating self-regulatory dysfunctions of struggling students. This research showed that student who set specific task goals during forethought stage tended to adopt mastery criteria to self-evaluate instead of normative criteria. Favorable evaluations of personal mastery led to advantageous attributions, higher self-satisfaction, and greater adaptation during the self-reflection phase of learning.

This research on SR sources of students' mastery is highly compatible with earlier forms of mastery learning that focused on restructuring the curriculum into hierarchies of specific skills and devising task-specific tests of mastery. Together these mastery learning approaches offer an alternative to normative approaches in this era of high stakes testing.End

Barry J. Zimmerman
Professor Emeritus
Graduate Center of the City University of New York
New York, NY, USA



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