In this chapter we investigate whether ICT tools can support the practice and development of SRL and, if so, under what conditions. More specifically, we discuss what features of such environments are likely to favour SRL.
We can define self regulated learning (SRL) as a learning process where students master their own learning by setting their own goals, by choosing and changing their learning strategies when necessary, by reflecting on their own learning and in particular by evaluating their progress and consequently adapting their strategies. Self-regulated learners are often intrinsically motivated (Young, 2005) and see learning as a proactive activity; in other words, they deliberately control rather than passively endure the learning process. They usually have a good degree of self-efficacy and are able to apply and adapt the acquired knowledge across different subjects. According to Zimmermann (1998), SRL “is not a mental ability, such as intelligence, or an academic skill, such as reading proficiency; rather, it is the self-directive process through which learners transform their mental abilities into academic skills.” The research in this field investigates the pedagogical, behavioral, emotional, motivational, cognitive and metacognitive aspects involved when students control their own learning processes (Zimmermann, 2001).
We will base our discussion on a widely accepted model, derived from studies of sociocognitive orientation (Steffens, 2006; Zimmerman, 1998). According to this view, SRL entails an active and conscious control of one’s learning in terms of cognition (including metacognition), motivation and behavior, at both individual and social level. This approach also points out that SRL consists of a cyclical repetition of three phases, each of which provides input to the following one: forethought or planning; performance (which includes execution and monitoring); and evaluation of the achievements in relation to learning objectives. Self-regulation is then brought about by controlling metacognition, motivation, and behavior throughout these three cyclical phases. By systematically proceeding in this way, the students begin to adapt knowledge and competence acquired in previous learning experiences to new learning situations, in order to reach their current learning objectives. This characterization of SRL points out that learners’ previous knowledge plays an important role in the practice of SRL in that it provides a starting point that learners can use to tackle new problems. It also suggests that SRL is a competence that improves more rapidly as people progress in education. Some studies, however, suggest that SRL does not improve quickly or spontaneously (Boekaerts, 1997), but requires suitable teaching and practice. The literature reports improvement in learning when self-regulation is explicitly addressed in classroom instruction (Schunk & Zimmerman, 1998). It also underlines the importance of creating and structuring favourable learning environments which stimulate reflection and revision, provide meaningful feedback and help learners to feel responsible for their own activity and achievements (Dettori, Giannetti, & Persico, 2006).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Motivation: A dynamic mental state associated with the desire and willingness to exert effort towards the achievement of a goal. A motivated person is one that strives to achieve his/her aim, be it short or long term. Being a mental state, motivation is a function of the person, but being a dynamic state, it is also a function of the situation. According to Atkinson & Feather (1966), a student’s motivation to invest time and effort in learning depends on his or her expectations of success and on the perceived value of good achievement. Some authors, such as Kuhl (2000), see lack of motivation like a consequence, rather than a cause, of performance deficits that occur when people repeatedly face failure. This leads to the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The former is when people engage in an activity because they like it or they are deeply interested in it. The latter has to do with obtaining external rewards like praise, money or good grades, as well as avoiding punishment or damage. In general, intrinsic motivation leads to deep learning, while extrinsic motivation might entail rote or performance oriented-learning. However, the potential of extrinsic motivation should not be underestimated because intrinsic motivation is easily endangered by many external factors, such as for example the need for money.
Meta-Cognition: “The awareness of one’s own cognitive processes, often involving a conscious attempt to control them” (VandenBos, 2007). The term refers to the activity of reflecting about one’s own cognition or, in other words, thinking about thinking. In particular, metacognition includes reflection about one’s learning process and it is believed to have a critical role in successful learning. Metacognitive learning skills include planning the way to approach a learning task, monitoring understanding and assessing the progress towards the objectives. Learning to learn and self-regulated learning entail a wide range of metacognitive skills.
Online Collaborative Learning: This term identifies learning processes based on computer-mediated interactions between members of a learning community. This is called a virtual community since its members do not meet face to face. The interactions mostly consist of synchronous or asynchronous message exchanges and usually take place within a Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) system. The theoretical framework of online collaborative learning is that of socioconstructivism (Vygotsky, 1962). The terms Online Collaborative Learning and Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) are considered to be synonyms.
Self-Regulation: The capability to guide one’s behavior along a specific path to a directed aim or goal. It includes goal setting, self-monitoring, self-evaluation, and other metaskills. It is strictly intertwined with motivation, self-efficacy (the belief that one is able to achieve the aim) and the ability to cope with failure. Research in self-regulation flourished in the 1980’s, while in the 1990’s important contributions started to appear in several related sectors, such as educational, organisational, clinical, and health psychology. The importance of self-regulation and self-regulated learning is widely recognized in that these capabilities are regarded as the main reason why our ancestors survived while other species extinguished due to the changing environmental conditions. Today, the need for self-regulation is even more important due to the fast technological evolution of our society, which makes life-long learning and the ability to adapt very desirable qualities of the individual.
Self-Regulated Learning: This term became popular in the past decade to emphasize students’ autonomy and responsibility in taking charge of their own learning. In brief, self-regulated learners are able to establish their own learning goals, identify suitable strategies and tactics to achieve them, evaluate the results of their own learning, keep up motivation and deal effectively with emotional aspects throughout the learning process.
Technology Enhanced Learning Environments: The term refers to learning environments where ICT tools are used to support and facilitate learning. Technology, though, is not the focus of the learning process, nor is it all a student needs to learn. The learning environment is a scenario comprising learning objectives, tasks, learning material, tutors, teachers, other students and technology. In this scenario learners can play an active role in their own learning process.