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How Can Schools & Institutions Support Self-Regulated Learning?

If you’re the leader of an educational program, department, or institution, you know how important it is to help learners develop self-regulated learning (SRL) skills. We all have a vision of educating learners who will engage in lifelong learning effectively and efficiently. In language learning in particular, class time is never enough to develop proficiency in the target language – students need to manage their classwork and engage in learning beyond the classroom. How can we then help students to be more self-regulated? How can everyone in the organization work together towards a shared vision and goals?

The starting point for leaders is to keep in mind the need to facilitate collaboration and learning at all levels in an organization in order to successfully implement SRL across the organization (See figure). Therefore, organizations that aim to promote self-regulated learning must engage different stakeholders in the regulatory process themselves. This includes understanding wants and needs, identifying strengths and weaknesses, forming and communicating the vision and mission, setting goals, creating plans for implementation, monitoring progress, and evaluating outcomes. Here are ideas of what leaders can do in each step.

Understanding wants and needs

Leaders may facilitate the process to identify the policies and regulations related to SRL at the national, state, and local levels. This will offer a rationale for why the organization wants to mobilize everyone in this particular area of teaching and learning. However, look for terms such as lifelong learning, active learning, self-regulation, and learner autonomy, not only SRL. Leaders may also look into their organization to identify whether SRL and related concepts are mentioned in their mission statement and other documents. To gather more information, they may survey teachers and students..

Forming and communicating vision and mission

Once a strong desire to develop SRL is confirmed, organizations will need to verbalize the vision and mission and communicate this clearly to all stakeholders, especially teachers in the organization. These should be written in official documents and communicated in meetings and other communication channels. In my organization and others that I have observed, not everyone thinks about and understands what SRL means. It is, therefore, important to clarify what the concept means, why it is important, and the organization’s commitment to develop it among learners. To clarify the concept and bring everyone onboard, leaders may bring in experts to facilitate this process.

Understanding strengths and weaknesses

Many institutions may have already integrated SRL instead of starting from a blank slate. Therefore, it is important to gather information on resources that the organization can build on. These resources may include:

  • Prior experiences and insights
  • Successful practices
  • Particularly experienced and/or motivated staff
  • Useful teaching and learning materials
  • Sources of time and funding
  • Sources of inspiration and good practice outside of the school

Setting goals and measuring progress

As in any project and initiative, it is important to set goals and develop metrics to measure progress. These goals should be SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Measuring progress involves assessment of SRL and assessment of learners’ development in the content and skill areas. Comparisons among groups of learners or between learners in one term and another will provide evidence of development and progress.

Developing implementation plans

Specific implementation plans are necessary to drive action. This step involves the consideration of the curriculum, instructional practices, materials, resources, and so on. As in any other steps, involvement from teachers and different stakeholders in the organization will lead to better outcomes. In addition, leaders may ask the following questions helpful for continuous improvement:

  • What practices and resources worked particularly well?
  • What didn’t work?
  • How well have teachers supported SRL? What further support for teachers is needed?
  • What obstacles do teachers identify?

This is when leaders can engage stakeholders in the organization to learn from experiences by reporting and sharing assessment data related to learners’ SRL, evaluations of past practices, best practices and insights, and useful resources; discussing and making recommendations for improvement; as well as sharing insights to the wider professional communities through conference presentations and publications.

Other considerations for systematic integration of SRL across the organization

Overall, the role of leaders in this process includes getting everyone in the organization to work toward shared vision, mission, and goals. Therefore, their main responsibilities include:

  • Communicate the organization’s needs and wants
  • Coordinate systematic integration of SRL
  • Encourage and support teachers (by providing feedback, professional development, and resources) and report best practices and insights

Leaders may also ask the following big and small questions during the implementation process.

What is the impact of SRL on our curriculum?

Are the materials used suitable?

Should there be more supplemental materials?

How can we guide students to use materials they identify?

What is the impact of SRL on our assessment practice?

How can we assess learners’ SRL?

How can we improve the assessment of SRL?

How can we integrate learners’ self-assessment (seen as facilitative of SRL) into the bigger assessment scheme?

What are the qualities we seek in our staff?

What knowledge and skills do we seek in our staff?

How does this affect hiring choices?

What is the impact of our changing practices on parents?

How have parents reacted to SRL teaching practices?

What is the impact of teachers’ experiences on organizational policies and practices?

How do we create a learning organization where everyone is willing to share?

How do we create forums for sharing knowledge and experience?

How can experiences from across the organization be elicited and shared?

How can we get people together to consolidate findings and make recommendations?

How can we engage in the larger professional communities to share and gain more knowledge in this area?

Do our experiences and insights from implementing SRL encourage us to reconsider our vision and aspirations?

Have we been successful?

Should we reconsider our vision and make SRL a core value?


In summary, successful implementation of SRL requires the collaboration of all stakeholders at all levels of an organization. What happens at one level or classroom affects activities in other areas and classrooms. Leaders in an organization play an important role in orchestrating the collaboration and learning.


If you want more best practice tips to promote independent, lifelong learners, you can download our position paper on The Key to Self-Regulated Learning.

You can join Linh on 16th June at our upcoming English language teaching online conference. 


Dr Linh Phung (www.eduling.org/teaching) is Director of the English Language Program at Chatham University in Pittsburgh, USA. She is also Director of Eduling International (www.eduling.org), which offers English materials and online instructional services to students in any location. She has peer reviewed articles published in a variety of education and language journals, and is a co-author of the book Studies in English: Strategies for Success in Higher Education (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). Passionate about creating bilingual materials and opportunities for language learning beyond the classroom, she recently published a children’s book and an app called Eduling Speak. She currently serves as Chair of the Affiliate Network Professional Council of TESOL International (2022–2023), which allows her to work with TESOL organizations around the world. Linh is a consultant on this paper.

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How Can Teachers Support Self-Regulated Learning?

As teachers, we are always trying to prepare our learners for the future. But we know that one day we will not be able to be there for them – when they move from primary to secondary school, to university or into the workplace. At that point they will have to manage their own learning. However, without careful guidance and practice, many learners do not develop the necessary skills to do this. Fortunately, these skills can be explicitly taught in class and their development has a direct and significant influence on learners’ success. As Zimmerman concluded from his and others’ decades of research in the area: “Students who set superior goals, proactively, monitor their learning intentionally, use strategies effectively, and respond to personal feedback adaptively, not only attain mastery more quickly, but also are more motivated to sustain their efforts to learn.” (2013, p. 135). In the rest of this post we will explore these and other key skills and look at how we can introduce them in class.

The components of self-regulated learning

Self-regulated learning involves a series of stages, as shown in the model below. Working clock-wise from the top left, learners first need to (learn how to) motivate themselves to take responsibility for their learning. Teachers play a key role here by emphasising the importance of self-regulation for lifelong learning and academic success. Next, they need to understand their needs. Most learners are rarely encouraged to do this, instead exclusively relying on test scores and teacher feedback. Of course, our needs change throughout our life times and learners therefore need to be able to re-asses accordingly. Once learners understand their needs, they can learn to set their goals. Teachers can help learners to set appropriate and feasible goals for the time that they have available. This ability is particularly important because ‘research has consistently shown across all educational domains that having meaningful goals helps learners to persist in their studies and leads to greater motivation’ (Schunk and Zimmerman, 2012, p. 16). Whereas goals operate on a high time frame (e.g. several months) and set the general direction, learning plans determine how learners allocate their time over the coming days. It involves guiding learners to asking questions such as

  • What can I achieve today / this week?
  • What should I do first?
  • What resources do I need?
  • Where can I get support if I need it?

The different tasks learners engage in can be made more effective by learning how to select the most useful resources, appropriate strategies and knowing how to monitor progress, by asking questions such as

  • How will I know I am doing it right?
  • Who can help me?
  • How can I find out what I need to work on more?
  • What made it difficult?
  • What’s next?

Finally, self-assessment involves taking a step back and looking at the broader picture of one’s learning, considering questions such as:

  • Am I on the right track?
  • What motivated me?
  • What was not working for me?
  • Have my needs and goals changed?
  • Can I improve my task regulation?
  • What resources do I have to help me find better ways?

Introducing self-regulated learning in class

Integration of self-regulated learning skills in class is most likely to be successful if it is done 1) systematically, 2) gradually, and 3) with increasing responsibility given to the students. Systematic integration involves ensuring that all components of the self-regulated learning cycle are included consistently during a course. For example, although there would be some benefit to teaching learners how to plan a learning activity in isolation, this process will be much more meaningful if learners understand what broader goals they are working towards. One way to ensure this happens is to include each of the elements of the self-regulated learning cycle in your course plans. For example, motivation and needs analysis could be covered in the first week of the course. Goal-setting could happen in week 2 and the development of learning plans thereafter. Task regulation could be practised throughout the rest of the course, followed by self-assessment towards the end.

This approach ensures that students are not overloaded with new information or expected to suddenly change their learning practices. Instead, they gradually get used to thinking about their own learning. Another way to help learners ‘ease into’ taking greater responsibility for their learning is to use the encourage-practise-support-involve model that I introduced in our paper on Using Technology to Motivate Learners. This starts from awareness-raising by encouraging learners to think about the ways in which they go about their learning, by giving examples of successful learners or by talking about the benefits of self-regulation for language learning. Over time, learners can be shown how to engage in self-regulated learning in the classroom and practice this together. You can, for example, show learners a learning plan template and ask them to complete their own, give feedback, and review the plans in a group discussion so everyone can get ideas from the others. In the next stage, learners are given specific tasks to complete on their own, such as monitoring their progress by using learning logs outside of the classroom. You would still give regular feedback and support if needed but the primary responsibility is now with the learners. Finally, once learners develop the necessary confidence and skills they can be expected to involve themselves in self-regulated learning increasingly independently.

See what works best for you in your context. Talk to your learners about their prior experiences and learn from your colleagues about what they have found out works well for them. Whatever you do and however you approach the development of self-regulated learning skills, remember that you are making a significant investment in your students by giving them the keys to unlock their own future.

If you want more best practice advice to help you nurture independent lifelong learners, you can download our recent position paper, 

Want to talk to the experts about self-regulated learning?

You can join Hayo on 16th June at our upcoming English language teaching online conference.



Reinders, H., Dudeney, G., & Lamb, M. (2022). Using technology to motivate learners. Oxford University Press.

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (Eds.). (2012). Motivation and self-regulated learning: Theory, research, and applications. Routledge.

Zimmerman, B. J. (2013). From cognitive modeling to self-regulation: A social cognitive career path. Educational psychologist48(3), 135-147.


Hayo Reinders (www.innovationinteaching.org) is TESOL Professor and Director of Research at Anaheim University, USA, and Professor of Applied Linguistics at KMUTT in Thailand. He is founder of the global Institute for Teacher Leadership and editor of Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching. His interests are in out-of-class learning, technology, and language teacher leadership. Hayo is the author of our paper on Self-Regulated Learning.

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Getting Started with Self-Regulated Learning

To be honest, until a few years ago I would have been very reluctant to talk about the topic of self-regulation in a public space. I considered myself the unchallenged master of procrastination, and my image of a self-regulated person was of someone with an impossibly tidy desk, forever creating to-do lists or attaching post-it notes to furniture. My own desk is far from tidy and instead of creating a to-do list, I am more likely to find myself watching yet another YouTube video or pouring myself one more cup of coffee. For a long time, I felt bad about this because it did not fit with my beliefs about how a productive person should behave. It was only when I started to read more about the concept of self-regulation that I began to feel better about myself, and probably, as a result, became more productive. Here, I want to share some of that discovery.


What is self-regulation?

Closely related to learner autonomy and independence, Self-regulation is essentially the ability to manage one’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviour in a way that is productive, while simultaneously contributing to an enhanced sense of wellbeing. We feel good about ourselves when we are achieving the things we want to achieve, at a pace that feels comfortable. Self-regulated learning refers to the channeling of self-regulation in the pursuit of learning.

Self-regulation in language learning

Learning is almost always a challenge—that is what makes it so rewarding—but in the case of language learning, self-regulation is especially important, as learning a foreign language tends to be a long, arduous process, full of setbacks, with signs of progress being few and far between. Language learning usually occurs over many years and learners cannot rely on any single teacher to provide direction over such an extended period. Put simply, learners need to be able to direct their own learning; self-regulation is essential for individuals to navigate the unique challenges of language learning in a way that leads to successful outcomes and reduces feelings of internal conflict or stress.

In particular, self-regulation helps learners stay focused on goals, avoiding unwanted distractions and maintaining attention. By staying focused on their goals, learners can experience the feelings of achievement and progress essential to sustaining effort over the long term. Of course, an important aspect of staying focused on a goal is the nature of the goal itself and for this reason goal setting is at the heart of self-regulated learning. We work more effectively and make better decisions when we are working towards appropriate goals. The most appropriate goals are those that balance challenge with the likelihood of success; contrary to popular wisdom, people enjoy difficult things, but they are intimidated by tasks beyond their current competence. It can be helpful to think in terms of what are known as SMART goals: goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

The emotional dimension

Discussions of education often ignore the emotional aspect to learning. This is especially true of language learning, which can be a highly loaded emotional experience. When emotions become overwhelming, they can negatively impact an individual’s ability to function effectively. Self-regulation can help individuals better manage their emotions and respond to situations more calmly. Key to doing this is learning to identify the situations, people, or events that trigger strong emotional reactions. By recognizing these triggers, individuals can prepare for and better manage their emotional responses. Of course, the logical extension is that learners need to develop strategies that allow them to cope with these emotional challenges.

One useful strategy for managing the emotional side to language learning is being more aware of the internal dialogue we have within ourselves. This is known as self-talk. Negative self-talk can be harmful, leading to self-doubt, anxiety, and stress. By using positive self-talk, individuals can build self-confidence and better channel their emotions.

Supporting self-regulation

Self-regulated learning does not mean learning alone or isolation. Self-regulation benefits from the support of others, perhaps even requires it. These others can be peers, and they can be family members. However, in educational settings, self-regulation is best encouraged through support at the institutional level and through individual teachers. Perhaps the ultimate challenge for language teachers is to develop ways in which to hand over the direction and control of learning to learners themselves.

More self, less regulation

Self-regulation is a critical life skill that can help learners manage their emotions, make better decisions, and achieve their goals. However, self-regulation it is not something that comes naturally or easily to everyone. While anyone can improve their ability to regulate their thoughts, emotions, and behaviour, for many people this requires focused practice and some explicit guidance.

Going back to my YouTube and coffee habits, I used to think of these as a problem because I saw self-regulation in terms of ‘self-control’ or ‘self-denial’. Now, I better understand self-regulation as a part of a process of self-growth: if these habits function as unwelcome distractions they are likely to lead to unsuccessful outcomes and frustration, but if they serve as a welcome break or a chance to recharge my batteries, then they are likely enhancing my productivity and sense of wellbeing.  Self-regulated learning is not about shutting out the outside world in the single-minded pursuit of learning objectives. It is not about any particular skill or strategy. It is not about a once-size-fits-all model of learning. It is about understanding what works for you in your learning situation. Ultimately, it is about how we integrate learning into our lives.

If you want more best practice advice to help you nurture independent lifelong learners, you can download our recent position paper, The Key to Self-Regulated Learning.

Download the position paper

Want to talk to the experts about self-regulated learning?

You can join Hayo on 16th June at our upcoming English language teaching online conference.


Stephen Ryan has been involved in language education for over 30 years both as a practicing teacher and as a researcher. Most of that time has been spent in Japan and he is currently a professor in the School of Culture, Media and Society at Waseda University, Tokyo. His research and publications cover various aspects of psychology in language learning, including the award-winning Exploring Psychology in Language Learning and Teaching, coauthored with Marion Williams and Sarah Mercer, and The Psychology of the Language Learner Revisited, co-authored with Zoltan Dörnyei. Stephen is a consultant on this paper.

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