Towards a social understanding of self-regulated learning.

Educational policy research in the last decade has placed increasing stress on the need for students to develop skills or competencies to compete in the knowledge-based economy, where production involves conceptual innovation, rather than routine manufacturing. The ‘Next Chapter’ of the IBO, a comprehensive alteration in the practice, if not the principles of the IBO framework, reflects the influence of these policy findings. Approaches to Learning (ATL), designed to help students “learn how to learn” (MYP: From Principles to Practice, p. 20), is now a core component of the curriculum. The ultimate aim of making these ATL an explicit part of the curriculum is to develop “self-regulated–independent and autonomous” learners (Ibid., p. 21).

In what follows I hope to expand on the definition suggested by the term “self-regulated” learning (SRL), and the “self-management” ATL that is meant to support its development. By placing the development of (SRL) in a social context, teachers can remain consistent in their constructivist approaches to instruction, and use collaboration as a scaffold to help the “self” better regulate its learning. First a bit on the relationship between (SRL) and metacognition.

What is the relationship between metacognition and self-regulated learning?

(SRL) has been defined as the control, management, monitoring, reflecting, and adapting one’s cognitive processes and learning activities for improvement. Examples of (SRL) occur when learners monitor and direct their own progress, asking questions such as “What am I doing now?,” “Is it getting me anywhere?,” “What else could I be doing instead?”

These definitions depend on the learner being aware of themselves as a learner, with the ability to notice strategies as they occur, to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses, to reflect on and ultimately to adapt these strategies for future improvement. To monitor, control, regulate, reflect on, and adapt one’s learning, it is first necessary to be aware of learning as learning, an awareness of learning above the subject matter itself. A learner needs to have a metacognitive awareness of their own learning, before the self-regulatory processes mentioned above can be initiated. In How People Learn (click link for full text. It’s a synthesis of decades of educational research published by the the National Research Council in 2000) metacognition was identified as a key element for improving student learning.

The upshot for teachers, particularly those involved in implementing the ATL of the Next Chapter, is that it might be helpful to develop the metacognitive awareness of your students, before focusing on developing strategies for improving these processes. I found some great thinking routines for developing metacognitive awareness in Making Thinking Visible, though I’m sure there are plenty of other excellent sources available.

 Is it really up to the learner to “self” regulate?

Since the 1970’s when the notions of metacognition and (SRL) first gained prominence, (SRL) has been conceived as an individual, cognitive process. Our language continues to reflect the belief in an isolated ego, manipulating their thinking in a context-less void. We speak of “self-management,”and “self-directed” learners.  With the constructivist turn in educational theory initiated by Vygotsky, research into the processes of (SRL) are identifying the social factors supporting, and often driving the (SRL) process. These changes are also reflected in the language now used to describe the processes. There is talk now of ‘co-regulated’ learning (see the research being done by Allison Hadwin), socially-shared cognition, and distributed cognition (for more on this see ‘Cognition in the Wild‘.

As teachers, when we encourage our students to aim higher, ask for clarification of meaning, recommend apps for managing information, we co- regulate with our students. More significant and often overlooked in the literature is the co-regulating role played by peers during collaborative projects. I have experimented with different forms of social media to make the process of collaboration visible to my students. This enables me to identify effective collaboration, rather than vaguely defined “group work.” I could see students motivating their peers– ”maybe consider this..” “ I know it’s hard, maybe try reading this…”, “ …summative is in three days, we can do this!!”  Conversation threads also reveal students asking each other for clarification of meaning– “ what do you mean by ‘better’…  “can you explain this more, I don’t understand..” In other words, the affective and organisational traits we often associate with “self” management and “self” regulation occur within and are fostered by interactions, resulting in meaningful collaboration.

(I also show these conversations to students, so they can see and understand what co-regulation is, to see what it means to be a team-player, a collaborator in the deeper sense of the term.)

If there’s a “take-away” to speak of here, it’s to see metacognition, self-regulated learning, and collaboration as related and mutually reinforcing, and leveraging the power of ICT can support the development of all three by making the process visible to the teacher and student.

Thanks for reading…