Self-Regulated Learning in College Students

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Abstract

The present study sought to explore the prevalence of the use of reward focused vs punishment avoidance focused strategies in typically developing college students, as a function of different types of self-regulatory situations. It was hypothesized that reward based strategies for self-regulation would be more frequent when students were asked to disclose the strategies they used to make themselves do something they did not want to do, and punishment avoidance based strategies would be more frequent in situations when they were asked to disclose the strategies they used to keep themselves from doing something they shouldn’t do (just do it/just don’t do it situations) An interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) was conducted using a multi-stage, thematic inquiry method which focused on an analysis of each participant’s personal perceptions regarding their own self-regulatory behavior. Results indicate that reward focused strategies are used more frequently in situations where individuals make themselves do something they do not want to do (just do it), while participants indicate using more punishment avoidance strategies in situations where they have to stop themselves from doing what they actually want to do (just don’t do it). These findings have implications for future research regarding self regulation in college students.

 Keywords: self-regulation, college students, punishment avoidance strategies, reward focused strategies

Self-Regulated Learning in College Students

Self-regulated learning (SRL) refers to the ability of a learner to understand and control

his or her learning process and outcomes (Cohen,  2012). Further, in order for a student to effectively prepare for course work and learn all the information needed, students need to be capable of self regulation. Self-regulated learners have an array of cognitive and metacognitive strategies that they use, when necessary, to accomplish academic tasks (Wolters, 1997). This paper will examine the different types of self-regulatory situations; more specifically how an individual keeps himself/herself from doing something he/she shouldn’t do vs strategies to make the individual do things he/she does not want to do.

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 Researchers who focus on self regulated learners all cite a definition by Pintrich (2000) describing self regulated learners as “an active, constructive process whereby learners set goals for their learning and then attempt to monitor, regulate, and control their cognition, motivation, and behavior, guided and constrained by their goals and the contextual features in the environment” (p. 453). This description is similar to what Zimmerman (2000) calls a “Triadic Definition of SRL” which involves the interaction of personal self-regulation requiring the adjustment of cognitive and affective states, behavior self-regulation which focuses on self observing and strategically adjusting performance, and lastly environmental self-regulation involving observation and adjustment of environmental conditions. Zimmerman describes these interactions as occurring within a self-regulatory goal setting, monitoring, which includes forethought of task and performance, and self regulation.

  Consistent with this opinion, Cohen (2012) states there are three stages of self-regulation known as forethought, performance/volitional control, and self reflection. According to Cohen (2012), the forethought phase includes components known as goal setting and motivational beliefs, performance includes efforts to undergo attention and action, and finally self reflection involves appraisal of one’s performance.

  In the same manner, Bouffard, Boisvert, Vezeau & Larouche (1995) also believe that there are three major components of self regulation, but they labeled these cognitive strategies, metacognitive strategies, and motivation. The cognitive strategies are necessary to learn, memorize, and understand, while the metacognitive strategies allow adequate supervision while the student completes the task. Lastly, motivation determines the effort that is needed in order to execute these strategies.

 Furthermore, Zimmerman (2008) explained that self-regulated learning is critical for success in college students. The process of self-regulated learning includes setting goals, engaging in strategic planning, using strategies, and monitoring. In a college setting, this may involve students learning how to balance school work and other activities. As a first year student, it’s usually harder because they’re still learning how to balance the two. Time management is the number one skill a student learns as a first year college student, if the student does not know how to manage time correctly, he/she will not be able to do as well in classes. (Thibodeaux, Deutsch, Kitsantas & Winsler, 2016).

 Similarly, Wolter (1997) argue that self regulated learners are usually characterized as active learners who know how to successfully manage their learning techniques in different

ways. That is, self regulated learners have adaptive learning goals and persistently try to reach the goals set. Self regulated learners are usually motivated and independent students. Wolter also believed that students who knew how to successfully manage their time, would  succeed throughout college.

 Wolters & Benzon (2013) believed that aspects of motivation are key when considering self regulated learning. They stated there were three key facets to self regulation of motivation known as knowledge of motivation, monitoring of motivation, and control of motivation. The first facet would be the students “meta-level knowledge’ showing their understanding of motivation.The “meta-level knowledge” would include students ideas about the topics, domains, or tasks they find interesting. The second facet would be monitoring the individual’s level of or state of motivation. For this facet students must be able to observe and gather feedback on their ongoing motivation towards that activity. The last facet involves student engagement or execution of strategies in self regulation. These facets are very important and necessary for self-regulated learners.

 Pintrich (2000) found that students who had excellent self regulatory strategies had a higher level of motivation, self-efficacy, and achievement. Similarly, Shunck and

Zimmerman (1994) concluded that self regulated learners have more adaptive cognitive, motivational, and achievement outcomes than students who aren’t self regulated. These results show that motivation and achievement are the number one skills a student should have when being identified as a self regulated learner. Without motivation a student may not want to do

something he/she needs to do for a certain course. If the individual is not self-regulated it can cause him/her to fall behind or become stressed in many of their courses.

 Bouffard, Boisvert, Vezeau & Larouche (1995) stated that students engaged in self-regulated activity plan each step, select strategies, and control and evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies being used. This allows the student to decide how to pursue their endeavors and to perform to the best of their capacities. Self-regulated individuals usually make goals for themselves to achieve. It is said that this type of goal orientation can influence cognitive functioning and the amount of commitment towards learning. Biggs (1985) found that students tend to give themselves “personal study contracts” this is said to be a goal and achievement list. One side has goals wanted to be achieved, while the other side has the goals that have already been achieved. Bouffard, Boisvert, Vezeau & Larouche (1995) believed that a high performance that was achieved with little effort would make the individual feel more competent, but will feel less competent when performance is achieved with a great deal of effort.

 Most research supports the idea that students must metacognitively monitor the ways they think about the material being learned. Metacognitive strategies refers to methods used to help students understand the way they learn and there are four major metacognitive strategies that will help these individuals learn in college (Wolters & Benzon, 2013). The first metacognitive strategy is to plan and organize work. Before actually starting a task, the student should set goals, plan the task and generate ideas on how to accomplish the task. The next step would be to monitor and identify problems, also known as checking one’s work. While the student works on a task, he/she should check the progress being made, check to see if the person knows what they are doing, and make sure the individual is making sense. This step would be to evaluate and make sure the individual did everything correctly. After the student completes the task, he/she should evaluate how well the person accomplished the required task and assess how well the student used the learning strategies. Lastly, managing one’s own learning and pacing oneself would be the last step to the metacognitive strategies. The student should determine how he/she learn best, arrange ideas that helped him/her learn, and focus on the task being given.

 This present study seeks to explore the prevalence of the use of reward focused vs punishment avoidance focused strategies in typically developing college students, as a function of different types of self-regulatory situations. It is hypothesized that reward based strategies for self-regulation will be more frequent when students are asked to disclose the strategies they use to make themselves do things they do not want to do, and punishment avoidance based strategies will be more frequent in situations when they are asked to disclose the strategies they use to keep themselves from doing something they think they shouldn’t do (just do it/just don’t do it situations)

Method

Participants

Participants were 222 undergraduate students from State University of New York College at Cortland enrolled in an Introductory Psychology course. All students gave consent to be a part of the sample study. The study pool was not a random sample and students were given one extra

credit point for voluntary participation. The demographic information was optional and sporadically revealed; therefore, it was not included in the analyses.

Materials

 Anonymous open-ended questions were given to participants regarding self-regulation strategies used in two different situations (just to do it/just don’t do it). Students were asked to answer the questions in the packet to participate in Dr. Michie Odle’s research study. The instructions stated not to use any identification information anywhere on the packet because the responses were completely anonymous. The length of time for this activity depended on how much time was needed to completely answer every question. There were two open ended questions that needed to be answered. Question one asked “How do you make yourself do things that you don’t want to do? Think about this. Don’t say that you just make yourself do it. HOW do you make yourself do it? Do you have specific strategies? What do you think about, as you are trying to make yourself do it? Give some examples. Question two asked, “How do you keep yourself from doing things that you want to do but shouldn’t do? Think about this. Don’t say that you just don’t do it. HOW do you make yourself not do it? Do you have specific strategies? What do you think about, as you are trying to make yourself not do it? Give some examples. (see Appendix)

Procedure

 The questions presented to participants were constructed by the researchers to differentiate self-regulation involving a situation depicted as “keeping yourself from doing something that you think you should do (just don’t do it) and “making yourself do something that you don’t want to do” (just do it). Each question was open-ended to explore the participant’s own opinion of his/her strategies for these two types of self-regulatory behavior. An initial interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) was conducted using a multi-stage, thematic inquiry method. That is, rather than applying a grounded theory based analysis of the written responses, where certain self-regulatory strategies or metacognitive rules for self-regulation were counted for frequency, an exploration of the content was undertaken which focused on an analysis of each participant’s personal perceptions regarding their own self-regulatory behavior (see Smith & Osborne (2007), for a review of IPA). Written results were coded and discussed by the lead investigator and five research assistants. Results from the IPA yielded 39 potential regulatory strategies (Odle, in press). Of these 39 strategies, the most frequently occurring related to a focus on reward or a focus on punishment. Interrater reliability was difficult to achieve, for all strategies except for reward focus/punishment focus. This is consistent with other research in the self-regulation literature therefore, a grounded theory approach was undertaken to recode the data, using only reward vs. punishment focus (grounded theory ref from readings list).

Results

Results indicate that reward focused strategies were used more frequently in situations where individuals made themselves do something they did not want to do (just do it) as opposed to situations where they prevented themselves from doing what they actually did want to do (just don’t do it). Furthermore, participants indicate using more punishment avoidance strategies in situations where they had to stop themselves from doing what they actually wanted to do (just don’t do it).

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 Data for most frequently used strategies (reward focus vs. punishment avoidance) in just do it and just don’t do it situations were analyzed according to frequency of use for the different questions, (JDI/JDDI). For reward focus strategies, 29.3% of participants use those strategies for just do it situations, compared to 2.7% in just don’t do it situations. The frequency data for punishment avoidance strategies indicate that 10.4% of participants use those strategies in just do it situations, whereas 27.9% of participants use it in just don’t do it situations. Results indicate a significant preference for reward focused strategies (M = .29, SD = .45) in just do it tasks rather than in just don’t do it tasks (M = .02, SD = .16), t(218) = 8.57, p =.000. Results also show a significant preference for punishment avoidance strategies (M =.28, SD =.45) in just don’t do it situations than in just do it situations (M = .10, SD = .30), t(218) = 5.19, p = .000.

Discussion

 Our hypotheses that reward focused strategies were used more frequently in situations where individuals made themselves do something they did not want to do (just do it), as opposed to situations where they prevented themselves from doing what they actually did want to do (just don’t do it), was supported. In addition, participants indicate using more punishment avoidance strategies in situations where they had to stop themselves from doing what they actually wanted to do (just don’t do it).

 These findings are consistent with the work of Lee & Turban (2010). That is, the present studies participants used reward strategies as motivation to get themselves to do something they did not want to do. The positive reinforcement was increasing student’s behavior; applying reward strategies may have motivated the students to want to participate in the task and made it “less draining” (Lee & Turban, 2010).

 This motivational influence can also be seen in the work of Pintrich (2000), who’s results indicated that motivation is the number one aspect of a self regulatory individual. Someone who is not motivated will not be able to get themselves to do something they do not want to do. Wolters & Benzon (2013) agreed with Pintrich that motivation is the key to self regulation. They identify the three facets of motivation which can help a student become more determined and actually want to do the task being given; these are known as knowledge of motivation, monitoring of motivation, and control of motivation

 In the present study, a few problems and limitations arose throughout the experiment. One limitation was that only Psychology 101 students were taking this survey; therefore, it was not a random sample but was primarily composed of college students in their first year. This limitation prevented the results from being generalized to other populations, such as high school or all college students. For future research, first year college students could be compared to other years in college; this may further our understanding of the development of self regulation throughout the college experience.

Another limitation was how interrater reliability was more difficult to code with the exploratory method because students discussed many different strategies when answering the questions given. It was more open ended, so students were giving many different responses in which needed to be coded into only a few responses to narrow it down. For future research, students could be administered a Likert-type scale in which there is a five point scale that students can choose from regarding rewards and punishment avoidance orientations.. This will allow the student to express how much they agree or disagree with each statement and will also be a lot easier to code because now it’s more specific. The researcher will be asking the question and the students would simply be agreeing or disagreeing to each one, but it will still be their own opinion on how they make themselves just do it and just don’t do it.

 An additional problem was how demographic information was made optional for the participants. Due to this, answers were sporadically revealed and researchers decided to exclude this information. By excluding these demographics we were not able to determine whether gpa or gender had anything to do with how students make themselves “just do it” or “just don’t do it”.  Future research could explore questions related to gpa or academic success to see if it can be correlated to how students make themselves do things they do not want to do or stop themselves from doing things they shouldn’t do.

In conclusion, reward based strategies for self-regulation was used more frequently when students were asked to disclose the strategies they used to make themselves do something they did not want to do, and punishment avoidance based strategies was used more frequent in situations where they were asked to disclose the strategies they used to keep themselves from doing something they shouldn’t do (just do it/just don’t do it situations).

References

  • Bouffard, T., Boisvert, J., Vezeau, C., & Larouche, C. (1995). The impact of goal orientation on               self-regulation and performance among college students. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 65(3), 317-329. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8279.1995.tb01152.x
  • Biggs, J. (1985). The Role Of Metalearning In Study Processes. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 55(3), 185-212. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8279.1985.tb02625.x
  • Cohen, M. T. (2012, November 30). The Importance of Self-Regulation for College Student Learning. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ999414
  • Jackson, T., Mackenzie, J., & Hobfoll, S. (2000). Communal aspects of self-regulation. In M. Boekaerts, P.R. Pintrich & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation(pp. 275-296). San Diego, California: Academic Press
  • Lee, F. K., & Turban, D. B. (2010). Natural Rewards Self-Management, Personality, and Achievement Outcomes. Journal of Applied Social Psychology,40(9), 2267-2294. doi:10.1111/j.1559-1816.2010.00660.x
  • Pintrich, P. R. (2000). The role of goal orientation in self-regulated learning. In M. Boekaerts,               P.R. Pintrich & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation, (pp. 451-502). San Diego, California: Academic Press.
  • Smith, J. A., & Osborn, M. (2007). Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Doing Social Psychology Research, 229-254. doi:10.1002/9780470776278.ch10
  • Wolters A. C. (1997, November 30). Self-Regulated Learning and College Students’ Regulation of Motivation. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ571186
  • Wolters, C. A., & Benzon, M. B. (2013). Assessing and Predicting College Students’ Use of Strategies for the Self-Regulation of Motivation. The Journal of Experimental Education, 81(2), 199-221.
  • Thibodeaux, J., Deutsch, A., Kitsantas, A., & Winsler, A. (2016). First-Year College Students’ Time Use. Journal of Advanced Academics, 28(1), 5-27. doi:10.1177/1932202×16676860
  • Zimmerman, BJ (2000). Attaining self-regulation: A social cognitive perspective. In M. Boekaerts, P.R. Pintrich & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (pp. 13-35). San Diego, California: Academic Press

Appendix

Instructions:

Please answer the open-ended questions in this packet to participate in the research study: Qualitative Exploration of Self-Regulatory Strategies in College Students. Please be sure not to include any identification information on any page of the packet or in any written response, as all survey/written responses are completely anonymous. Your willingness to answer the questions in this packet indicates voluntary participation without undue influence, and the first page of this packet will be handed in separately to provide a record of your participation/informed consent.

This activity involves answering open ended questions, and the length of time it will take you will depend on how much time you require to think of examples and write your responses. Please try to write at least one page for each question. You should not need to spend more than 2 hours completing this packet.

Response packets and record of participation/informed consent forms should be separated and turned in at the end of class or at the final exam in the designated areas of the instructor desk.

General Instructions:

Please answer the questions on the next two pages. Please do not worry about your wording or writing style as you respond – it is only important that you provide real, self-reflective responses, and that you use examples when possible. Please complete this packet according to your beliefs and experiences. 

Optional demographic information: Gender: ____, Year in College ____,  Estimated GPA ____.

Question 1: How do you make yourself do things that you don’t want to do? Think about this. Don’t say that you just make yourself do it. HOW do you make yourself do it? Do you have specific strategies? What do you think about, as you are trying to make yourself do it? Give some examples.

Question 2: Would you say that you are really good, medium, or terrible at making yourself do things that you don’t want to do? (Choose one.)

Question 3: How do you keep yourself from doing things that you want to do but shouldn’t do? Think about this. Don’t say that you just don’t do it. HOW do you make yourself not do it? Do you have specific strategies? What do you think about, as you are trying to make yourself not do it? Give some examples.

Question 4: Would you say that you are really good, medium, or terrible at keeping yourself from doing things that you want to do but shouldn’t do? (Choose one.)

 

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