Learning to learn: aim high and believe in yourself!

Topic: Training, Goals, Learning
Publication: Psychological Bulletin (MAR 2011)
Article: A meta-analysis of self-regulated learning in work-related training and educational attainment: What we know and where we need to go
Authors: T. Sitzmann, K. Ely
Reviewed by: Alexandra Rechlin

When people self-regulate, they monitor their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in order to obtain some sort of goal. Self-regulated learning refers to when people attempt to monitor and control their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in order to attain a learning or achievement outcome. The authors of this article reviewed numerous theories of self-regulated learning and conducted a meta-analysis to better understand the extent to which self-regulated learning processes affect learning.


Think about the last time you attended some sort of training session. Assuming that you actually cared about learning something, you may have set a performance goal for yourself. That goal is a regulatory agent – it gets you moving towards positive outcomes. To achieve your goal, you may have used a number of strategies, like planning, monitoring, controlling your emotions, and environmental structuring (e.g., choosing to review training materials in a library instead of at a basketball game). These strategies are called regulatory mechanisms, because they are processes used to achieve a goal. Other regulatory mechanisms include metacognition (thinking about thinking), attention, learning strategies, persistence, time management, and effort. Finally, you might use regulatory appraisals to evaluate your progress towards achieving your learning goal. These regulatory appraisals include self-evaluation, attributions, and self-efficacy (belief in your own capabilities).

The authors conducted a meta-analysis to determine if and how the different aspects of self-regulated learning were related to each other and how they predicted learning. Most of the regulatory mechanisms were interrelated, and goal level and self-efficacy were moderate to strong predictors of learning. Weak to moderate predictors of learning were metacognitive strategies (taking an objective view of one’s own thinking/learning – including planning and monitoring), attention, time management, environmental structuring, motivation, effort, and attributions.  In other words, setting an ambitious goal (goal level) and believing in your ability to achieve that goal (self efficacy) were most predictive of whether you actually achieve the goal. 

Although this article was primarily written for researchers, it has important implications for everyone. With the vast amount of formal and informal learning taking place in today’s work environment, developing self-regulated learning strategies is becoming increasingly important. Now that we have a better idea of which self-regulatory processes increase learning, we are better suited to fostering self-regulated learning.

Sitzmann, T., & Ely, K. (2011). A meta-analysis of self-regulated learning in work-related training and educational attainment: What we know and where we need to go. Psychological Bulletin, 137(3), 421-442.

human resource management,organizational industrial psychology, organizational management