Skip to content

Donggil Song (


I think many of you have heard about “self-regulated learning” quite a lot. I assume that most of you agree that you, your students, or your children should be a self-regulated learner, because the concept of self-regulated learning has been considered as very positive with the friend terms such as student-centered or learner-centered approaches. Self-regulated learning itself can be very self-explanatory, so you might think you don’t need any sorts of academic explanations or theoretical frameworks for understanding the concept. However, self-regulated learning is not a generic term nor a general concept, but a quite sophisticated construct that has been established in the educational research field. Still, if you’re not a serious educational researcher, you don’t need to fully understand its theoretical basis. An overview with three phases of self-regulated learning would be enough to get the hang of it. You can use this process of 3 phases for yourself, your students, or your children. Just 3 steps.


Self-regulated learning has 3 phases (Zimmerman, 2002). Forethought, Performance, and Self-reflection. These steps are sequential, so the self-regulated learner follows these phases in the order named when they learn something.


  1. The first phase is Forethought, which is a preparation step for self-regulated learning. This phase reveals the main difference between self-regulated learners and non-self-regulated learners because most of non-self-regulated learners begin their learning without this forethought phase. The self-regulated learner analyzes a task prior to learning something new, and the most important thing in this step is Goal Setting, no doubt. A novice learner might even start with setting their learning goal, but in many cases, it’s not followed by a specific plan. Thus, Strategic Planning should be done when setting a learning goal. At this preparatory phase, the learner should also have Self-motivation Beliefs (a sort of pre-motivation) about their efficacy and expected learning outcome.


  1. The main step is the Performance phase. This is an actual learning phase, which most people think is “learning”, but apparently, remember that this step is just one component of three phases in self-regulated learning. At this moment, the learner manages their own learning through the Self-control process. Self-control might be thought as an overall and broad (and vague) ability (or concept) in learning, but actually, it is quite simple, probably much easier than you think. You just develop the strategies that you selected during the Strategic Planning step of the Forethought phase. No brainer. Then, the Self-control process should be paired with Self-observation (I prefer the term Self-monitoring because it sounds like more objective and computeristic?), which most novice learners overlook. When learning something, the self-regulated learner monitors (and observes) their own learning, for example, by doing some sort of self-recording or self-experimentation. The reasons for doing this is that the results of this self-monitoring phase provide feedback for the self-control process, so the learner can re-develop or modify their learning strategies.


  1. The last phase is Self-reflection. Learning isn’t over until the self-reflection phase is over. As did in the Forethought phase, the self-reflection step consists of two aspects: cognitive (Self-judgment) and affective (Self-reaction). The Self-judgment process includes self-evaluation which also encompasses the cause analysis, such as thinking about what caused the success or failure of learning. With the self-evaluation and analysis, the self-regulated learner is able to diagnose whether they achieved their learning goal or not, and, importantly, to measure their self-satisfaction level.



Well, to sum up, self-regulated learning is not a fuzzy or vague concept, but a systematic human learning process, which has three sequential steps: Forethought, Performance, and Self-reflection. Since we’re talking about “self”-regulated learning, I think we don’t need to put the prefix, “self,” into the internal concepts, for example, “Motivation Beliefs” still sounds good along with self-motivation belief. Both the first and the third phases have cognitive and affective aspects as shown in the picture above. At the performance phase, the self-monitoring process is significant because it produces the regulation momentum for self-controlling. Finally, I’d like to claim that self-regulated learning has nothing to do with the dichotomy between formal and informal learning. Whether the learner learns at schools, with a teacher, through online resources, or on their own, the three phases of self-regulated learning won’t be changed.



Zimmerman, B. J. (2002). Becoming a self-regulated learner: An overview. Theory Into Practice, 41(2), 64-70. doi:10.1207/s15430421tip4102_2