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Independent Language Learning$

Bruce Morrison

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9789888083640

Published to Hong Kong Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.5790/hongkong/9789888083640.001.0001

Strategic and self-regulated learning for the 21st century: The merging of skill, will and self-regulation

(p.41) 3 Strategic and self-regulated learning for the 21st century: The merging of skill, will and self-regulation
Independent Language Learning

Claire Ellen Weinstein

Taylor W. Acee

Jaehak Jung

Jeremy K. Dearman

Hong Kong University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter considers the importance of learner autonomy from an educational perspective wider than that of language learning, arguing for the need for all post-secondary students to be effective strategic and self-regulated learners if they are to succeed in their higher education studies. Discussing the issues in relation to the North American educational context, the chapter presents a model of strategic learning. After explaining how this model is constructed, it describes how it has provided the basis for an autonomous learning course at the University of Texas at Austin that aims to help students become more strategic and self-regulated learners, and how the ‘Learning and Study Strategies Inventory’ is then used to measure the effectiveness of students' management of the learning process.

Keywords:   self-regulated learning, learner autonomy, strategic learning, skill, will

We are currently experiencing a worldwide need for our citizens to be better educated, more skilled, lifelong autonomous learners who can adapt to the rapidly changing and evolving demands of the modern world. However, at a time when we have increasing needs for an educated and skilled workforce, a large number of students entering post-secondary education are not effectively prepared to benefit from their studies. This can be seen, for example, in the United States where of those students who enter post-secondary institutions, only about 45% graduate (ACT 2009).

Globally, many colleges, training institutes and universities have developed programmes to help students negotiate the transition into tertiary education, experience success in their studies and persevere until they reach their educational goals. However, the overwhelming majority of these programmes focus on traditional definitions of what is required for academic success in tertiary education, namely reading skills, writing skills, mathematics remediation or enhancement, and study skills (Chipman, Segal and Glaser 1985; Hodges, Dochen and Sellers 2001; Weinstein et al. 2004; VanderStoep and Pintrich 2007). In the United States, these programmes are defined as being a component of developmental education, and there are extensive developmental courses at community colleges. At four-year colleges and universities, it is more common to have developmental education housed in a learning centre or in transition programmes, particularly for students who are predicted to be at risk of low performance, academic failure or dropping out. While these types of programmes are critically important for academic success, they are not sufficient. Developmental education (p.42) does help students to succeed in higher education but, overall, the results have been disappointing in terms of retention. Why would such powerful interventions result in such small gains in retention? Part of the answer is that, in addition to developing foundational skills, students need also to become autonomous, strategic and self-regulated learners who are willing to take more responsibility for their own learning processes, metacognitive control, motivation, and other generative learning thoughts and behaviours.

Overview of strategic and self-regulated learning

Strategic learners are autonomous learners who have the skill, will and self-regulation needed to survive and thrive in different academic or training environments. In many countries, the term ‘autonomous learner’ is used to refer to this type of learner, while in the United States it is more common to refer to them as ‘strategic and self-regulated learners’. Similarly, in the language learning literature, both ‘autonomous’ and ‘strategic’ are used by researchers and practitioners to refer to such learners, usually depending on the author's background. Regardless of the term used, the underlying concepts are very similar.

The primary components of strategic, or autonomous, learning can be identified as skill, will and self-regulation. Skill refers to critical knowledge about, and knowing how to use, learning strategies and other thinking skills. Examples of the knowledge students need for success include knowing about: the performance demands of different types of academic tasks; their own personal strengths, weaknesses and preferences for how to learn in different content areas; and a variety of learning strategies that can be used to learn different types of content material. Examples of the application of this knowledge include knowing how to use active repetition, elaboration strategies, thinking skills and prior knowledge to reach learning goals.

Will refers to the motivational and affective components of strategic learning that either contribute to or detract from academic success. Examples of the elements that contribute to academic success include setting, analysing and using both short-term and long-term goals; using future time perspective and goal hierarchies to generate motivation; developing enabling beliefs; and developing a positive mindset towards learning. Examples of elements that detract from academic success include self-sabotaging beliefs, low self-efficacy, high anxiety and external attributions for performance.

(p.43) Self-regulation is the glue that helps students to manage their strategic learning on both a global and real-time level. On the global level, this component includes using a systematic approach to learning; managing time (over weeks, months and years); using an instrumental approach to seeking help; and managing motivation for learning. On the real-time level, the elements include managing and reducing high anxiety; using metacognition to monitor learning success; monitoring and regulating the use of learning strategies during a task; managing time on a more immediate basis (during a task, over a few hours or day by day); focusing attention; and maintaining concentration over time.

Weinstein's Model of Strategic Learning

The primary components of strategic learning (skill, will and self-regulation) and their most important elements, or variables, are summarised in Weinstein's (2006) Model of Strategic Learning (MSL). The elements are grouped under their respective component name (see Figure 3.1).

Three requirements governed the selection of the elements, or variables, that are listed under each of the three main components in this model. First, the element needed to have a causative relationship with achievement and retention. Many variables identified as being related to college success have not been shown to also have a causative effect on it. Because the ultimate goal is to develop interventions that help students to succeed and thrive in higher education and the workplace, such variables were not included. The second requirement for inclusion in the model was that the element accounted for a meaningful amount of variance in academic achievement and/or retention. Given the large number of variables that affect achievement and retention and the small effect most of these variables have, the impact of any one element is relatively small. However, if there is a meaningful effect either individually, or when the element is combined with other elements, it was included. Finally, the third requirement was that the element is amenable to some type of educational or training intervention. For example, personality variables were not included because it is extremely difficult to alter such variables in an educational intervention. This is also why demographic variables were not included: such variables (e.g. socioeconomic status) have been shown to have powerful effects on students entering college but they cannot be changed readily by an educational intervention.


Strategic and self-regulated learning for the 21st century: The merging of skill, will and self-regulation

Figure 3.1 The Model of Strategic Learning

(p.45) The MSL is an evolving and interactive model of the variables that can enhance students' autonomous learning (e.g. using effective learning strategies) or detract from it (e.g. high anxiety) (Weinstein et al. 2010). It is the interactions among elements in the three primary components that result in more effective and efficient learning. There is also a fourth component of the model which is not under student control but is important for students to understand—the academic environment. The elements of this component are listed on the outside of the rectangle in Figure 3.1. Although students cannot usually change the academic environment of an institution, department or class, it is useful for them to know about these variables and how they might take them into account when studying and preparing for assessments. For example, one element in the academic environment component is understanding the requirements of the current learning activity, assignment or examination. It is difficult to be strategic about completing an assignment if you are not sure what exactly is required for its completion: it would be much like setting off on a car trip with no clear idea about where you are going. This is also true of teacher beliefs and expectations. For example, the more students know about teacher expectations for a given course, the more they can target their learning to those expectations. If a professor includes material found in footnotes in the textbook, this tells the students it is important to pay more attention to footnotes when studying. Another important aspect related to the academic environment component is being aware of and using available resources, such as learning centres, tutoring opportunities, writing laboratories and language learning programmes. Students need to be aware of institutional, departmental and class resources so that, if the need to use them arises, they know what is available and where to find help. Finally, social context and support is important for students' transition into higher education. Students need to know about, and take advantage of, social support structures and resources (such as clubs, study groups, athletics teams and student gatherings) that are available to them when they first begin college and throughout their studies.

Using the MSL, a number of interventions have been developed to help students at post-secondary institutions to become more strategic and self-regulated learners. These interventions range from creating learning centre handouts to brief workshops and semester-length courses. The next section describes a one-semester academic course in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas main campus in Austin that is based on the MSL. This course is taken (p.46) for three college credits (the normal course load for academic courses) and is graded on an A, B, C, D, F scale (F being a failing grade).

Autonomous learning course at the University of Texas

Implementing autonomous learning courses, often referred to as learning-to-learn (LtL) or learning frameworks courses in the United States, can be a powerful way to help students become more strategic and self-regulated learners (e.g. Hofer and Yu 2003; Tuckman 2003). Based on the MSL, the LtL course at the University of Texas at Austin (UT) has been found to be extremely successful in helping students to become more strategic and self-regulated learners who persist to graduation. For example, in one study (Weinstein et al. 1999), UT first-year students were tracked for five years in order to compare the graduation rates of those who took the LtL course with those who did not (the general student population). Students who did not take the course had a five-year graduation rate of 55%, which was typical for UT students at that time (1996). However, those who took the LtL course, in either the first or second semester of their first year and did not drop out or fail the course due to excessive absences, had a graduation rate of 71%. This was true despite these students having significantly lower verbal and mathematics scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test than those who did not take the LtL course. (The Scholastic Aptitude Test is an instrument used by many colleges in the United States to select students who are supposed to have a higher probability of academic success.) These results are even more marked when one considers that most students who take the course are required to do so by advisers or counsellors, and many report having low motivation for studying it. What follows is a description of the course including an overview of the course structure, course content and the instructional methods used.

EDP310 is a three-credit LtL course offered by the Department of Educational Psychology at UT that meets 50 minutes a day, three days a week, for 15 weeks. This course is technically a voluntary elective and so is not required for any major or degree plan at UT. However, as noted above, a large proportion of the students in the course are required to take it because they are either predicted to be at risk of low achievement or are already on academic probation. Consequently, many of these students do not want to be on the course and have low motivation for participation. Although places are reserved for first-year students, other students may take EDP310 because they have been placed on academic probation after their first year of study, want to improve their academic performance, or are preparing for post-graduate study. (p.47) Course enrolment data from 2005 show the following demographic breakdown: female (58%), male (42%); first year (29%), sophomore (42%), junior (20%) and senior (9%); African American (5%), Asian (20%), Caucasian (48%), Hispanic (23%) and Native American (3%).

There are currently nine sections in the EDP310 course with a maximum of 28 students in each section. A faculty co-ordinator and two graduate student assistant co-ordinators together develop course content and structure, as well as determine which assessments to use in the course. They also help with course administration and the training of new teachers (who are all advanced post-graduate students). Extensive preparation is required for those teaching EDP310, including coursework in teaching methods and strategic learning, as well as extensive in-house training (approximately six days prior to the beginning of the semester, followed by weekly staff meetings and mentoring sessions).

The MSL is used to select and organise the course content. Topics are selected from all four components but the emphasis is on the skill, will and self-regulation components. In addition to the elements from the model, several common application topics are included such as academic note-taking, and reading and listening strategies. A recent version of the EDP310 schedule of course topics and assignments is shown in the Appendix. Students are taught about the MSL and the core theoretical ideas behind each variable in the model; and they are also taught skills, strategies and approaches they can use to improve in each area. They are guided in using these strategies in a variety of academic situations they encounter in their other classes, including language learning classes. EDP310 is a blended delivery course, with much content being delivered through the ‘Becoming a Strategic Learner’ online modules (Weinstein, Woodruff and Await 2007), in addition to in-class instruction that emphasises application, modelling, small-group work and whole-class discussions. Where appropriate, direct instruction (lecturing) is also used. Finally, there is a set of readings for the course.

Instruction is based on a metacognitive model of awareness, reflection, and taking control or action. Instructors help students to become aware of the different topic areas that foster strategic learning, help them to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in these areas, and then teach them ways in which they can help themselves to improve and be more effective and efficient in reaching their academic and occupational goals. Although various teaching methods are used, perhaps the most important method for learning effective strategy use is guided practice with feedback. It is critical that students are able to (p.48) practise using strategic learning methods across a variety of academic tasks and contexts. It is also important that they receive feedback from their instructor and classmates that can help them to improve both their understanding and use of these methods. For this reason, students taking EDP310 are required to take at least one other course at the same time so that they can apply the strategies they are learning in the EDP310 course.

The ‘Becoming a Strategic Learner’ online modules also use a metacognitive model for instruction. There are ten online modules corresponding to the ten scales of the second edition of the Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI) (Weinstein, Palmer and Shulte 2002). This diagnostic screening assessment is also based on the MSL and is discussed in the next section. The LASSI helps students to become aware of their strengths, as well as those areas in which they need to improve in order to help foster academic success. Each module is designed to help students reflect on their knowledge relating to one area and to understand why they may need to improve in that area. The modules also provide material for students to study, and activities that guide them in applying the material and practising using new or enhanced learning strategies. For each module, students are required to take notes on the content, complete selected activities and write one paragraph that integrates the module topic with material they have learned in other modules.

Pre-assessments given to students at the beginning of the semester are used in EDP310 to help build student and instructor awareness of students' strengths and limitations related to strategic and self-regulated learning. This can help students and their instructors to identify where students need to concentrate their efforts most. The pre-assessments and post-assessments (the same instruments) also provide feedback for evaluating and modifying the course. The LASSI is used in conjunction with measures of goal orientation, help-seeking and reading comprehension. At the end of the semester, the assessments are given to students again to provide feedback on their improvement in each of the areas assessed. The course also includes three examinations which are used to assess and provide feedback on students' learning of course content.

Learning and the Study Strategies Inventory

The Learning and Study Strategies Inventory (LASSI) (2002, 2nd edition) is a ten-scale, 80-item assessment of students' awareness about, and use of, learning and study strategies related to the skill, will and self-regulation components of the MSL (Weinstein and Palmer 2002; (p.49) Weinstein, Palmer and Schulte 2002). Students respond to the items using a five-point scale ranging from ‘not at all typical of me’ to ‘very typical of me.’ Coefficient alphas for the scales range from a low of 0.73 to a high of 0.89. The LASSI is both a diagnostic and prescriptive assessment, providing standardised scores (percentile score equivalents) and American norms (norms for some versions from other countries are also available) for the ten different scales. It provides students with a diagnosis of their strengths and weaknesses, compared with other college students, in the areas covered by the ten scales. It is prescriptive in that it provides feedback about areas where students may be weak and need to improve their knowledge, skills, attitudes, motivations and beliefs. There are a number of similarities between the LASSI for generic learning across content areas and the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL) developed for language learning (Oxford and Burry-Stock 1995).

Overview of the LASSI scales

There are eight items in each of the ten scales of the LASSI. The ten scales are: Anxiety, Attitude, Concentration, Information Processing, Motivation, Selecting Main Ideas, Self- Testing, Study Aids, Test Strategies and Time Management. Each of these scales is primarily related to one of three of the components of strategic learning: skill, will and self-regulation. However, because the conceptual framework of the MSL underlies each of these components, there is some overlap and interaction among and within the components and individual scales.

The LASSI scales primarily related to the skill component of strategic learning are: Information Processing, Selecting Main Ideas and Test Strategies. The scales examine students' learning strategies, skills and thought processes in identifying, acquiring and constructing meaning for important new information, ideas and procedures, and how they prepare for and demonstrate their new knowledge in examinations or other evaluative procedures. The LASSI scales mainly related to the will component of strategic learning are: Anxiety, Attitude, and Motivation. These scales measure the degree to which students worry about their academic performance, their receptivity to learning new information, their attitudes and interest in college, their diligence, self-discipline and willingness to exert the effort necessary to successfully complete the academic requirements. The LASSI scales primarily related to the self-regulation component of strategic learning are: Concentration, Self-testing, Study Aids and Time Management. These scales measure how students manage, or self-regulate and control, the whole learning process through using their time effectively, (p.50) focusing their attention and maintaining their concentration over time, checking to see if they have met the learning demands for a course, an assignment or a test, and using study support such as review sessions, tutors, learning centres or special features in a textbook.


These are very exciting times for both researchers and practitioners interested in autonomous learning. Research in higher education generally, and language learning and educational psychology specifically, is increasingly focusing on academic preparedness and success. As the demand for higher education and workforce training continues on an upward spiral, the need for more autonomous lifelong learners will continue to grow, along with the need for research-based strategies and interventions that can foster strategic learning.

Autonomous and strategic learning have a long history, but research in this area has a relatively short past. From the early cave paintings designed to teach the young, to the development in ancient Greece of mnemonic devices, to our present concerns with optimising students' learning to meet current societal demands, humanity has been fascinated with helping children and other students to become more effective and efficient learners. It is imperative now and for the foreseeable future that those of us interested in understanding human learning and cognitive processing continue to expand these lines of inquiry.

The current emphasis in both research and application in strategic and self-regulated learning is now focused on the cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, affective and behavioural components that foster and detract from successful learning. Our increasing understanding of these areas is poised to change our conceptions of learning, how learning takes place and what can be done to enhance it; and research in these areas will continue to have a profound effect on all levels of education and training.

Interactive, multicomponent models, such as the MSL, will enable us to continue to examine learning in general as well as in specific contexts. Some aspects of strategic learning are generic for many content domains, and are useful across various subject areas, tasks and learning contexts. Others are far more content- and/or context-specific. Using models like the MSL will enable us to explore these differences systematically and help us to determine when content-/context-specific learning is needed most. Assessments such as the LASSI will help us to explore students' strengths and weaknesses and their impact on learning, as well as provide diagnostic, prescriptive feedback so that we can target our applications to individual student needs.

(p.51) Appendix

EDP 310 schedule of course topics and assignments

Class Day




Introduction to EDP 310


Pre-assessments: LASSI and help-seeking

Top ten list for becoming a successful longhorn

EDP 310 Course overview reading


LASSI results

Description of module assignments


Goals Activity 1 (List 20 goals)


Pre-assessments: Nelson Denny and goal orientation

Goals in-class discussion


Building community

Course expectations


Model of strategic learning

Model of strategic learning reading


Model of strategic learning


Information processing for acquiring knowledge

Information processing/Self-testing modules

Information processing reading


Information processing for acquiring knowledge


Information processing for acquiring knowledge



Self-testing reading




Systematic approach

Time analysis (TMT Activities 5, 6, 7)

Systematic approach reading


Types of knowledge

Types of knowledge reading


Applying the systematic approach


Attitude: Setting useful goals

Attitude/Motivation modules

Goals, goal orientation reading


Attitude: Analysing and using goals

Goals Activity 2 (20 goals revised)





Unit 1 Application


Exam 1 Review





Academic environment


Academic help-seeking

Exam 1 Feedback

Study aids module

Help-seeking and academic environment reading


Creating and using study aids


Time management

Time management module





Anxiety module

Anxiety reading


Coping with anxiety



Concentration/Selecting main ideas modules


Reading and listening strategies

Reading strategies reading


Reading and listening strategies


Note-taking strategies

Note-taking reading


Selecting main ideas


Unit 2 Application work day


Selecting main ideas


Test-taking strategies

Test-taking strategies module

Test-taking reading


Exam 2 Review





Post-assessments: LASSI and help-seeking

Discussion of capstone project


Post-assessment: Nelson Denny and goal orientation

Exam 2 Feedback

Unit 2 Application


Integration of course topics


Integration of course topics


Integration of course topics

Where will you go from here?

Capstone project





(p.53) References

Bibliography references:

ACT 2009. National collegiate retention and persistence to degree rates. Retrieved 7 October 2009, from http://www.act.org/research/policymakers/pdf/retain_2009.pdf.

Chipman, S. F., J. W. Segal and R. Glaser. 1985. Thinking and learning skills (vol. 2): Research and open questions. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Hodges, R. B., C. W. Dochen and D. C. Sellers. 2001. Implementing a learning framework course, 2001: A developmental Odyssey. Warrensburg, MO: National Association for Developmental Education.

Hofer, B. K. and S. L. Yu. 2003. Teaching self-regulated learning through a ‘learning to learn’ course. Teaching of Psychology, 30(1): 30–3.

Oxford, R. L. and J. A. Burry-Stock. 1995. Assessing the use of language learning strategies worldwide with the ESL/EFL version of the Strategy Inventory for Language Learning (SILL). System, 23(1): 1–23.

Tuckman, B. W. 2003. The effect of learning and motivation strategies training on college students' achievement. Journal of College Student Development, 44(3): 430–7.

VanderStoep, S. W. and P. R. Pintrich. 2007. Learning to learn: The skill and will of college success (2nd edn). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Weinstein, C. E., D. R. Dierking, J. Husman, L. A. Roska and L. Powdrill. 1999. The impact of a course in strategic learning on the long-term retention of college students. In Developmental education: Preparing successful college students, eds. J. L. Higbee and P. L. Dwinell. 85–96. Columbia, SC: National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

(p.54) Weinstein, C. E., D. K. Meyer, G. Van Mater Stone, W. J. McKeachie and C. I. King. 2010. Teaching students how to become more strategic and self-regulated learners. In McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (13th edn), eds. M. Svinicki and W. I. McKeachie. 292–306. Independence, KY: Wadsworth.

Weinstein, C. E. and D. R. Palmer. 2002. User's manual Learning and Study Strategies Inventory. Clearwater, FL: H and H Publishing.

Weinstein, C. E., D. R. Palmer and A. C. Shulte. 2002. Learning and Study Strategies Inventory: Second edition. Clearwater, FL: H and H Publishing Company, Inc.

Weinstein, C. E., T. L. Tomberlin, A. L. Julie and I. Kim. 2004. Helping students to become strategic learners: The roles of assessment, teachers, instruction, and students. In Thinking about thinking: What educators need to know, eds. I. Ee, A. Chang and O. S. Tan. 282–310. Singapore: McGraw-Hill.

Weinstein, C. E., T. Woodruff and C. Await. 2007. Becoming a strategic learner: LASSI instructional modules. Clearwater, FL: H and H Publishing.