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Self-Regulation: A Simple Technique to Improve Learning

Coaching Yourself to a Better Understanding

September 08, 2011

If you could get smarter by taking a little more time with the content you're learning, would you do it? If you could reduce the dropout‐rate for training in your organization, what would it be worth to you? What if it was FREE?!

According to Dr. Traci Sitzmann's article in the March 2010 issue of T+D magazine from the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), the key to such positive results is self‐regulation. In a nutshell, it's asking yourself, "Did I understand that?"

Self‐regulation is the process of interrupting the flow of learning to stimulate reflection on your level of concentration, your comprehension of the materials, and the effectiveness of the learning. In her research, Dr. Sitzmann created a Microsoft® Excel® course where one group of students received unannounced self‐regulation questions throughout the training.

These interruptions in the coursework drove students to consider how they were learning (self‐reflection) rather than just what they were learning (quizzes). Questions included "Am I concentrating on learning the training material?" and "Am I setting goals to ensure I have a thorough understanding of the training material?"

Dr. Sitzmann found that asking trainees questions to stimulate their self‐reflection substantially increased the probability of their completing the voluntary online Excel course. When compared to a control group with no self‐regulating questions, students who self‐regulated:

  • Were 17% more likely to complete the course (lowering the attrition rate)
  • Scored 5% better on the course tests (achieving a B average rather than a C average)
  • Spent an average of 30% more time reviewing the course materials per module

It may seem counterintuitive, and rather touchy‐feely, to have your students take periodic breaks to consider their own learning style and progress. Yet the results — from this study and many others — speak to the success of self‐regulation. As self‐paced e‐Learning grows in popularity, we need to adjust our learning patterns, including how to recognize and reinforce the need for self‐reflection. For e‐Learning providers, data‐based research like this suggests useful ways to improve our offerings.

If you're using e‐Learning to support your blended deployment, this study offers another example of the utility of intrusive coaching activities. Coaches can reinforce training progress by consistently reminding students to check and re‐check for understanding. Learning is not a linear event. It is not a process that requires Continuous Flow. With disruptive reminders for self‐regulation, coaches can help reduce attrition and improve retention and engagement. And yes, it's FREE.

Until students are in the habit of asking themselves self‐regulating questions, they are going to rely on you to do it!


Larry Goldman