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Self-regulated learning muddles findings

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Whatever teachers or researchers add to learning environments by way of instructional designs and treatments, it must not be overlooked that these features are filtered through learners. No matter how careful and detailed features of an instructional design are, learners are not obliged to notice them, to identify the specific tactics and strategies the researcher intended learners to match to those features of instruction, or to diligently and skillfully apply any particular tactics and strategies. In every sense, learners are agents who fully self-regulate learning (Winne, 1995). They strive to meet their goals in ways they judge best for them. We can only hope their activities align to processes and objectives developed set for them. Trace data can test whether hope is satisfied.

Descriptions of self-regulated learning (SRL) abound (e.g., Panadero, 2017; Winne, 2018) and need not be reviewed here. Perspectives acknowledging SRL are scant in these chapters given the argument SRL may be ubiquitous (Winne, 1995). To the extent SRL operates to shape when and which tactics and strategies learners use, interpretations about direct effects of tactics and strategies on outcomes become muddled (Winne, 2017). As just noted, trace data gathered during the learning session could identify whether, how much, and in what ways learners’ regulation of trained (and natural) learning strategies affect achievement.

Next steps and leaps

Strategies are designs for adapting to context as that context evolves over time. Five features need to be realized to create successful opportunities for students to become strategic learners. Students need instruction and support to develop tactics. Thus, one step toward becoming a successful strategic learner is teaching students which conditions in learning scenarios signal that particular operations will be best suited to those conditions. Merely recognizing when a particular action is needed can’t help if that action can’t be carried out. So, second, students need to be taught what to do to improve learning. Binding Ifs to Thens stocks learners’ toolkits with tools they need to succeed. Third, in experiments and in classrooms, learning tasks need to be complex enough so they call for learning strategies but not so complex as to overload cognition. Fourth, like any skill, students need extensive practice to automate strategic learning. While it is difficult to shift balance away from learning a subject matter and toward strategic learning, that is what will be needed and that is what research indicates in comparisons of students trained to use strategies to students who work with naturally developed tactics. Finally, because we are keen for students in classrooms, not just participants in experiments, to become successful strategic learners, teachers will need education and support to make all this happen.

Keys to realizing each of these features are distributed throughout the chapters in this section of the Handbook. Emerging guidelines for realizing research-practice partnerships (e.g., Coburn & Penuel, 2016) provide direction but, as noted by several authors of the chapters, basic theory-exploring research should not be neglected as we push toward practice. Wise funders should take good risks to invest in longer-term projects spanning periods approximately double the usual three- to five-year grant periods. Transforming institutions as inertial as public education is not quick work. As well, sustained attention will be required so students can be introduced to, deliberately practice, and develop multidimensional expertise needed to transfer multifaceted learning strategies across the subjects they study.

References

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