Many college students don’t use self-regulated learning strategies (SRL), despite knowing they exist, according to a new study from Austria published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology. The findings suggest that students may benefit from being offered specific training on how and when to use these strategies.
SRL strategies help students maximize their academic potential and are considered essential for academic success by educational researchers.
“SRL refers to evaluating, planning, and executing your own learning,” said Nora Foerst of the University of Vienna. “SRL includes many different learning strategies, such as planning your approach, structuring your learning content, rewarding yourself after accomplishing a goal or making realistic demands to avoid frustration.”
The first year in university is often a difficult one. Living away from home, managing finances, and balancing socializing with classwork are all new challenges. Another important transition is learning how to plan and organize one’s own studying, including dealing with various types of exams, from multiple-choice tests to essays.
Quite often, new college students work out their own strategies for learning, often through trial and error. However, strategies to prepare for one type of test or assignment may not work for another, and students may find themselves underprepared and struggling.
Even post-graduate students must face new challenges, such as writing a master’s thesis, that might require different learning techniques.
Earlier studies have shown that many students know about common SRL strategies. However, researchers are less sure how often these techniques are actually used, whether students know how to use them effectively and whether they can identify which techniques are most appropriate in specific learning situations.
These unanswered questions prompter Foerst and her colleagues to survey students enrolled in Bachelor’s or Master’s programs in Psychology or Economics at the University of Vienna on their learning strategy knowledge and actions.
For the study, the researchers surveyed the students to determine if they knew about beneficial SRL strategies for specific learning situations. They also assessed whether the students put the techniques into practice, and if not, why not?
As expected, most students could correctly identify several SRL strategies. However, fewer students actually applied them in their own studies. In fact, as many as one-third of the students who correctly identified a technique as beneficial admitted that they didn’t use it in their own learning.
Students in both psychology and economics programs showed a similar disconnection between knowledge and action. Psychology students were slightly better at identifying the strategies, likely because their curriculum included information about SRL techniques.
The researchers found that students have a variety of reasons for not using these learning strategies: Many students felt they didn’t have enough time to use the strategies or were unable to apply them effectively. Some failed to see the benefits of the strategies for specific tasks, or believed that using them would be too much work.
How might universities increase the number of students that benefit from self-regulated learning strategies?
“We want this study, and future studies, to encourage universities to provide more SRL training for their students,” Foerst said. “Specifically, it appears that students need hands-on training to learn how and when to apply SRL strategies for specific learning situations. In addition, they need help to understand that the techniques could save them time and enhance their learning outcomes.”
Source: Frontiers in Psychology