8 Cho and Shen, “Self-regulation in online learning”


Cho, M.-H., & Shen, D. (2013). Self-regulation in online learning. Distance Education34(3), 290–301. https://doi.org/10.1080/01587919.2013.835770.


This study proposes SRL (self-regulated learning) as a skill which a student can obtain through proper guidance by the instructor. The roles of effort regulation, metacognitive regulation, and interaction regulation and how they relate to student achievement in online learning were analyzed and reported. Essentially, SRL involves a student’s effort to manage learning processes systematically in order to achieve specific goals in online learning.

Who was studied:

  • 64 students enrolled in Introduction to Gerontology
  • 91% were female
  • 84% were White
  • Average year in school: 2
  • Average age: 27
  • Number of online courses taken prior to this online course: 2
  • Participation in the research was voluntary, but those participating received an extra point towards their final grade.

What was studied/reported on:

  • Intrinsic Goal Orientation
  • Extrinsic Goal Orientation
  • Academic Self-efficacy
  • Effort Regulation
  • Metacognitive Regulation
  • Interaction Regulation

How the research was collected and measured:

  • Minor system-generated data, including the amount of time students stayed online
  • Students’ self-reported data
  • Questions were delivered via Blackboard
  • No face-to-face meetings
  • A 7-point Likert scale was used where 1 denoted not at all true of me and 7 denoted very true of me

Key points

  • Although online learning is increasingly becoming a common means of education, there are many challenges that must be considered, especially in the context of how they affect SRL, such as:
    • Lack of immediate support
    • A feeling of being lost or socially isolated
    • Absence of goal commitment
    • Shortage of coping strategies
    • Underestimation of the time required to complete tasks
    • Inability to self-regulate one’s learning
    • A higher dropout rate in online courses
  • There are a number of benefits to skillful self-regulated learners over less skillful learners, which include:
    • Higher fundamental goal orientation
    • A greater academic self-efficacy
    • Ability to better regulate and adjust their learning process in learning contexts
  • SRL was measured against the following concepts:
    • Goal Orientation—students’ intention for outcome
      • Intrinsic Goal Orientation
        • Students’ disposition toward mastering the task
        • Positively relates to self-regulation and performance
      • Extrinsic Goal Orientation
        • Students’ disposition toward getting good grades
        • Negatively relates to self-regulation and performance
    • Academic Self-efficacy—students’ level of confidence regarding their learning and performance
      • Associated with social interaction in online learning settings
      • Related to comfort level with sharing personal
      • Related to connecting to instructors
      • Positively related to their self-regulation and academic performance
    • Regulation
      • Effort Regulation
        • Students’ level of commitment to manage tasks and challenges
      • Metacognitive Regulation
        • Students’ ability to plan, monitor, reflect, and adjust their learning process
      • Interaction Regulation
        • Students’ ability to regulate social interaction with others
  • Looking at the measured results of the surveys conducted against the Likert scale, the data can be broken down as follows:
    • Intrinsic Goal Orientation
      • Example: “In a class like this, I prefer course material that really challenges me so I can learn new things.”
      • Score of .75
    • Extrinsic Goal Orientation
      • Example: “Getting a good grade in this class is the most satisfying thing for me right now.”
      • Score of .63
    • Academic Self-efficacy
      • Example: “I’m confident I can understand the most complex material presented by the instructor in this course.”
      • Score of .90
    • Effort Regulation
      • Example: “Even when course materials are dull and uninteresting, I manage to keep working until I finish.”
      • Score of .61
    • Metacognitive Self-regulation
      • Example: “When reading for this course, I make up questions to help focus my reading.”
      • Score of .82
    • Interaction Regulation
      • Example: “When I write an online message, I try to organize my thoughts as much as I can.”
      • Score of .78


It is important to examine the relationship between SRL and achievement in an undergraduate online course in order to maximize the success of SRL strategies and how they can be taught and employed. Academic self-efficacy and goal orientations hold the greatest influence on online students’ cognitive engagement and is essential to the online learning process. Specifically, “the results of achievement goal research have shown that students who have intrinsic goal orientations tend to persist with learning in challenging tasks and report high involvement in learning process by regulating their cognition and motivation (Cho & Shen, 2013, p. 294).”

Many teaching strategies are explored in order to create strong learning environments for students whose educational path includes online learning. These strategies include:

  • Enhancing students’ intrinsic goal orientation through problem-based learning (PBL).
  • Having them set challenging but achievable goals.
  • Providing students with intrinsic goal rationale to increase levels of autonomous motivation and performance.
  • Promoting students’ academic self-efficacy through a well-designed and organized class.
  • Facilitating students’ online discussions and learning activities so as to provide positive feedback to students.
  • Encouraging students to regulate their learning by monitoring activities, guiding interaction, and promoting social interaction through social networking.

Discussion questions

  1. As an online student, have you ever used social networking services as a tool to promote self-regulation? If so, was it successful in its purpose?
  2. Do you think the proposed strategies would need to be applied differently at various learning levels (K–12, undergrad, grad study, adult ed, etc)?
  3. How do you think gender play a role, if any, in SRL?

Additional Resources

Wandler, J., & Imbriale, W. (2017). Promoting college student self-regulation in online learning environments. Online Learning, 21(2). https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v21i2.881.

Lynch, R., & Dembo, M. (2004). The relationship between self-regulation and online learning in a blended learning context. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning5(2). https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v5i2.189.


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