Exploring Student Self-Regulation in the Online Environment: Strategies for Faculty and Designers

Concurrent Session 5

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session provides an overview of a mixed-methods research study which focused on understanding the experience of students and self-regulation in an online course. Using study results and practical experiences, participants will learn how faculty and designers can support student self-regulated learning strategies and success online.


Sarah is a Senior Instructional Designer at the University of Colorado-Denver in the Office of Digital Education. She works with faculty on designing and delivering online courses, collaborates with instructional designers across colleges and programs, and delivers faculty professional development for excellent online pedagogy.. She has a background in communication, extensive online teaching experience, and is a doctoral candidate in education with a focus on learning technologies. Her interests include creating engaging online learning environments, improving online presence, and designing learning experiences which foster student self-regulation and motivation.

Extended Abstract

The online learning environment is often times an asynchronous experience for students, creating a lack of coordinated physical space and time together. This distance creates a need for students to be self-regulated (a highly proactive process) in their learning process in order to achieve success online. In fact, research has shown that the most successful online students display self-direction, initiative, perseverance, prioritization, and adaptive study skills. Unfortunately, not all learners possess these strategies needed to succeed in the online course environment. Many students in higher education must learn these skills as they go and often find it to be a challenging experience. These challenges can be a contributing factor to the drop-out rate of fully online courses or programs, and are important to investigate as the prevalence of online courses and programs continues to rise drastically. This session will explore not only the specific self-regulated learning strategies that students utilize or find challenging, but will also address the ways in which faculty and instructional designers can promote such skills in the online classroom.

The first goal of this session is to provide an overview of the research project, which used a mixed-methods design to ultimately understand three unique cases of student self-regulated learning and motivation online, and each individual’s strategies used to maintain self-direction in an online course. Three research questions guided the study:

  1. What is the experience of students in an online course who possess and/or lack self-regulation strategies?

  2. What are the perceived actions of students in an online course who possess and/or lack self-regulation strategies?

  3. What instructional methods or environmental factors help students develop self-regulation skills to succeed in an online course?

In the first phase of the study, quantitative data was collected using a modified version of the Motivated Strategies in Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) and user data from the learning management system. The quantitative data informed the next phase of the study, which included selection of three unique student participants and qualitative data collection done through in-depth interviews with each participant. The final phase, analysis and integration of the results, gave three varying perspectives of students in an online class and their motivation, challenges faced, and effectiveness of any self-regulated learning strategies used.

The second goal of this session is to highlight how results from this study specifically inform both design and teaching strategies that faculty and instructional support staff can utilize in order to assist students in developing beneficial, self-directed learning strategies. Strategies such as intentional communication, group work flexibility, use of media, and study strategy recommendations were found to be helpful for self-regulation among the three student cases, as well as motivating factors in their study efforts. In addition, the researcher (also an instructional designer) will incorporate practical experience and use cases to highlight the tangible takeaways and applications that audience members can implement in their own courses.

In this session, overall outcomes and takeaways for the audience are to understand the implications of the research project, identify key ways of supporting self-regulation and motivation among students in their own online courses, and to become aware of the importance of the topic as it relates to improving student success online. Throughout the presentation, participants will be engaged in small group brainstorming and collaboration, large group sharing of personal experiences and challenges, and a dedicated time for questions and answers.