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Self-regulated learning: examining the baccalaureate millennial nursing student's approach.


Pre-licensure baccalaureate nursing programs are facing the demand to retain and graduate students with the skills needed for the complex health care environment. Nursing faculty are challenged to identify the best pedagogical methods for educating the current generation of students. The influence of student-centered approaches is documented in the literature. However, the effective use of these methods requires a collaborative partnership. The cognitive, self- regulated approaches used by millennial nursing students is not well understood. This article describes the findings of a study that examined the relationship between self-regulated approaches to learning, self-efficacy, independent study behaviors, and grade point average.

KEYWORDS Nursing Education--Nursing Education Research--Millennial Nursing Students--Self-Efficacy Self-Regulated Learning


To graduate nursing students who are prepared to transition successfully to professional practice, nursing education is moving from teacher-centered practices to approaches that are centered on the student (Valiga, 2012). Many students enrolling in today's nursing programs are members of the millennial generation, individuals born between 1981 and 2000 (Johanson, 2012). The use of student-centered approaches with millennial nursing students is documented in the literature (Johanson). However, the effective use of these strategies requires a shared responsibility for learning between faculty members and nursing students (Brandon & All, 2010).

Research that examines the millennial nursing student's self-regulated approaches to learning is lacking. This article presents the findings of a study that examined the relationships among self-regulated approaches to learning, self-efficacy, independent study behaviors, and grade point average (GPA).

Social cognitive theory served as the conceptual framework for this research. Within this model, the learner plays a pivotal role in the deliberative development and application of academic, goal-directed thoughts and actions (Bandura, 1991). Bandura (1977) defined self-efficacy, a key component of social cognitive theory, as an individual's perception of his/her capabilities to produce designated levels of performance.


Self-regulated students control their learning experiences through the use of a variety of strategies that are identified as metacognitive or cognitive (Duncan & McKeachie, 2005). Metacognitive strategies address students' perceived ability to plan, monitor, and regulate their own cognition. Cognitive strategies refer to the approaches students use to process new information from texts and lectures into short- and long-term memory. Such strategies are used by the student when processing information within the classroom learning environment as well as during independent study.

Rehearsal, that is, reciting or repeating items from a list to be learned, is the most basic cognitive self-regulated learning strategy. Its use is considered appropriate for learning simple tasks (Duncan & McKeachie, 2005). Elaboration, that is, paraphrasing or summarizing, and organization by outlining or creating tables, for example, are more complex. The use of these deeper processing strategies may result in active involvement in the learning process and better performance (Duncan & McKeachie).

Students' levels of motivation may influence their effort and the approaches they take to learning and applying new concepts. Self-efficacy is viewed as an internal motivational construct that affects performance behaviors and affective processes (Bandura, 1977). Students with a strong degree of self-efficacy undertake challenging tasks, adjust appropriately to the learning environment, and process information more successfully than students with low self-efficacy (Kuiper, Murdock, & Grant, 2010).


This study used a convenience sample of senior-level pre-licensure baccalaureate nursing students enrolled in a nursing theory course at a large state university in western Pennsylvania. The students are considered millennials and were born between 1981 and 2000. The study was approved by the university's institutional review board.

The Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) (Pintrich, Smith, Garcia, & McKeachie, 1991) was used to measure motivation and cognitive, self-regulated learning strategy use. The MSLQ contains 81 items that comprise 15 subscales. The subscales can be used together or separately. This study used one motivation subscale (self-efficacy) and three learning strategy subscales (rehearsal, elaboration, and organization).

Students responded to the items by rating themselves on a seven-point Likert scale. Subscales were scored by taking the mean of the items that comprised the scale. Participants also provided information about gender, age, ethnicity, independent study behaviors (self-reported number of hours outside scheduled class time spent studying and completing work for a nursing theory course), and grade point average (self-reported cumulative GPA).

The collected data were analyzed with the use of the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences software, SPSS version 21. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize the demographic data. Spearman rank order correlations (rho) were computed to determine the direction and strength of each relationship explored. The level of significance for statistical analysis was p < .05.


The final sample consisted of 65 participants; most (93.8 percent) were female and most were Caucasian (95.4 percent). Their ages ranged from 19 to 30 years (M = 21.9, SD = 1.44) with most (81.6 percent) between the ages of 21 and 22.

The results revealed the participants used all three cognitive, self-regulated learning strategies (rehearsal, M = 5.1; elaboration, M = 5.0; organization, M = 4.8) to understand content in the nursing theory course. Statistical analysis indicated that an increase in study time was positively associated with the use of both basic (rehearsal: [rho] = .29, n = 65, p = .018) and complex (elaboration: [rho] = .43, n = 65, [rho] = .0005; organization: [rho] = .43, n = 65, p = .0005) cognitive, self-regulated approaches to learning.

Participants were found to have self-efficacy for course success and confidence in the ability to accomplish tasks taught by the course (M = 5.0). Further, greater self-efficacy and GPA averages were positively associated with the use of select complex, cognitive, self-regulated learning strategies. Analysis revealed a positive relationship between self-efficacy and elaboration ([rho] = .26, n = 65, [rho] = .034) and GPA and organization ([rho] = .31, n = 65, p = .013).


The study results suggest that this sample of pre-licensure BSN nursing students uses both basic and complex cognitive, self-regulated learning approaches to understand content in a nursing theory course. This finding supports Bandura's (1991) argument that use of cognitive, self-regulated learning strategies should be viewed as a continuum in which the student demonstrates varying degrees of self-regulated behaviors. Therefore, faculty should not dismiss the importance of rehearsal when planning and implementing learning activities and evaluative methods.

Duncan and McKeachie (2005) describe rehearsal as the initial strategy used by students for processing complex material. Nurse educators can support the use of rehearsal by using lecture bursts, a brief 10- to 12-minute discussion, to present content in the beginning of a course. Students should be encouraged to use organization and elaboration after a foundational understanding of course content is displayed. Use of these strategies can be supported through experiential learning activities (e.g., case studies) that encourage students to reflect on and apply course content.

Limited research exists in nursing education regarding the relationship between independent study behaviors and cognitive, self-regulated strategy use. Mullen (2007) concluded that time spent studying was significantly associated with elaboration only. Results from the current study, on the other hand, indicate that an increase in study time was significantly associated with the use of basic and complex strategies. This finding suggests that students' use of study time may reflect their perceptions of appropriate strategy use or their reliance on a strategy that has worked in the past.

Bandura suggests (1991) that, through self-reflection and self-judgment, students regulate their actions, set goals, and implement a course of action that is likely to produce positive outcomes. Nurse educators should be cognizant of such relationships when structuring course content. For example, after students develop a foundational understanding of content, the nurse educator should consider decreasing the use of lecture bursts that encourage repeating or memorization and increasing the use of experiential learning activities (e.g., concept maps) that promote the use of summarizing, forming analogies, grouping, outlining, and diagramming. Supporting the use of deeper processing strategies may better equip students with the skills needed for lifelong learning practices, while promoting reliance on basic processing strategies may result in the student's achieving only task-based competencies.

Results of this study suggest increased self-efficacy beliefs were associated with the use of elaboration. These findings reflect the view of Kuiper et al. (2010) that students with high self-efficacy tend to use deeper processing strategies compared to students with low self-efficacy. However, according to Bandalos, Finney, and Geske (2003), a student's use of a complex processing strategy before the development of a basic understanding of content may lead to confusion and unsuccessful goal attainment. In such situations, the student's level of perceived self-efficacy decreases and future use of the strategy is avoided.

Nurse educators can increase students' self-efficacy by appropriately timing the Implementation of activities that encourage the use of deep processing strategies. Through positive experiences, the student will be encouraged to apply greater effort and pursue more complex goals. According to Bandura (1991), successful completion of complex goals should aid in the student's development of higher level, competency-based decision-making skills.

Results from this study suggest that students with high GPAs use organization. This finding reflects the self-directed processes involved with self-regulated learning. Through use of organization, a student is able to identify, implement, and evaluate the learning approaches needed for successful academic outcomes. Therefore, nurse educators should consider employing instructional and evaluative methods that encourage the use of grouping, outlining, and diagramming the main ideas of content. For example, occasionally incorporating a collaborative experiential activity (e.g., debating) may increase the ability of students to prioritize facts, identify the additional information needed, consider multiple ways of approaching a problem, rationalize responses, and evaluate possible outcomes. Promoting the use of organization may support successful academic outcomes, producing students who are able to make connections between information learned in different contexts.


The findings of this study provide nurse educators with foundational knowledge regarding millennial students' use of cognitive, self-regulated learning strategies and the relationships among strategy use, independent study behaviors, self-efficacy, and academic success. Findings from this study may be used to aid in the development and implementation of instructional and evaluative methods that encourage the use of deeper processing strategies that will build a foundation for higher level, competency-based decision-making skills.

A limitation of this study is the use of a convenience sample of students from a single pre-licensure nursing program. An additional limitation was the use of a self-report survey. Further research, with more diverse student populations, is needed to explore the factors that may further clarify the relationships among cognitive, self-regulated approaches to learning and successful academic outcomes.

Meigan K. Robb, PhD, RN, is an assistant professor of nursing, Chatham University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Contact her at



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Title Annotation:Research Brief
Author:Robb, Meigan K.
Publication:Nursing Education Perspectives
Date:May 1, 2016
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