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Supporting self-regulation in student-centered web-based learning environments.

Interest in the development and use of web-based learning in higher education has been steadily increasing. In a recent survey by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), it was reported that the number of distance education programs increased by 72% from 1994-95 to 1997-98, and that an additional 20% of the institutions surveyed, plan to establish distance education programs within the next three years (The Institute for Higher Education, April 2000). Given the potential of Internet-based telecommunications tools and other web-based pedagogical tools in supporting an increased capacity for interaction, and in situating learning in more authentic contexts (Herring & Smaldino, 1998; Riel & Harasim, 1994; Hannafin, Hill & Land, 1997), distance education programs have evolved from institution-directed learning of correspondence courses to learning environments that are increasingly student-centered.


Student-centered learning approaches require the learner to assume primary responsibility for the learning process, and acknowledge the importance of the learning context and the learning community in supporting both individual learners and the social nature of the learning process (McCombs, 2002; Hannafin, Hill, & Land, 1997). In web-based leaning environments, student-centered learning is mainly supported though the use of web-based pedagogical tools including, asynchronous and synchronous communication tools, hypermedia and multimedia tools, and web-based course management systems. For example, asynchronous and synchronous communication tools can be used to facilitate educational interactions among students such as, sharing and comparing information, and coconstructing meaningful knowledge (Hartley & Bendixen, 2001).

Web-based pedagogical tools can also support students' development of self-regulatory skills that are essential for success in student-centered web-based learning environments (Dabbagh & Kitsantas, 2003; Dabbagh, 2002; Kitsantas & Chow, 2002). This is crucial because in a web-based learning environment, students must exercise a high degree of self-regulatory competence to accomplish their learning goals (Kitsantas & Chow) whereas in traditional, face-to-face (f2f) classroom settings, the instructor exercises significant control over the learning process and is able to monitor student attention and progress closely (Besser & Bonn, 1997). Self-regulation refers to the degree to which students are able to become metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active participants of their own learning process (Zimmerman, 1989). The scope of this article is to (a) discuss the significance of self-regulation in student-centered web-based learning environments; (b) demonstrate how designers and instructors can support self-regulation using web-based pedagogical tools; and (c) redefine the role of the instructor to support the development of independent, self-regulated learners.

Processes of Self-Regulation and their Significance in Web-Based Learning

Among the key self-regulatory processes affecting student achievement and motivational beliefs are goal setting, self-monitoring, self-evaluation, use of task strategies (e.g., rehearsing and memorizing, and organizing and transforming), help seeking, and time planning and management (Kitsantas, 2002; Zimmerman, 2000). Next, we define each of these self-regulatory processes and discuss their significance in web-based learning environments.

Goal Setting

Goal setting refers to a process through which students decide on specific outcomes for learning and identify appropriate strategies to be undertaken to accomplish desired goals (Zimmerman, 2000). Research indicates that students who set specific (e.g., "I will learn how to use a Word processor") as opposed to general goals (e.g., "I will learn how to use a computer"), and process goals (focus on methods and strategies that can help one master a task), rather than product goals (outcomes of learning efforts), show high skill achievement and motivation for their assigned work (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1997; Zimmerman, 2000). In web-based learning environments, asynchronous communication tools such as e-mail can assist learners in setting specific, process oriented goals to achieve a learning task by communicating such goals to the instructor and receiving feedback on the implementation and appropriateness of these goals for successfully achieving the task.


Self-monitoring is defined as one's deliberate attention to an aspect of behavior that directs the learners' attention to the task and assists them in evaluating the outcomes of their efforts. For instance, keeping daily records assists the learner in determining how to make appropriate learning adjustments to attain his/her goals (Zimmerman & Kitsantas, 1999). In web-based learning environments, self-monitoring can be achieved by keeping track of one's progress on a discussion forum for example, and making necessary adjustments that are in alignment with his/her learning goals (Dabbagh & Kitsantas, 2003). Self-monitoring facilitates what is referred to as an enactive feedback loop (Zimmerman & Schunk, 1989) composed of three stages: (a) observing one's performance, (b) comparing one's performance to a standard or goal, and (c) reacting and responding to the perceived difference (Driscoll, 2000). Self-monitoring therefore leads to self-evaluation.


Self-evaluation refers to comparing outcomes of performance with a standard or goal (Zimmerman, 2000). As learners monitor their progress towards goal attainment, they make evaluative judgments about their performance and about their self-efficacy for reaching the goal (Zimmerman & Schunk, 1989). Self-evaluation significantly influences strategic planning for future learning activities. Research studies show that students who self-evaluate their progress, display higher skill acquisition and report higher self-efficacy beliefs, intrinsic interest, and self-satisfaction about their performance than students who do not self-evaluate. In web-based learning environments self-evaluation can be exercised by comparing one's performance to rubrics and evaluation criteria posted by the instructor to the course website, and to peer feedback on draft assignments communicated by way of asynchronous communication tools.

Task Strategies

Task strategies during self-regulated learning include use of learning strategies that learners believe will enable them to accomplish their goals. These strategies are domain specific and may include (a) deeper processing elaborative and organizational strategies such as, rewriting notes, selecting main ideas, and/or outlining the text to be learned; and (b) rehearsal strategies for basic memory tasks such as using mnemonics to remember the key stages of a learning theory. In web-based learning environments, the use of graphics, audio, and video can greatly enhance students' learning by engaging them in alternative and multiple forms of processing the instructional content. Additionally, the use of hypermedia and multimedia tools such as html publishing tools and web-based concept mapping software can assist learners in organizing course content in meaningful ways. Research evidence indicates that use of appropriate learning strategies is highly correlated with academic achievement in the classroom (Pintrich & De Groot, 1990).


Help seeking is a self-regulatory strategy that occurs when a learner identifies and calls upon outside resources (e.g., human/social or books/nonsocial) for assistance with specific learning task(s) (Zimmerman, 2000). In web-based learning environments, students can seek help from the course instructor or peers using e-mail or an online class listserve. Students can also seek help through web-based collaborative activities using synchronous communication tools. Research evidence clearly indicates (Keefer & Karabenick, 1998; Kitsantas & Chow, 2002) that web-enhanced and distance-learning environments, facilitate help seeking more than traditional learning environments, because of reduced threat and effort, higher quality, convenience, and easing of temporal demands (Keefer & Karabenick, 1998).

Time Planning and Management

Time planning and management, which refers to budgeting time effectively, has been highly correlated with academic achievement. Research suggests that students who keep careful records of time spent on assigned learning tasks begin to recognize patterns in their own use of study time and develop an appreciation for the value of effective time management and its impact on academic achievement (Zimmerman, 2000). In web-based learning environments course instructors can support students' time planning and management by posting online a course calendar or timeline. Additionally, if online course instructors plan on facilitating online discussions, then appropriate timelines and posting protocols for engaging in such discussions can be communicated to students using asynchronous or synchronous communication tools.

Overall, extensive research evidence in traditional f2f learning environments suggests that high achievers are goal oriented, use various task strategies to accomplish these goals, self-monitor their progress, self-evaluate, seek help when encountering difficulties, and manage their time efficiently (Zimmerman, 2000). These self-regulatory processes can be taught through a variety of instructional methods to enhance students academic study skills. For example, with the assistance and guidance of an instructor, students learn how to evaluate and monitor their own study methods. Once deficiencies are identified the learner sets specific goals and selects appropriate strategies to attain them. Next, the learner executes the strategy (ies) and monitors its effectiveness. Finally, to achieve optimal results the learner monitors and evaluates outcomes in a reoccurring cycle.

In student-centered web-based learning environments, the physical absence of the instructor coupled with the increased responsibility demanded of learners to achieve learning tasks, presents additional difficulties for learners, particularly those with low self-regulatory skills. Consequently, the need to promote effective use of web-based pedagogical tools to support self-regulation processes is paramount. It is suggested that web-based pedagogical tools can scaffold the acquisition of metacognitive skills, and knowledge of plans and goals (McLoughlin & Hollingworth, 2001). Additionally, in student-centered web-based learning environments, content can be customized to meet individual learner needs, abilities, goals, and other individual characteristics, and learning and motivational strategies can be integrated to help students become self-directed learners (McCombs, 2002).

Currently however, few guidelines exist on how instructors should incorporate self-regulated processes using web-based pedagogical tools. Developing such guidelines will provide more effective instructional designs for student-centered web-based learning environments, and will help define the role of the instructor in supporting the development of self-regulated learners to ensure successful learning experiences.


Web-based pedagogical tools can be classified into four broad categories ranging from basic web-based technologies (e.g., using a web browser) to more complex (e.g., downloading and installing plug-ins), and from specialized or single purpose tools (e.g., creating a web page), to multipurpose tools (e.g., creating a web page, uploading a web page, sending e-mail, setting up discussion forums, etc.). We describe each of these categories and discuss their implications on promoting self-regulation processes.

Web-Based Hypermedia Tools

This category of basic web-based pedagogical tools includes the use of browsers, search engines, and information navigation and evaluation. Online learners must understand how to use a web browser with all its attributes which include familiarity with a point and click interface, understanding URL configurations, locating websites, bookmarking, saving or downloading html documents, navigating through web links and information spaces, understanding how search engines work and using them effectively to locate relevant information, and critically evaluating the content of websites.

Oliver and Herrington (1995) suggested that hypermedia materials can be constructed to provide strong support for self regulation and metacognition among users and that a number of instructional models and strategies have been designed and successfully implemented within hypermedia systems to facilitate self regulation and goal based activity. More specifically, use of web-based hypermedia tools may help learners engage in self-regulated learning by assisting them in obtaining relevant information to complete an assignment, and in seeking help when they encounter task difficulties using the variety of web-based resources and search engines enabled through hypermedia technology.

Web-Based Multimedia Tools

This category of web-based pedagogical tools is more complex or technologically challenging than the previous category. It involves knowledge of downloading and installing plug-ins (applications that enable the viewing of non-html files in a browser) in order to view video/audio files and various multimedia files including graphics, animations, PowerPoint files, PDF files, and other file types that have been developed using multimedia authoring tools such as Authorware and ToolBook among others. Research findings indicate that information presented through multimedia may be more novel and stimulating than information presented through traditional classroom lecture, and that multimedia supports dual-coding of information which leads to more meaningful and improved student learning (Najjar, 1996). Web-based multimedia tools can support meaningful interaction with content by providing learners with multiple options to view or access the course content in various media formats resulting in higher intrinsic interest in the material (Dabbagh, 2002).

Content Creation and Delivery Tools

This specialized or single purpose category of web-based pedagogical tools includes the use of html editors and other web publishing and authoring tools (e.g., Adobe Pagemill, Dreamweaver, and FrontPage) that facilitate the creation of simple web pages to complex 3D animations and virtual reality environments. These tools can be used by instructional designers and online course instructors to create and deliver web-based course content, and by students to post assignments, journals, and group projects to the course website. When used by students, content creation and delivery tools can serve as powerful learning strategies enabling students to demonstrate their understanding of course content by creating web pages that synthesize their knowledge, and/or by designing more complex web-based course projects that include interactive elements and audio and video. Additionally, this category of web-based pedagogical tools may include the use of media creation and visualization tools such as PowerPoint, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Acrobat, Inspiration, MindMapper, and MindManager (1), that allow learners to synthesize content through the creation of multimedia presentations and products, and to organize their learning using concept maps. Although these media creation tools were not initially created for web-based implementation and delivery, they are adaptable to web-based technology and their file formats can be easily converted or exported to html and/or viewed using plug-ins.

In terms of self-regulation, use of content creation and delivery tools by students can facilitate the implementation of task strategies including rehearsing, elaborating, organizing, structuring, and transforming learning content to support meaningful understanding and retention (Dabbagh, 2001). For example, preparing a PowerPoint presentation can assist learners in rehearsing and elaborating the basic concepts and principles discussed in a book chapter, and using Inspiration can assist learners in constructing a concept map to organize and structure their ideas while writing a research paper. Use of these tools can also promote self-monitoring and self-evaluation processes. For example, learners can monitor their goal progress by looking back and evaluating what they and others in the class have published and/or created, and by receiving peer and instructor feedback on their products and artifacts (Dabbagh, 2002).

Collaborative and Communication Tools

This multi-purpose category of web-based pedagogical tools includes communication tools such as e-mail, discussion forums, newsgroups, chat programs, audio and videoconferencing tools, electronic whiteboards, groupware and document sharing tools, and knowledge networks such as Multi User Domains (MUDs) and Object Oriented Multi User Domains (MOOs) that support online communities of practice and learning communities. These computer mediated communication tools enable collaborative and distributed learning (learning that occurs while learners are separated by either time or space from one another and the course instructor) activities in a variety of web-based formats and pedagogical constructs (Dede, 1996; Berge, 1999). MUDs, MOOs and Multi-User Simulated or Shared Environments (MUSEs) are Internet accessible text and object-based virtual or synthetic environments, well suited for conversational, collaborative, and distributed learning (Dede, 1996).

For example, multiple participants in MOO/MUD environments have the opportunity to construct spaces and objects and to write code that increases the functionality of the spaces, creating communities of practice and distributed learning environments where multiple users can congregate and interact in the various user created "rooms" and move from room to room by typing in defined directions (New Media Development, 2001). Use of computer meditated communication tools helps learners engage in an active and reflective dialog with peers, and meaningfully interact with relevant resources and learning content to coconstruct knowledge (Berge, 1999). These tools also facilitate the establishment and refinement of individual and group learning goals; promote the development of effective time planning and management skills to efficiently carry out the responsibilities associated with being an active and accountable member of a group; and encourage student help seeking behaviors (Dabbagh, 2002).

Table 1 shows examples of how each class of web-based pedagogical tools can be used in a web-based learning environment to support the processes of self-regulation previously discussed.


The success of any distance education program rests squarely on the shoulders of the faculty (Willis, 2001). Willis believes that instructors in web-based learning environments face a number of challenges. Some of these challenges include difficulty in (a) understanding the characteristics and needs of distant students with limited or no f2f contact; (b) adapting teaching styles which take into consideration the needs and expectations of multiple, often diverse, audiences; and (c) developing a working understanding of delivery technology, while remaining focused on the teaching role. Because of these challenges the instructor's role in web-based learning environments must be reconceptualized to meet the needs of student-centered learning, and to support students' use of web-based pedagogical tools to assist them in developing self-regulatory skills.

In an effort to identify the competencies of distance education professionals, Thach and Murphy (1995) conducted a review of the distance education research literature. Seven critical competencies or skills emerged that can be used as a framework for rethinking the instructor's role in web-based learning environments. They include (a) interpersonal communication and feedback, (b) promoting interaction, (c) administrative and support service, (d) collaboration and teamwork, (e) knowledge of conducting a needs assessment, (f) understanding new learning pedagogical tools and their impact on learners, and (g) developing a systems perspective of thinking. The authors however did not provide guidelines on how instructors can implement these competencies to assist students in developing self-regulatory skills. We explain each of these competencies and then provide examples on how instructors can apply those competencies in student-centered web-based learning environments to support students' development of self-regulated learning skills.

The first competency, interpersonal communication and feedback, includes being able to communicate with students on an individual basis and/or in small groups, and to understand the need for immediate responses such as praising students and providing individualized and guiding feedback to scaffold the learner in the web-based learning environment.

The second competency, promoting interaction, involves learning how to use web-based learning pedagogical tools to promote interaction strategies, and teaching students how to interact and collaborate, by planning discussions (and other activities that promote interaction), setting appropriate discussion protocols, and modeling to students how to engage in a discussion and how to apply cognitive learning strategies to meaningfully synthesize the key points of a discussion.

The instructor should also have administrative and support service skills, the third competency, to assist students with administrative functions such as registration procedures (if this is a component of the online course); technical support; clear expectations of what is required of students in terms of learning outcomes, assignments, evaluation procedures, amount of time to be spent online and offline; and prerequisite skills necessary to ensure a successful learning experience.

Collaboration and teamwork skills, the fourth competency, are also necessary for two purposes: first, for instructors to successfully interface with the technical and instructional support staff that are responsible for maintaining the servers and the software that delivers the online course, and second for instructors to promote teamwork, rather than competition among students, enhancing collegiality and learning as a social process.

Further, instructors in web-based learning environments need to possess instructional design skills, the fifth competency, particularly knowledge of conducting a needs assessment. This competency will enable instructors to conduct a learner analysis to assess learning styles, prior knowledge, experience in the use of web-based pedagogical tools, collaborative learning skills, time-management and orienting skills, social skills and self-directed learning skills.

The sixth competency and clearly one of the most important involves instructors' knowledge and use of distance learning technologies or what we are referring to in this article as web-based pedagogical tools to design, deliver, and facilitate effective web-based learning. Research suggests that instructors themselves participate in a collaborative web-based learning environment and reflect on their practices both as learners and instructors of others to better understand the impact of the technology on learners (Salmon, 2000). Web-based course management tools are now making it easier for instructors to design, deliver, and facilitate web-based learning by integrating all classes of web-based pedagogical tools in one application that is easy-to-use and very supportive of first time users.

Finally, by developing a systems perspective of thinking, the seventh competency, instructors are required to be skilled in strategically planning and visioning (seeing the big picture) the design of a web-based learning environment to ensure that all necessary elements and activities have been incorporated, and that all constituents are effectively participating through the use of web-based pedagogical tools. This means that the online instructor needs to be aware of the pedagogical, technological, organizational, and logistical implications of designing, delivering, and facilitating an online course.

Once these competencies are mastered the question becomes how can instructors use these skills and particularly the sixth competency, knowledge and use of web-based pedagogical tools, to promote students' self-regulated learning? First, regarding the first competency (interpersonal communication and feedback), instructors can use asynchronous communication tools such as e-mail to discuss individual student goals and expectations at the beginning of a web-based learning experience. This form of communication establishes a sense of security, direction, and purpose that is much needed in the absence of f2f instructor-student interations.

With respect to the second competency (promoting interaction), instructors can set up an electronic listserve aimed at supporting students' help-seeking behaviors (Table 1). Students can post technical, pedagogical, or administrative questions to this listserve, and obtain feedback from the instructor, peers, and technical support staff assigned to assist the instructor in the web-based learning environment. This listserve can also promote collaboration between the instructor and the technical support staff, which was emphasized in the fourth competency, collaboration and teamwork skills. Additionally, instructors can promote interaction and collaboration by setting up structured and moderated discussion forums using web-based course management tools. Structured and moderated discussion forums allow students to engage in meaningful discourse and to test the viability of their ideas and interpretations of content material on others (peers and instructor). Well-defined protocols on how to moderate, post to, and synthesize online discussion forums should be clearly communicated to students using for example the "course assignments" or "course activities" features of the web-based course management tool or other content creation and delivery tools. Web-based rubrics on how students' contributions will be evaluated should also be provided (Dabbagh, 2000). Additionally, instructors should plan on facilitating at least one or two discussion forums to model the implementation of such protocols and to demonstrate how to effectively synthesize an online discussion in order to promote meaningful understanding of course content. Conveying appropriate communication protocols to students and modeling the implementation of protocols and pedagogical procedures in a web-based learning environment helps students develop effective time planning and management skills (Table 1). Furthermore, the instructor's competent use of presentation and visualization tools (e.g., concept mapping tools, PowerPoint presentations, and the constructing of tables and matrices) to demonstrate how to synthesize an online discussion assists students in selecting appropriate task strategies to organize and structure their learning.

With respect to knowledge of conducting a needs assessment and its impact on supporting the processes of self-regulation in web-based learning environments, instructors can use web-based pedagogical tools to administer surveys that will yield valuable information about learners' experience with technology and distance education, reasons for taking an online course, time commitments and availability, previous experience with course material, experience with collaborative learning, learning styles, educational and cultural background, and other relevant information that can help in designing appropriate learning activities. Web-based course management tools make the administration of online surveys and associated data collection procedures an easy and efficient task. Instructors can conduct a learner analysis at the beginning of an online course and have the data at their fingertips in minutes, allowing timely analysis of the learning audience and integration of appropriate instructional strategies and resources. For example if an instructor finds out early in the web-based learning experience that time commitment and availability is an issue, then s/he can coach students on how to use the electronic course calendar to effectively plan and manage their semester activities (see Table 1). Additionally, if the instructor finds out that learners lack skill in self-monitoring and self-evaluation strategies, then s/he can (a) provide detailed rubrics and criteria (using content creation and delivery tools for example) to help students make a judgment about their learning, (b) provide adequate and timely feedback (using asynchronous and synchronous communication tools) to help students monitor their progress, and (c) track students' progress (using built-in tracking features in web-based course management tools) to find out how much time students are spending online and what resources and tools they are using to help support their learning.


The success of any learning environment is based on the careful and systematic analysis of learner and instructor skills and the strategies and tools used to deliver and manage effective instruction. This article discussed the role of web-based pedagogical tools in supporting self-regulation in web-based learning environments. It also reviewed instructor competencies necessary to optimize web-based learning and provided suggestions on how instructors can assist their students to develop self-regulatory skills using web-based pedagogical tools. It is suggested that by carefully mapping the use of web-based pedagogical tools to the processes of self-regulation, and helping instructors develop competencies that support the implementation of learner-centered instructional and learning activities through the use of such tools, learners will become better prepared to assume responsibility for their own learning resulting in web-based learning environments that are increasingly student-centered.
Table 1. Mapping Web-Based Pedagogical Tools to Self-Regulatory

Processes of Examples of Associated Examples of
Self-Regulation Instructors' Role Web-based Students' Use of A
 in Supporting Pedagogical Pedagogical Tool
 Self-Regulation Tools
Goal setting Help students to Collaborative Students use e-mail
 identify and set and to communicate
 learning goals communication goals to instructor
 tools and receive
Use of task Help students to Content Students use
strategies select creation and concept mapping
 appropriate delivery software to
 learning tools organize course
 strategies content
 Help students to Web-based Students use
 interact multimedia graphics, audio,
 meaningfully tools and video to view
 with content and process
 material learning content
Self-monitoring Help students to Collaborative Students use
 monitor their and archived discussion
 progress communication forums to reflect
 tools on their learning
 and monitor their
Self-evaluating Help students to Content Students use
 evaluate their creation and rubrics, evaluation
 work delivery criteria, and peer
 tools feedback, posted
 online to evaluate
 their assignments
Time planning and Help students to Collaborative Students follow
management develop effective and posted protocols
 time planning and communication on how to
 management skills tools participate in
 moderated online
 discussions to
 budget their time
 Content Students use the
 creation online course
 and calendar or
 communication timeline to plan
 tools semester activities
Help-seeking Help students to Collaborative Students use an
 identify social and electronic
 and non-social communication listserve to post a
 sources tools question
 Web-based Students use a
 hypermedia search engine to
 tools obtain information

NOTE: (1) Inspiration, MindMapper and MindManager are computer-based visualization tools that allow users to create concept maps, semantic networks, outlines, graphic organizers, and other comprehension monitoring activities. Concept maps are diagrams that represent concepts and relationships structurally.


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Author:Kitsantas, Anastasia
Publication:International Journal on E-Learning
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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