By Yalda T. Uhls

With tablets, laptops, apps, and online games, there’s great promise in technology to inspire and excite students to learn with digital tools. It’s easy to find examples of kids using technology to learn all kinds of things, from learning how to program to using Wii to learn about physics, to learning Latin with an online game. But using technology in and of itself is not a silver bullet for motivating children to love learning and doesn’t guarantee they’ll use it for creative and innovative scholarship. A student’s initiative, self-efficacy and ability to set goals are essential.

Helping kids develop strategies like self-regulation will allow them to use their own initiative and to direct themselves — without adult supervision. A good self-regulator will pay attention to tasks, persist when it becomes difficult, demonstrate flexibility, and be confident that more effort will lead to positive outcomes. As educators move towards using digital media to teach, and we rely more on children’s independent initiative and motivation, it’s important to develop kids’ learning strategies so they stay on topic while they use these tools.

So how can parents and teachers help students develop these skills? Teach kids to set an attainable goal — not one that’s out of reach. For example, have them focus on finishing one portion of a 10-page book report rather than the entire project. Second, teach them strategies to help them attain the goal, like setting aside 15- or 30-minute chunks of time on working without

distractions. Finally, work with them to self-reflect on what worked and what didn’t in these exercises, and to attribute their successes to their own efforts. Was 15 minutes long enough? Would they benefit from a timer? The goal is to teach the child to self-regulate, not be reliant on adults.

Psychologists and educators have spent years studying self-regulation: developing theory, conducting longitudinal and experimental research, and developing academic interventions with embedded self-regulation learning. Some researchers such as Roger Azevedo and colleagues are already working on developing theoretically sound and empirically tested compute- based learning environments with pedagogical agents who provide self-regulation tips and tools while students study in a hypermedia environment. This application, called Meta-Tutor, holds a lot of promise.

It’s not a stretch to say that technology will continue to change the educational landscape. As students become more immersed in technology around them, self-regulation will become an essential life skill to cultivate.

  • Lauren

    Love this! Very balanced assessment of the situation, as usual.

  • So true! I teach in a 1:1 environment with Grade 6 students and while I find online games and tools provide opportunities for highly engaging learning experiences, it also provides many distractions and in some cases can become counter productive. Developing students’ ability to self-regulate is more important now than ever before and I really like the descriptors outlined in this post. As teachers we have a responsibility to ensure we are developing these skills, essential to our ’21st century learners’. 

    • Tom Boheman

       We are 1:1 as well and using the computers for their intended purpose becomes a challenge at times.  There are many students who feel their computer’s main function is to provide a nonstop source of gaming throughout the entire day and therefore many of them have no games at all throughout the day because they have lost their computer for a determined amount of time.   The technology is a wonderful and it has made for some very interesting,  thought provoking,  inquiry based opportunities throughout the school year.  Online games are plentiful and many of them are of value in the area of education.  Many of the people I teach with are using the computers as powerpoint generates and research tools.  There are a lot of areas we need to explore beyond these tasks and I am enjoying the challenge of how to use these devices in any number of ways.  It has caused me to exit my comfort zone for a lot of reasons not the least of which is my lack of being a tech geek!

  • Garreth Trawick

    Great article! I am a student at the University of South Alabama taking a class called EDM310. It is a class that is revealing a lot to me about this advancements of technology in education. Part of my assignment this week brought me to the Mind Shift blog. It has been very interesting reading and learning about the many things going on in education with the availability of technology. The more I do in this class I am coming to understand the importance of technology in the classroom and how technology is changing the face of education. In hopes of becoming a future educator, this blog post has really given me some good insight on how to help students manage and stay motivated to learn as education moves towards digital media being a regular tool in teaching.

  • Yalda T. Uhls

    So glad you agree. It’s really important to learn how to self-regulate.  I wrote about homework contributing to the development of self-regulation on my own blog: 

  • seo

    Your writing is good and gives food for thought. I hope that I’ll have more time to read your articles . Regards

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