Barry Zimmerman

Barry Zimmerman
Barry Zimmerman
Barry Zimmerman, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Educational Psychology and Head of Learning, Development, and Instruction at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York, has conducted extensive research and written more than 100 articles and professional papers on how people regulate their attitudes and behaviors, with an emphasis on learning situations.

What does that mean, in simple terms? Zimmerman’s work is guided by the realities of students’ academic development. As students progress through high school and college, they are expected to take greater responsibility for their own learning and its application to academic success. Unfortunately, many do not. Many, many students have not been taught the metacognitive skills needed to succeed in demanding academic and learning settings. Zimmerman’s work has demonstrated that the greatest academic success occurs when students and teachers use a metacognitive model to guide learning and instruction, or one that entails planning, evaluation, and adjustment of thoughts and actions. Zimmerman is a pioneer of self-regulated learning (SRL) theory, which details how this works. 

Over the past 20 years, Zimmerman and his colleagues have focused their efforts on applying self-regulation to the academic achievement challenges faced by many underprepared high school and college students. The SRL model incorporates advances in cognitive science to help teachers engage their students more fully in the learning process. The theory of action is this: when students become engaged, they take greater responsibility for their learning, and their academic performance improves. Zimmerman’s SRL model makes use of an ongoing series of feedback cycles that consists of three phases: planning, practice, and evaluation. Here is an illustration.

The SRL model: plan it, practice it, evaluate it


Within each phase, there are multiple opportunities for students to gather and effectively use feedback to improve their performance. During the planning phase, students learn to more accurately assess their academic situation and choose strategies that best address a specific learning challenge. They also set achievable short- and long-term goals. During the practice phase, learners implement the selected strategies and make ongoing adjustments to their plan as they self-monitor their progress. Last, during the evaluation phase, students evaluate the effectiveness of each strategy in helping them achieve their goals. Feedback from the evaluation phase is then applied to the start of the next SRL cycle.

An example of how SRL changes the instructional process (but not the content of the course) is illustrated in the use of quizzes. In a recent National Science Foundation (NSF) funded study, Zimmerman and his colleagues designed classroom quizzes administered to students in an engineering technology course. These quizzes provided more detailed and useful feedback opportunities for students to self-monitor and evaluate their work. Before answering each quiz question, students were asked to estimate how confident they were that they could correctly answer the question (their self-efficacy and metacognitive estimates). After completing the problem, students were asked to make yet another confidence estimate about the quality of their answers. When the quizzes were returned to the students, they were given an opportunity to earn additional credit by completing a self-reflection exercise that requires them to think about the differences between their two confidence estimates and their performance. Students were then encouraged to identify the academic strategies they needed to modify or adjust, and then they attempted to solve a similar problem using these revised learning strategies. Finally, the students evaluated how well they were doing. Teachers were shown how to incorporate these feedback cycles into their instructional practices.

The research evidence confirms that SRL procedures provide students with additional feedback and enable them to become more self-reflective and evaluative, two key elements of the SRL model. Using SRL in the classroom demonstrates that students become more engaged in their learning and achieve strong gains in learning, and the use of self-regulatory processes has strong correlations with high academic achievement and performance on standardized test scores.

Few students are prepared to use self-regulatory processes independently, and as a result, most are unable to take full control and accountability for their learning. But self-regulation can be taught—and learned—to increase the motivation and achievement of all students. Parents and educators can help to instill self-regulatory processes in students in many ways. They can use the SRL model to guide students’ work, instilling the process of planning, practicing, evaluating, and adjusting.

This begins with encouraging students to create specific goals for their work and to measure their progress against those goals. When students face a new task, it is beneficial for them to evaluate their skills and estimate their ability to complete it. When they can gauge this accurately, they are more likely to understand what needs to be done to complete the task successfully, and whether or not they need to seek help. Then, when students are ready to do the work, they benefit from having choices, such as the specific tasks they will complete to learn a concept or the strategies they will use to complete a difficult assignment. This all means that students are most likely to succeed when they have control and accountability over their learning.

By Professor Howard Everson, Ph.D., City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center


Selected publications
Zimmerman, B. J., & Schunk, D. H. (2003). Educational psychology: A century of contributions. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbum.

Zimmerman, B. J., & Schunk, D. H. (2001). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement: Theoretical perspectives (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Schunk, D. H., & Zimmerman, B. J. (1998). Self-regulated learning: From teaching to self-reflective practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

Zimmerman, B. J. (1995). Self-regulation involves more than metacognition: A social-cognitive perspective. Educational Psychologist, 30(4), 217-221.

Zimmerman, B. J. & Bandura, A. (1994). Impact of self-regulatory influences on writing course attainment. American Educational Research Journal, 31, 845-862.

Zimmerman, B. J. (1994). Dimensions of academic self-regulation: A conceptual framework for education. In D. H. Schunk & B. J. Zimmerman (Eds.), Self-regulation of learning and performance: Issues and educational applications (pp. 3-21). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.