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Developing teaching environments for self-regulated learners: A longitudinal assessment with international students

C. A. L. Pearson
Murdoch University
S. R. Chatterjee
Curtin University of Technology
During the previous decade the idea of self-regulated learning has attracted widespread interest amongst educators and researchers. This area has received new attention also by the recent globalisation and commercialization of universities as well as a continuing desire to improve the quality of teaching and student learning. This paper documents the outcomes in terms of student responses, participation and performance grades when the curriculum was progressively redesigned and pedagogical refinements were undertaken with the objective of enhancing student self-regulated learning. The study was undertaken across two under-graduate management courses in a commerce programme in an Australian university from 1991 to 1999, inclusive. The findings are discussed in terms of the parallels and contrasts of the assessed groups of cohorts and their responses to changing the teaching environments from teacher directed to contexts that encourage self-regulated learning.


The concept of self-regulated learning has captured the interest and enthusiasm of educationists during the last decade. An impact of the economic, informational and social forms that have swept the world has been the increased attention to student centered learning. In addition, this learning is also becoming increasingly multi-dimensional by going beyond cognitive, meta-cognitive and other related competencies (Berry & Sharp, 1999; Platz, 1994; Sink, Barnett & Hixon 1991). In a contemporary context of greater self awareness, that encourages participation, higher self initiation beliefs and ownership one of the most significant approaches has focused on strategies that will increase the student's perceived control, autonomy and self-regulation of their learning (Katz, 1996; Truscott, Rustogi & Young, 2000). Consequently, considerable research as well as newer teaching practices and learning programmes have evolved as there has been a rush to embrace these attractive and novel alternatives to traditional class room lectures and teacher-directed instructive methods (Brady, 1999; Ruben, 1999).

Despite a considerable growth in the student-centered learning literature a well developed conceptual framework is yet to be developed. For instance, most of the studies were initially conducted in North American settings, and recently, the movement has spread to other 'Western' educational systems (Olaussen & Bråten, 1999). These contexts have been categorized as highly individualistic, yet nearly three quarters of the world's population is from collectivistic nations (Hofstede, 1980; The Chinese Culture Connection, 1987). Clearly, there is a need for further research on hybrid versions of self-regulated learning in diverse cultural contexts. One of the most serious limitations of the literature is that generally, it reports experiences of students or respondents of short duration ad hoc interventions or systematic investigations. Notwithstanding the contributions and enthusiasm that has been generated for developing innovative instructional methods to circumvent many of the problems of contemporary teaching forums (large class sizes, student diversity, structural arrangements for mass lectures) further assessments are required. This paper outlines the evaluation of the design of a second year management course from a traditional lecture and tutorial (chalk and talk) to a more interactive, less teacher-directed context which was aimed at not only developing student's knowledge, but also their communication and critical thinking skills as well as their autonomy. The research evidence of this paper suggests a significant diffusion of this new approach into other areas of teaching-learning experiences.

Course reformation and evolution

This paper documents stages and outcomes of a quasi-longitudinal study. The study focuses on the efforts of developing strategies for facilitating the learning of international students enrolled in second (and third) year management courses of a university business degree. The research, which began in 1991, is not a pure longitudinal study which is defined as the systematic evaluation of the same subjects on several occasions in a period of time. In this study, except for one student who repeated the course, all other respondents were assessed anonymously only on one occasion for each course. The paper describes instructional strategies (in outline) that were employed in close collaboration between the course coordinator and several language and learning specialists to enhance student learning. A special feature of this is the inclusion of those students who were diagnosed as lacking literacy skills vital for the course assessment tasks, and the support programmes that were employed to help students improve these fundamental competencies. A limited description will be given about how these programmes were integrated with the course curriculum which has been continuously redesigned. In addition, a brief overview will be given of some of the more important consequences of the study. Evidence will be provided that shows similar outcomes have been attained when the study principles were employed in other subjects at the same campus, at a neighbouring campus, and at two overseas campuses. Finally, comments will be given to illustrate that the operation of successful self-regulated teaching forums is conditional on some fundamental properties.

Towards empowering pedagogies

The study began in 1991 when the first author was engaged to teach a second year management course titled Organisation and Management Development (OMD). The course was conducted on traditional lines of two, one hour lectures and a one hour tutorial (maximum 15 students) each week for a semester of 13 weeks. During that year it was observed that a great number of the students engaged in unsatisfactory learning behaviours. For instance, little more than half the students attended lectures after mid-semester, the weekly tutorials were never well attended, many students appeared to be employing surface learning strategies as their work demonstrated little critical thinking, or ability to apply course concepts, and the writing skills of many students were poor. During tutorials the limited discussion was dominated by the men and women students were reluctant to challenge the status quo. Most disturbing was the lack of support or understanding from senior academics within the school of how to address these issues. The failure rate at the end of semester was 13 percent, so assistance was sought the following year from university staff who were concerned with student learning development.

In spite of obtaining some assistance from a study and skills advisor throughout 1992 there were few improvements to student behaviours. Indeed, identifying students with relatively poor literacy skills with a diagnostic test in the second week of the semester resulted in few of these students seeking assistance from the advisor. Consequently, in the following year (1993) a long term collaborative programme was formed with another language and learning specialist. This collaborative programme involved both curriculum redesign of the OMD course, and a supplementary programme which developed skills and competencies that were associated with the learning needs of students enrolled in the course.

Transformations for facilitating learning

Course reforms

One of the major changes to the course was to transform the pedagogy from teacher-directed to student centred. The programme provided educational and experiential learning for students to facilitate metacognitions and self-regulated learning development. An indication that these states were being attained was provided by an explosive declaration by a female student in a tutorial that "this is an upside down course". When asked to elaborate to the hushed audience she reported that "because we have to do all the bloody work." (Beasley & Pearson, 1999a).

A prominent feature of the redesigned curriculum involved a diagnostic assessment of a student's reading and writing competencies. Two short paragraph writing tasks, which accounted for about five percent of the total course grade, were set in the second and third week of the semester. Those students who performed poorly on these two tasks were encouraged to enroll in the extra learning support programme (Pearson & Beasley, 1999). Although these support classes are no longed conducted by the author, variants of the diagnostic texts are still employed. For instance, the length of the essay has been increased, and now students are expected to demonstrate referencing and associated skills.

Modifications and refinements were made to the course curriculum, annually. Assessment tasks, for instance, were staged to integrate with the programme of the extra learning support sessions. Students were required to make classroom presentations to their tutorial colleagues. Small group experiential activities became the core of the problem solving tasks undertaken in the tutorials. To complete these assessments students found it necessary to spend considerable time in group efforts outside the classroom contexts. Noticeable outcomes were greater involvement of all students in the tutorials, which now recorded higher rates of attendance (Beasley & Pearson, 1999b). At the end of every semester students were encouraged to discuss their preferences (high and low) for the types of tutorial activities in which they had engaged. This information provided confidence to continually transform the tutorials to experiential self-regulation forums.

A clear effort of collaboration, course modifications and refinements to task assessments as well as the tutorial contexts continued until a major transition was undertaken in 1997. In 1997, experiential workshops were introduced in the OMD class by combining the lectures with some tutorial sessions, yet the university level budgetary regime was maintained by conducting workshops with about 30 students. This permitted the introduction for the first time of experiential learning activities such as simulations, complex case scenarios, and a variety of group exercises that needed larger rooms and a greater number of participants.

Supplementary classwork

One significant consequence of the collaboration between the course coordinator and the language and learning specialist was the creation of voluntary extra learning support sessions. These were conducted from 1993 to 1997, inclusive, but eventually had to be discontinued because of the pressure of teaching loads and logistical problems of suitable rooms, despite the popularity of these classes and the substantial impact on attendee grades (Beasley & Pearson, 1999a). Today, workshops of short duration that are designed to improve literacy and numeracy skills are conducted by the teaching and learning support staff in the non-teaching breaks. The evidence is that few of the students enrolled in the OMD or sister management courses within the School of Commerce attend these workshops.

The activities of the learning support programme were designed to address two important criteria. The first focus was to provide instruction and guidance to students that would develop their literacy skills in the context of the OMD course. Second, it was contended that enhancing student's reading and writing skills would help them to acquire techniques vital for meeting academic expectations imposed by the Australian tertiary system in not only this management course, but generally in other courses. Indeed, the content of these supplementary classes included not only particular matters of academic writing and research, but how to develop strategies for exams, oral presentations and assignments in general, which are life long learning skills. Student reviews of the learning support programmes were obtained, the data were reported (Beasley & Pearson, 1998a; 1998b; Pearson & Beasley, 1996a; 1996b), and today the university provides a limited amount of support to assist students.

Commencement time, duration and content of the learning support classes were integrated with the OMD curriculum. For example, tasks for developing skills and competencies in the learning support classes were often undertaken before the submission date of course assessment tasks that involved those particular skills. In these learning support classes, student's self-regulation was fostered by the use of individual and group problem tasks that encouraged students to be responsible for the outcomes. Development of these states required classrooms to be equipped with small tables and chairs, and of a size that could accommodate up to 50 students. However, these classes were so popular and they attracted so many candidates that in some years the classes had to be duplicated each week. The classes were conducted for about six weeks during early to mid semester.


A series of evaluations have been undertaken to assess student academic achievement as a consequence of learning support classes, curriculum redesign and pedagogical shifts from didactic style to self-regulated learning. Reported here are some of the significant findings from qualitative and quantitative assessments.

Transference of mode

Enthusiasm and commitment to the new pedagogical format by students led to its adoption in other courses. Some are courses within the school, and other courses are delivered at local and overseas branch campuses. For instance, within the school three management courses Organisational Theory and Behaviour (OTB), and Management of Human Resources (MHR), as well as OMD are now delivered by the experiential self-regulated learning mode. Recently, three marketing courses also adopted this format, but further transference of other courses is limited by the few suitable rooms in the university. At the branch, local campus OTB is delivered by the experiential education programme. For the past three years all of the three identified management courses (OMD, OTB, MHR) have been delivered in Singapore, and for the past two years at Malaysian twinning sites, by the student-centred learning environments.

There have been two significant outcomes from the adoption of these alternative learning designs. First, these courses continue to attract large numbers of students relative to other second and third year courses delivered in the school. Paradoxically, students prefer this mode, yet they continually contend these management courses to be the most challenging and require them to invest a great deal of study time out of class. Second, the failure rate has decreased substantially. Marking to curves is not practiced in these courses, yet it is a policy within the university.

Participant and course descriptors

In Table 1 is presented comparative data for the two courses of OTB and OMD for the period 1991 to 1999, inclusive. Until and including 1996 the OTB course was delivered each year by a visiting overseas lecturer employing the traditional two, one hour lecture and a one hour tutorial (maximum 15 students) by a teacher-directed format, weekly throughout the semester. Concerned by the high failure rate, in 1994 the school introduced marking to curves which was associated with a substantial artificial reduction in the failure rate. In 1997 an experiential learning mode was introduced in the OTB tutorials. After 1997 the experiential learning pedagogy was expanded in the form of student-centred learning two hour workshops. Since 1998 weekly two hourly workshops that promote self-regulated learning have been employed in the OMD, OTB, and MHR courses. These initiatives were undertaken as a consequence of the favourable results from experimenting with the OMD course from 1991. After 1991 and prior to 1998, the OMD course pedagogy was transformed from a teacher-directed to a self-regulation context.

Table 1: Evaluations of tutorials and workshops

CourseVariable / Year 199119921993199419951996199719981999
OTBc Average gradeN.A.a63.76
Differencen.s.n.s.n.s.w > mbw > mn.s.w > m
Failure rate (%)12.0e19.1e7.5e8.8e1.71.71.05
OMDdAverage grade60.82
Differencen.s.fn.s.n.s.w > mw > mw > man.s.w > m
Failure rate (%)
Overseas students (%)4146.547.748.751.861.556.951.3
  1. N.A. = Not available.
  2. w = women, m = men
  3. OTB course. Traditional tutorials until 1996. Interactive tutorials in 1997. Experiential workshops after 1997. Course is conducted in first semester.
  4. OMD course. Interactive tutorials from 1992 to 1996. Experimental workshops in 1997. Course is conducted in second semester.
  5. Visiting overseas lecturers.
  6. n.s. = non-significant

Table 1 shows the annual average grades for OTB and OMD, the gender grades and relevant participant descriptors. For instance, participant course number are shown as superscripts of the respective average scores. For the OTB course interactive tutorials were introduced in 1997, and thereafter experiential workshops were employed. The data show class sizes have remained relatively large, there have always been more women students who have achieved higher grades than the men's average grades. In addition, the women's average grades were significantly higher in 1997 and 1999. The OMD results show that in 1993 when interactive tutorials were introduced the women's average grade was higher than the men's average grade and the differences were significant from 1994 to 1996 inclusive; and in 1998. It is also shown that the self-regulated contexts of the tutorials and workshops (after 1992) were associated with larger participation rates. An important dimension of Table 1 is the substantial reduction in the annual course failure rate, and now these nominal rates are a feature of both courses. A further component of the two courses is the high percentage of international students. Indeed, student nationality has become more diversified with the favourable exchange rates (Australia with North America and Western Europe). Nevertheless, there has been a considerable reduction in the number of international students from South East Asia since the financial crises of 1997. Frequently, students enroll in both the OMD and OTB courses on successive years, and high participation rates have been recorded in the self-regulated forums after 1997 for the OMD, OTB and MRH courses (over 90%).

Workshops and values

Estimates were obtained of the appeal of workshops and their potential for better learning contexts. Students and tutors discussed the comparative features of traditional teacher-centred tutorials and the newer self regulatory forums. In addition to these ad hoc qualitative surveys quantative analyses were undertaken by the University's Institutional Research and Evaluation Service as well as by the authors. The data obtained confirmed the wide acceptance of the student centred problem solving workshops as well as providing evidence that students perceived these workshops furnished several advantages. For instance, the workshops provided an opportunity for higher levels of participation, they allowed students to be involved with course cases of greater complexity and an opportunity to learn the course material more thoroughly. To achieve these outcomes students acknowledged they were compelled to invest a great deal of time in interactive problem solving teams in and out of class hours. Nevertheless, most students reported they were prepared to undertake this additional work as it enabled them to experience a range of potential management/business problems, a trait that was lacking in traditional tutorials.

Investigations about what students value in their educational and learning contexts has attracted a great deal of attention (Akerlind & Jenkins, 1998; McInnis & James, 1995; Marginson, 1996). Recently, the OTB course features that were valued by students were identified by quantitative and qualitative processes (Pearson & Beasley, 1999). The results showed that there were four main categories of student values. Of first importance was practical and vocational relevance (about 40%), second was interest and enjoyment (about 25%), the third preferred educational value was for perceived assessment and learning quality (about 16%), and the fourth value preference was for perceived workload and difficulty (about 14%). Some miscellaneous items attracted about five percent of the responses. The most interesting aspect of these results is that the first two valued properties that were identified by the OTB students (i.e. learning work related things, and interest aspects) are the two values that have been consistently reported in contemporary studies with Asian business managers (Chatterjee & Pearson, 2000; Pearson & Chatterjee, 1999a; 1999b). A need to design teaching-learning pedagogies and curriculum that are both relevant and intrinsically rewarding should be of paramount importance to providers and deliverers of post modern educational courses.

Consideration for new contexts

Self-regulated learning contexts require a number of fundamental attributes. For instance, students who hold particular orientations against autonomy, independence, self control or contest the need for them to be responsible for their own learning are unlikely to be comfortable in student-centred learning contexts. Indeed, it has been observed that some students leave the OMD, OTB and HRM courses within the first two weeks of the semester as they have little enthusiasm for getting outside of their comfort zone. Also, teachers who are not prepared to provide additional help or assistance to struggling students, or are in fact themselves unprepared to make the epistemological shifts which are a necessary part of the acculturation process of these novel and newer learning settings are unlikely to enjoy the variation from traditional teacher-directed forums.

Maintenance of self-regulated learning contexts also demands a reasonable level of resources. In addition to carefully planning the curriculum and types of problem solving tasks, which require materials (glues, papers, scissors, rulers, and so forth) structural considerations in terms of room features need to be acknowledged. For instance, rooms of sufficient size for allowing movement of people for non-static activities, carpeted floors to acoustically soften noise is desirable, and moveable small tables with chairs are essential as traditional furniture arrangements are seldom employed. A variety of different learning tasks are crucial. Some programmes of study rely on case studies, but more effective self-regulation learning settings enjoy group and individual tasks, simulations, complex scenarios, oral presentation sessions with novelty and interest as well as formal schemes. Above all time is vital. With less than two hours the learning period is insufficient to allow for complex issues to be addressed and reflective learning time that promotes independence, and metacognitive processes such as self monitoring and understanding to be enhanced.


The rapid changes to the economic, social, political and technological contexts in many countries have created new expectations from the institutions of higher learning. Moreover, the expectations of students and their perspective employers have changed dramatically over the past decades. The traditional classrooms with vertical pedagogical flow is being replaced by a greater degree of horizontal designs. The diversity and experiential backgrounds of students have changed with the increased influx of international students in Australian universities. One of the key features of the Australian education system has been the strength of its pedagogical openness. As the 'content' of higher education (especially in the business area) becomes increasingly convergent with the widespread acceptance of market cultures, relevance seeking uniqueness in a given context can only be achieved through the flexibility of teaching-learning formats.

With the increasing reach of technology and the richness of the peer-group experience bank, the approach narrated in this paper can be significantly sharpened and extended. Especially highlighted is the search for a format relevant to the international student. Clearly, the findings suggest a much wider applicability of these self-directed learning methods. Some of the efforts, provided in the 'supplementary classes' over the previous years could be incorporated into new technological formats of web based resources. The teaching-learning format needs to be relevant to the e-generation and the global context and only a new breed of committed academics can lead this transition from the traditional model to the student oriented approaches.


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Authors: Dr Cecil A.L. Pearson, Murdoch University
Telephone (08) 9360 6022 Fax (08) 9360 5004 Email

Dr Samir R. Chatterjee, Curtin University of Technology
Telephone (08) 9266 4231 Fax (08) 9266 4071 Email

Please cite as: Pearson, C. A. L. and Chatterjee, S. R. (2001). Developing teaching environments for self-regulated learners: A longitudinal assessment with international students. In L. Richardson and J. Lidstone (Eds), Flexible Learning for a Flexible Society, 545-553. Proceedings of ASET-HERDSA 2000 Conference, Toowoomba, Qld, 2-5 July 2000. ASET and HERDSA.

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