Peering Inside the Black Box of Undergraduate Study Habits: The Centrality of Self-regulated Learning in a Digitized World

WCER Working Paper No. 2015-03

Matthew T. Hora and Amanda K. Oleson

July 2015, 21 pp.

ABSTRACT: Research suggests which study strategies are effective but little descriptive research focuses on how undergraduate students study in real-world settings. Thus, the mechanisms of students' actual learning remain a black box for the field of higher education, with far more attention paid to inputs and outputs of the learning process. Using a situative theory of cognition and learning, we analyzed data from 22 focus groups (N=60 students). Results indicate studying is a multi-faceted process that is initiated by instructor or self-generated cues, followed by marshaling resources and managing distractions (or not), and then study behaviors that include selecting time, setting, and specific strategies. Underlying these behaviors are contextual factors including course material and students' personal lives. The results highlight the importance of self-regulation skills, particularly managing digital distractions, and we suggest that the development of these skills should be more frequently incorporated into instructional design and student support services.

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keywords: study habits, higher education, college students, student learning, situated cognition