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Oficina Internacional de Educación
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Content Section

Teaching students how to learn: Setting the stage for lifelong learning ( Educational Practices Series 33 )



In the last years, educators and policymakers have put a great deal of emphasis on the need to develop an education for the twenty-first century—an education that prepares our students to meet the economic, technological, and societal needs of our knowledge-based economies. There is wide agreement that the main characteristic of life and work in the twenty-first century is its changing nature. Changes are happening so fast that it is hard to predict the exact jobs the students of today will have over their lifespan. This creates a need to equip students with the capabilities of independent and lifelong learning; in other words, to teach them how to learn. Despite the broad recognition of this important shift in education goals, we still know little about how to teach students how to learn, and especially what this shift means about the way teachers teach in their classrooms. The need to develop students’ capabilities for independent learning has become even more urgent today as we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, which has seen unprecedented school closures and dramatic increases in independent online learning.

The purpose of this publication is to provide basic information to teachers about how to help students become independent learners. Its recommendations are based on the conceptual framework known as "self-regulated learning", or SRL. Self-regulated learners have flexible knowledge and skills that enable them to manage their cognition, motivation, and emotions in the pursuit of their learning goals. They can work independently to construct complex knowledge and know how to monitor their comprehension and to persist with difficult problems. Although students can acquire many of the capabilities of a self-regulated learner on their own from their experiences in everyday learning situations, many students do not develop these capabilities adequately. On the contrary, the strategies they use to manage their learning are ineffective and inefficient and result in learning failures. It is estimated that one of the main reasons that about 30% of the students who start their studies at US universities decide to drop out after the first year is their unpreparedness to cope with the demand for independent learning and self-reliance.

In this Teaching How to Learn booklet, teachers can find information about some of the cognitive, metacognitive, emotional, and motivational capabilities that characterise self-regulated learners, and some of the actions that teachers can take to promote self-regulated learning in their students. These include giving students time to engage in constructive tasks independently or in collaboration with their peers and providing them with the knowledge and strategies that they can use to manage their learning and control their motivation and emotions while they complete these tasks successfully.

Download the booklet in English: