Self Regulation Theory In Relation To Motivation Education Essay


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Learning and acquiring a second or foreign language can be difficult for some people and at the same time easy for others. Factors influencing this observation may be explained in terms of individual differences in Second Language Acquisition (SLA). These individual's differences may include personality, intelligence, language learning strategies, attitude, emotion and motivation.

Some researchers believe that motivation may impact learners' whole process of learning a second language (L2) (Gardner & Lambert, 1972). One theory which has long been recognised in the field is called self-determination theory (e.g. Brown 1981, 1990), and it examines intrinsic/extrinsic motivation in L2 learning. However, there has also been a development of a more process-oriented theoretical approach namely the process model of L2 motivation by Dörnyei & Ottó (1998). They have highlighted the importance of developing self-regulatory strategies to manage, reinforce or sustain one's motivation during the course of learning. Accordingly, L2 self-regulation theory was later proposed by Dörnyei (2005), and the theory represents a major reformation of previous motivational thinking.

This essay, therefore, will discuss the extent in which motivation plays a key role in second language learning. The focus of this essay is specifically on the linkage between self-regulation theory and second language learning, using the author's personal experience in Persian language learning as a case study.

Research Objective

The aim of this essay is to examine the author's experience in Persian language learning and analyse, based on self-regulation theory, to what extent motivation contributes to the learning of a second language.


The essay employs a qualitative analysis based on theories and the author's personal experience in Persian language learning. First, definitions of the term 'motivation' will be briefly demonstrated, and the most appropriate definition for this essay will be chosen. Second, theories and constructs of motivation in relation to self-regulation will be explored. Third, the role of motivation in the author's Persian Learning Experience will be evaluated based on self-regulation theory. Finally, a conclusion will be presented with a further discussion on future recommendations.



Motivation is a broad concept, and definitions of motivation vary according to research and findings. The aim of this section is to explore several definitions of the term 'motivation' and conclude on the most appropriate definition in second language (L2) learning which will contribute to this essay.

To begin with, motivation comes from the Latin verb 'movere' which means to move. It can be described as the driver inducing a person to take a certain action, make a decision, or invest efforts toward carrying out certain behaviours (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2011: 3).

In a psychological perspective, motivation is often defined as the psychological quality that leads people to achieve a goal. For language learners, mastery of a language may be a goal. For others, communicative competence or even basic communication skills could be a goal.

In a socio-educational framework, motivation to learn the second language is viewed as requiring three elements: effort, desire, and enjoyment. First, the motivated individual must expend an effort to learn the language. There must be a persistent and consistent strive to achieve success in learning such as by doing homework, practicing the language whenever there is an opportunity, etc. Second, the individual must demonstrate the desire to achieve the goal. Such individual will do all that is necessary to achieve the goal. Third, the motivated individual will enjoy the task of learning the language. Such an individual will say that it is fun, a challenge, and enjoyable, even though at times enthusiasm may be less than at other times. All three elements-effort, desire, and enjoyment-are necessary in order to differentiate individuals who are more motivated and those who are less motivated. However, each element, by itself, is seen as insufficient to reflect motivation. Some students may display effort, even though they have no strong desire to succeed, and may not find the experience particularly enjoyable. Others may want to learn the language, but may have other things that detract from their effort, etc.

Motivation in Second Language Acquisition

In the field of Second Language Acquisition research, motivation has been identified as one of the key factors which determines L2 achievement and attainment. Motivation initially serves as an impetus to generate learning and later as a sustaining force to ensure that the learner remains on-track with acquiring the target language (Cheng & Dörnyei, 2007). According to Gardner (1985: 50), he posits that motivation in learning is based on four characteristics: "a goal, effortful behaviour, a desire to attain the goal and favourable attitudes toward the activity in question." Dörnyei and Ottó's definition of L2 motivation (1998: 65) has a broader sense; they defined motivation as "the dynamically changing cumulative arousal in a person that initiates, directs, coordinates, amplifies, terminates, and evaluates the cognitive and motor processes whereby initial wishes and desires are selected, prioritised, operationalised and (successfully or unsuccessfully) acted out."

According to Dörnyei and Ushioda (2011: 4), the by far definition that most SLA research, including this essay, would agree on concerns the 'direction' and 'magnitude' of human behaviour, that is, motivation accounts for:

why people decide to do something (choice),

how long they are willing to sustain the activity (persistence), and

how hard they are going to pursue it (effort).

It is important to note that although choice, persistence, effort are the three key issues allowing learners to regulate their own motivation, Ushioda (2003: 99-100) further demonstrates that in order for motivation to grow in a positive way, it cannot be seen as a progressive attempts to regulate behaviour from outside. There needs to be supportive interpersonal processes which foster the development of autonomy and the growth and regulation of motivation from inside. Thus, with this in mind, this essay will consider the issue of motivation in relation to self-regulation in the following chapter.



It has been widely accepted that motivation plays an important role not only in general academic learning, but also in the process of achieving the goal in a second language learning. According to Dörnyei (2002), L2 motivation has been seen as a dynamic construct that directs and enhances learning behaviour.

There are many theories that devoted to motivation in relation to autonomy and strategy use, and two most-cited theories are self-determination theory and self-regulation theory. The self-determination theory, which was developed from the education psychology approach, examines about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in relation to the learner's behaviours and regulation. It denotes a sense of choice, personal responsibility, and self-initiation of behaviours. While the self-regulation theory, a more recent development within the field of SLA research, refers to self-generated thoughts, feelings, and actions that are planned and cyclically adapted to the attainment of personal goals.

Other well-known related theories are Language Learning Strategies (LLS) and L2 Motivational Self System. LLS is another approach which relates to strategic behaviours and keys attribute of good language learners. This theory has been trying to establish a link between strategic behaviour and actual learning gains, to demonstrate that strategies are not culturally biased, and to explain why poor strategies user differs from good strategy users only in how they use strategies in context but not in the kinds or frequency of strategy they use (Ortega, 2009:214). Though self-regulation is a more recent alternative study that replacing the traditional emphasis on sheer frequency of strategy use. Its emphasis on the creativity of efforts employed to control one's learning processes is the main issue I would like to point out in this essay.

L2 Motivational Self Systemis another important recent theory of L2 motivation proposed by Dornyei (2005). It concerns motivation especially in terms of the theory of possible selves and the self-discrepancy theory (Dornyei & Ushioda, 2011). Drawing on theoretical paradigms from both motivational psychology and L2 motivational research, Dornyei (2005)'s L2 Motivational Self System model has three main dimentions: the Ideal L2 self, the Ought-to L2 self, and the L2 Learning Experience.

Rationale of this Essay: Self-regulation Theory in Relation to Motivation

Despite the fact that there are many theories on motivation in the context of SLA, self-regulation theory seems to best fit this essay. The self-regulatory approach allows for the combined study of motivation and strategic behaviour, and of cognition and affect, under a single theoretical framework. As supported by Ortege (2009: 211) who demonstrates a clear relevance of self-regulation theory to SLA and individual differences when "learning another language poses a high-anxiety and complex challenge that demands cognitive as well as affective self-regulation, and individuals differ in their capacity to self-regulate."

There have been concerns about the clear-cut of LLS, as according to Dörnyei (2005: 162), there is a change of perspective that the LLS are "immensely ambiguous phenomena and nothing is clear-cut about them." Furthermore, Dörnyei (2005: 190) stated that researchers started to accept that examining the LLS was not important as much as the fact that the 'good' learners choose to put creative effort in their own learning and that they have the capacity to do so. Thus, because of learning strategies examine the outcome of these forces, I decided to draw self-regulation theory which is looking at the initial driving forces.

The L2 Motivational Self System also does not fit in my context of describing a short language experience. It concerns more in terms of primary sources of the motivation to learn another language which are the Ideal L2 Self, Ought-to L2 Self, and L2 learning Experience.

Review of Self-regulation Theory in Second Language Acquisition

The starting point of self-regulation theory is that human endeavours are always goal-directed, intentional, effortful and voluntary (Boekaerts et al., 2006). In the face of multiple goals and ensuing environmental challenges, humans are capable of achieving the ends they choose to pursue because they are able to self-regulate their behaviour (Ortega, 2009: 211).

In the context of SLA, L2 self-regulation is a process by which individuals direct their efforts, thoughts, and feelings toward the attainment of their personal goals, and self-regulation is neither a discrete mental ability nor an academic skill (Zimmerman, 2000). In other words, self-regulation involves processes, responses, and strategies that students initiate and regulate (Zimmerman, 1986) to activate and sustain both their behavioral conduct and their cognitive and affective functioning (Boekaerts, Pintrich, & Zeidner, 2000; Zimmerman, 2001).

Self-regulation theory became the recent developments in the field of L2 individual differences as there has been a need to reconceptualize the 'strategic behaviour' into a theory over the past decades. The two main proponents for this urge are Dörnyei and Skehan (2003) who have pointed out that the L2 learning strategic behavior should not be limited to O'Malley and Chamot (1990)'s taxonomy of observed heuristic and reported mental process or Oxford (1990)'s inventory of self-reported frequencies of strategy use. Then, in 2005, Dörnyei pushed forward the solution to theorizing learning strategies and claimed self-regulation theory as a framework for SLA research about strategic behaviour during L2 learning.

Self-regulation Strategies

Dörnyei has created a model of motivational strategies based on the psycholinguistic concept of self‐regulation which is intended to re‐theorize language learning strategies by examining strategic learning in the paradigm of self‐regulation (see Dörnyei, 2005; Tseng et al., 2006). This taxonomy of strategic learning is based in the framework of motivation control strategies (Dörnyei, 2001) and consists of five categories. Dörnyei (2006) notes that his system was based on Kuhl's (1987) and Corno and Kanfer's (1993) taxonomy of action control strategies. The categories are defined below:

1. Commitment control strategies

Commitment control strategies examine the students' ability to set and reach goals in their learning. It helps to preserve or increase the learners'original goal commitment. For example, students may keep in mind favourable expectations or positive incentives and rewards, or students may focus on what would happen if the original intention failed.

2. Metacognitive control strategies

Metacognitive control strategies involve the monitoring and controlling of concentration, and the curtailing of any unnecessary procrastination e.g. identifying recurring distractions and developing defensive routines, and focusing on the first steps to take when getting down to an activity.

3. Satiation control strategies

Satiation control refers to students' capacity to control boredom and dissatisfaction in a learning task, and the ability to cope with these negative feelings (Dornyei, 2005). For example, students may add a twist to the task or using one's fantasy to liven up the task. These strategies can help to eliminate boredom and add extra attraction or interest to the task.

4. Emotion control strategies

Emotional control strategies examine how learners cope with emotionally charged feeling such as stress, depression and disappointment that may hinder their language development. For example, students may use self-encouragement or using relaxation and meditation techniques.

5. Environment control strategies

Environmental control strategies refer to how a student controls their learning environment in order to facilitate study. Learners with good environmental control are more aware of how their environment affects their learning and have strategies to curb these negative effects. For example, students may try to eliminate distractions or asking friends to help. Such activities will help in eliminating negative environmental influences and exploiting positive environmental influences by making the environment an ally in the pursuit of a difficult goal.



Learning Context

Persian Language Experience is part of the Second Language Teaching and Learning module. The aim of this language experience is not primarily for future use but to exemplify, and make more real, some of the issues connected with the language teaching and learning with which the modules deal. The instructor gives the reasons for choosing this language as follows:

It is unlikely that any of the module students has learned it before.

It is an Indo-Europeaen language, and so its grammatical categories, and some of its vocabulary, will be relatively familiar to students.

The course runs eight weeks, covering the first six lessons of the textbook. The students will learn in romanised transcription not the Arabic script version as the purpose is to learn a limited amount of conversational Persian (Farsi), with associated grammar and vocabulary. There will be a review session at the end of each two-lesson section. (See Appendix 1 for more details)

The class consists of about 30 students from various nationalities, mixed with females and males, aged approximately from 20 to 25, and all the lessons are taught in English. The instructor is the native speaker of the target language.

I am a complete beginner-level learner as I have no previous knowledge in Persian language or culture. Though, I still show a great interest in learning a new language. I see this as a challenging task, and I am highly motivated by the thought of using the language as a mean of exploring Persian culture and people.

Persian Language Learning Experience in Relation to Self-regulation Theory

Personally, I aware that learning a second language is considered as a challenging task which requires time and effort. As I am highly motivated to use the language not just only for the purpose of the module, I developed my own goal to learn the language as much as I could within the time limit. In order to achieve the goal, keeping my learning on track is very important and the following strategies are how I regulate my Persian language learning in accordance to self-regulation theory:

Commitment control strategies

During the first two weeks, I was very interested to learn the language when the instructor began to introduce the lesson with an easy to remember greeting phrase. I became more motivated to learn Persian when the instructor presented about the tourist places and the culture. Hence, I made up my mind that I have to take this as an opportunity to learn the language as much as I could in order to travel to the area in the future. With this in my mind, I committed myself to buying a Persian textbook, so I would have to fully utilise the book and study thoroughly throughout the course.

Metacognitive control strategies

After the result of the first quiz, I became aware that maintaining my motivation through culture exploration was insufficient, and I needed to review more grammar and vocabularies periodically. In other words, I needed to structure my Persian learning by setting frequent goals. To illustrate clearly, I set mini-goals for myself to complete one or two exercises in the textbook per day. I also had a specific goal for each week that I must finish studying one chapter in the textbook before every Monday class. In the case that there were other deadlines from other courses and I could not finish one chapter by weekend, I told myself to devote a Sunday evening to complete the chapter. These mini goals provided me an opportunity to reflect and monitor my own progress each week and helped providing the motivation to focus on my tasks.

Satiation control strategies

During the course, I was always looking for a new inspiration or a new motivation in learning the language. I enhanced my interest by searching about tourist places or Persian culture online. I also recorded my own voice to overcome boredom while learning new vocabularies or practicing pronunciation.

Emotion control strategies

It was obvious that I experienced negative feelings such as anxiety, frustration, and discouragement after the result of the quiz. I avoided interacting with the instructor in the following lesson. However, I understood that I could not keep avoiding the interactions, and it would be better if I had prepared for the lesson ahead. I tried to get rid of negative feelings and cheered myself up by reminding myself about the real aim of the course, which is to point out some issues in the teaching and learning of a second language, and that the quiz mark was simply a way to reflect on my L2 learning progress.

Environment control strategies

As the Persian lesson runs only one hour per week, learning in class would be insufficient to achieve my personnal goal. to complete the book. Therefore, I tried to have extra lessons and/or sought out additional sources of input and interactions. I look for a good environment that have easy access to time and place to avoid procrastination such as the internet; I practice Persian pronunciation through YouTube videos and study more about Persian grammar and vocabulary through free lessons online.


Due to the fact that I needed to reflect on my daily progress in order to incorporate received feedback on the prospective assignment, it helped me to monitor my progress and observe my strategies whether the way I self-regulate has been improving my learning or not. In terms of commitment control strategies, I had a high amount of motivation in the beginning that I wanted to learn as much as I could. I had a very high expectation of myself and even bought the textbook in hope to study further the requirement. Although, this might not be strong enough to keep myself commit to my goal, in fact it kept me engaged in the tasks for a short period. Part of this failure was due to the fact that I did not have a definite schedule of my Persian learning and that I was distracted by other subjects. Another part might due to high intrinsic motivation, I was too ambitious to learn and did not examine my ability thoroughly.

However, even though my motivation was dropped after the quiz, when I later set up the mini goals for each week, my process of learn became more structure and sustain my motivation throughout the week. In other words, these strategies help me minimizing procrastination or distraction and maximizing concentration and keeping goals in focus. This can be said that metacognitive control strategies are essential to develop a learner autonomy. As Wenden (2001: 62) demonstrates that "a recognition of the function of metacognitive knowledge in the self-regulation of learning should contribute to a clearer understanding of learner autonomy, especially how it can be developed and enhanced." Wenden's findings on the role of metacognitive knowledge in self-regulatory process also corroborate Chamot and O'Malley's (1994: 382) observation that "explicit metacognitive knowledge about task characteristics and appropriate strategies for task solution is a major determiner of language learning effectiveness".

In addition to my satiation control strategies, the way that I always look for inspiration from different sources for my own learning can keep my learning on process. In my opinion, this strategy should be a way to increase my motivation when I feel procrastinated or bored. However, I found myself spending too much time browsing on the internet about Persian culture and had less time to review the task. I should be careful that it would not take up too much time of my daily Persian learning otherwise it would not be effective. So, it seems that this strategy might not be helpful to me sometimes because I can use it as an excuse to procrastinate.

My emotion control strategies, particularly to my positive self-talk is also mentioned in a study by Bown (2009) that this technique helped learners maintain perspective on their language learning. It alleviated feelings of frustration or anxiety. Bown divided that learners used self-talk for two primary purposes: (a) to remind themselves of their own motivation for learning the language and (b) to encourage themselves when they felt that they were not making enough progress. The use of this self-talk also served to help learners keep their expectations of themselves realistic, as informed by their beliefs about language learning. Learners would tell themselves that mistakes are part of learning or that it takes longer to learn Russian than other languages they may have studied previously (Bown, 2009). Though it is true that the use of this strategy became effective when I had a low quiz mark, in my case it must be combined with other strategies (such as metacognitive control strategies) at the same time in order to completely encouraging myself. I must have a definite plan (the mini goals) to support my positive self-talk.

For my environment control strategies, Wolters (1998), citing research from Corno (1989, 1993), Corno and Kanfer (1993), and Kuhl (1984, 1992), pinpoints a self-regulation technique I employed: (1) environmental control, for example "a student who ... decides to go to a quiet place conducive to studying (225)." In my opinion, the way that I always try to turn my surrounding environment into a learning environment for me makes me sometimes enjoy learning by myself rather than studying in the classroom. It helps me complete the mini goal I set for myself in each day. In addition, this can be supported by the study from Bown (2009). The findings suggested that effective self-regulation depended on the learners' sense of themselves as agents in the learning process. Learners who recognized their role as authors of their own learning transformed the learning environment to meet their individual needs (Bown, 2009).



It is believed that motivation is essential in learning a second language as it can be a driven force for the learners to start their second language acquistion and it can be a force that sustain the learning throughout the acquisition. However, motivation, according to Dornyei and Ushioda (2011), is a dynamic and complicate factor which concerns about the choice, persistence, and effort of the learners in regulating thier own motivation. From this, motivation can be seen as a factor that correlate to the learner behaviour which can contribute to the learner autonomy.

There are many theories which were developed to examine about motivation in relation to L2 learner behaviour and strategy use. Self-determination theory (SDT) is one of the theories that has a broad framework for the study of human motivation and personality. It is concerned mainly with intrinsic motivation and the way to which the individual is self-motivated and self-determined.Language Learning Strategies (LLS) is another approach which examines the strategies that the good language learner employ. The L2 Motivational Self System is another recent approach in relation to L2 motivation and the self framework. It concerns three 'self' dimensions: Ideal L2 Self, Ought-to L2 Self, L2 Learning Experience.

Self-regulation refers to the degree to which individuals are active participants in their own learning. It is a more dynamic concept than learning strategy, highlighting the learners' own strategic efforts to manage their own achievement through specific beliefs and processes (Dörnyei, 2005). In the context in this essay, it is found that motivation became a critical factors on how the learner will choose the strategies to regulate his/herself and keep the learning process going in order to achieve goal of learning a second language. In other words, it can be argued that self-regulation of L2 learning is multidimensional, including cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, and behavioral processes that learners can apply to enhance achievement. The deliberative, adaptive process of self-regulation enables learners to handle tasks effectively and prepares them to take responsibility for their learning (Wenden, 2001).

In chapter 4, based on the Self-regulation theory, my Persian Learning Experience has been evaluated in relation to motivation. According to the four self-regulation strategies I employed, it is found that I depend much or less on motivation to regulate or control the four strategies. For instance, motivation became a crucial factor on how I use the metacognitive control strategies to change the way I learn the language. While motivation has been rarely concerned on how I chose the place to study as in the environment control strategies. Nevertheless, I could not agree more that both motivation and the four self-regulation strategies are the two essential factors that cannot be overlooked in learner autonomy and the development in the process to enhance individual learning in order to achieve the goal.

Though the aim of the Persian Language Learning class was merely to experience the issues that can be raised in L2 learning and teaching, the fact that the class is conducted only one hour per week might not be enough to motivate some learners to engage during the lesson. In order to have a more effective class, the instructor could raise an awareness of using self-regulation strategies which I believe will be fruitful for the students themselves to have an opportunity to monitor their learning progress and develop their learning autonomy in L2 learning. As Hurd (2008) emphasises, awareness-raising of self-regulation in L2 learning is equally if not more important in independent learning setting (e.g. online environments and distance learning), where students lack the kind of social-affective support provided by regular interactions with other learners and the teacher, and typically may be engaging in language learning on top of full-time study and personal commitments.

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