Using assessments to foster self-regulated learning among students

Educators strive to achieve a pivotal objective: nurturing students into autonomous learners capable of orchestrating, overseeing, assessing, and adapting their own learning methodologies. This pursuit revolves around cultivating metacognitive abilities within students. Metacognition, colloquially put, entails 'thinking about thinking'. Prevailing research underscores the notion that students endowed with robust metacognitive skills outperform their counterparts who are deficient in such skills (Stanton et al., 2021).

Many students do not have metacognition skills when they begin their courses. So, how do we help students develop metacognitive skills? There are various methods instructors can implement in their courses to help foster students’ cognitive skills.

Instructors can guide students in the refinement of learning strategies by incorporating skill-enhancing annotations, activities, and educational materials into the curriculum. A pragmatic and effective approach involves engaging students in explicit discussions about metacognitive strategies at different junctures throughout the course. However, the efficacy of this method remains uncertain, as the responsibility lies with students to heed the instructors' guidance.

Other approaches include more subtle techniques, such as offering formative assessments, assigning homework tasks, and furnishing feedback on students' learning progress. These measures enable students to grasp the art of learning, thereby fostering the acquisition of metacognitive skills.

Formative assessment

Formative assessments are a great way to develop students into self-regulating learners (Zhao, 2019). In the subsequent discussion, we elaborate on our application of formative assessment, specifically online quizzes, to cultivate self-regulated learning among students enrolled in both undergraduate and postgraduate economics courses within a business school affiliated within a Russell Group university. While some students have studied economics previously, for most students the courses are the first endeavour into learning economics. Consequently, certain students encounter difficulties in assimilating the course content, particularly finding quantitative elements to be more demanding and challenging to understand and internalise.

To help students get on well with the course and to evaluate their learning behaviours, we require them to do weekly non-assessed quizzes. A screenshot of the quiz link on the course pages is shown below:

Students do not have automatic access to weekly learning resources unless they pass the week’s quiz or attempt it three times with no success. Essentially, it is a compulsory formative assessment. After each attempt students receive feedback, which does not reveal the correct answers to the questions. It shows whether students’ answers are correct or not. As such, it shows the areas and topics students have done well and, topics they should be reviewing in order to pass the quiz next time. If students fail the second attempt, they are advised to reconsider and plan their learning and make constructive changes to how they learn. If they fail the third attempt, students are urged to contact the instructors to discuss how they could improve their engagement with the course materials.

Student feedback from course evaluations suggests that the quizzes helped them to become self-regulating learners. Here are some of the feedback comments students provided:

  • I like the way the weekly quizzes are set up to “unlock” the next weeks resources. Having done Economics before, it’s helped me identify my strong topics and my weak ones a lot quicker than other methods.
  • I liked the way the week’s content was only available once you have completed the previous week’s quiz. This helps the students stay up to date as well as helps us check our understanding.
  • [the] quizzes boost my understanding more than anything else when I check why my attempted answers were wrong.

The conditional access quizzes serve a dual purpose: they not only help students develop their metacognitive skills, but also offer instructors a valuable means of delivering formative feedback to students without the necessity of in-person interaction. This is especially useful in large courses where instructors may lack the time and resources to provide individual feedback and it becomes increasingly difficult to identify where targeted learning interventions could be needed. Instructors may sometimes lack sufficient understanding of students’ learning without a graded assessment; in such circumstances, quiz results provide valuable learning analytics.

The learning analytics can be used to analyse students’ learning status and gain insights into their learning behaviours. The following image shows part of results of two attempts by a student:

Here, a student fails the first attempt, and passes the second attempt after two days. The student correctly answered two additional multiple-choice questions in the second attempt scoring 5 points out of 10 available. This behaviour is expected of a self-regulating learner.

Furthermore, instructors may use learning analytics from the quizzes to make changes in their instructional practices and course content designs. They may redesign the difficult content into more accessible learning materials if a particular topic is not grasped by a majority of students, as evidenced by quiz results.

Formative assessment, when integrated into course content as an ongoing compulsory process, can promote metacognitive behaviours among students. This approach enriches and improves student experience and encourages students to enhance their awareness of own thinking and learning. Functioning as a diagnostic instrument for both the instructors and students, formative assessment is indispensable in advancing self-regulated learning behaviours.


Ravshonbek Otojanov, Brigitte Granville, Steve Brant
School of Business and Management, Queen Mary University of London



Statnton, J., Sebesta, A. & Dunlosky, J. (2021) Fostering Metacognition to Support Student Learning and Performance. CBE—Life Sciences Education. 20:fe3, 1–7,

Zhao, Q. (2019) Study and Practice of Formative Assessment Based on Metacognitive Strategy. Advances in Economics, Business and Management Research. 82, pp. 45-48.