Academic Exchange Quarterly     Winter   2005    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  9, Issue  4

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Self-Regulation in a Computer Literacy Course


Mary Niemczyk, Arizona State University

Wilhelmina Savenye, Arizona State University


Mary Niemczyk is an Assistant Professor in Aeronautical Management Technology and Wilhelmina Savenye is an Associate Professor in Educational Technology at Arizona State University



Computer Literacy courses are offered by many colleges and universities and are often taken by students from various academic majors. Since the course may be unlike others in their major, students may be unfamiliar with strategies that may be useful for learning these concepts. Participants (n=291) completed a survey consisting of course-related selected-response questions, questions adopted from the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ), and open-ended questions focusing on their study habits. Results indicated several strategies strongly related to success as indicated by course grade.



Research has shown that self-regulated learning is an important aspect of student academic performance in the classroom. Students practicing self-regulation behaviors initiate and direct their own efforts to acquire knowledge and skill rather than relying on teachers, parents, or others. In general, self-regulated learning consists of three essential elements: commitment to academic goals, self-efficacy perceptions, and self-regulated learning strategies (Zimmerman, 1989).


Student academic goals are the underlying reasons for students’ learning behaviors and are most often described as either mastery or performance goals (Ames, 1992; Urdan, 1997). Students possessing mastery goals are considered to be intrinsically motivated, primarily focusing on learning or mastering course material. These students often seek out challenging assignments, put forth more effort to learn the material and tend to use more effective learning strategies while studying. In contrast, students with performance goals are considered to be extrinsically motivated and tend to focus on the outcome of their learning. They are primarily interested in earning a good grade in the course, or gaining social esteem (Pintrich, 1995). Extrinsically motivated students oftentimes use less effective learning strategies (Meece, Blumenfeld & Hoyle, 1988).


Self-efficacy is the student’s beliefs about his or her ability and not only influences the type of goals students set for themselves but can also influence an individual’s willingness to attempt a particular task, the level of effort employed, and persistence in accomplishing the task (Bandura, 1986; Pintrich, 1995). Lack of self-efficacy has also been associated with the debilitating affect of high test-anxiety (Pajares, 2002).


Self-regulation also consists of students’ use of learning strategies, such as organizing and applying new information, self-monitoring one’s performance, seeking assistance, and managing time and student environments (Pintrich, Smith, Garcia & McKeachie, 1991; Zimmerman, 1989). Students’ use of self-regulated learning strategies depends not only on their knowledge of strategies but also on their academic goals and self-efficacy perceptions. Students with learning goals tend to use deep processing strategies that enhance their understanding of concepts (Pintrich & Garcia, 1994). Conversely, students with performance goals, tend to use strategies that promote only short-term and surface level processing, like memorizing and rehearsing (Weinstein, Husman & Dierking, 2000).

Much of the previous research on self-regulated learning has indicated that self-regulatory processes are linked with content domains, and individuals learn how to apply these skills in a given learning or applied context (Kiewra, 2002; Zimmerman, 1998). Determining specific self-regulation processes associated with successful learning in particular content domains is an important next step in this line of research.


Computer Literacy courses are offered by many colleges and universities and are often taken by students from various academic majors. For many students, this course is a requirement of their degree programs. For others, importance and applicability of content information are influential factors. Since these courses are very prevalent and the content a necessity to many students, it is therefore important to determine the relationship of motivation and learning strategies affecting learning and performance. This information may then be used to improve student success in future courses.


The purpose of this study was to determine the relationship among students' reports about their goal orientation, self-efficacy and self-regulated strategy use and their academic performance in a Computer Literacy course as indicated by course grade. Also investigated were students' reports about their most preferred and utilized study techniques and the techniques they used to monitor their learning in this course.



Participants were students in a general studies Computer Literacy course at a large university in the southwest. Of the 291 participants, 193 were female and 98 male. The majority of participants were education (27%), communication (18%), or broadcasting (11%) majors. In total, 26 different academic majors were represented. Four percent were freshman, 27% sophomores, 47% juniors, 21% seniors, and 1% graduate students. Students ranged in age from 18 to 50 years, with an overall average age of 22.


The course was a multi-section course, consisting of a lecture class and lab. The lecture portion met in a large lecture hall twice a week for 50 minutes, while the lab section met in a PC computer lab once a week for a period of one hour and 50 minutes. Data were collected at the end of the fall semester. Participation was voluntary.



The participants completed a three-part survey. The first section included demographic questions as well as selected-response questions regarding the lowest grade they would be happy with in this course, how many hours a week they study, and their reasons for enrollment. The second section included 73 motivation and learning strategies questions adopted from the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ) (Pintrich, 1991). The motivation section of the MSLQ consists of six sub-scales and the learning strategy section consists of nine sub-scales. Students rate themselves on a 7-point Likert scale (1 = not true of me, to 7 = very true of me). The third section consisted of two selected-response and six open-ended questions focusing on student study habits.


Data Analysis

Using the method developed by Pintrich (1991), the MSLQ sub-scale scores for each participant were constructed by taking the mean of the items that make up that scale. Multiple regression analysis for two unordered sets of predictors was used to evaluate how well the use of specific motivation and learning strategies predicted course grade. Responses to open-ended questions were analyzed and categorized by discernable themes. Responses to the selected-response questions were compiled and summarized by frequency of occurrence.


MSLQ Results

In response to the sub-scale items on the motivation scale, participants rated extrinsic goal orientation and self-efficacy fairly high. The mean response score for the Extrinsic Goal Orientation sub-scale was 5.0 and Self-Efficacy for Learning and Performance was 5.3. Additionally, participants appear to not worry about course tests, as indicated by a mean response score of 3.8 on the Test Anxiety sub-scale.


There were four items on the Extrinsic Goal Orientation sub-scale, with three items focusing on importance of course grades and one item focusing on the approval of others. Mean response scores for each of the three items asking students to rate the importance of earning high course grades were fairly high, with each item mean score over 5.0.


There were eight items on the Self-efficacy for Learning and Performance sub-scale, with five items focusing on the students’ judgment about their ability to accomplish tasks for this course, and three items focusing on the students’ expectation for success in the course. Mean response scores for items focusing on the students’ beliefs about being able to accomplish course tasks were positive and ranged from 4.7 to 6.1. These items asked students to rate their beliefs in their ability to understand both basic and complex course material, and their confidence in performing well on course assignments and tests. Mean response scores for the items focusing on the students’ expectancy for success were also very positive and ranged from 5.1 to 5.6. These items asked students to rate their beliefs on being able to earn an excellent grade, and overall ability to do well in the course.


There were five items on the Test Anxiety sub-scale, with three items focusing on worry or negative thoughts during test taking and two items focusing on physiological arousal aspects of anxiety, such as upset feelings, and rapid heart beat. The mean response scores for items focusing on worry were approximately at the mid-point, ranging from 3.2 to 4.2. These mean scores seem to indicate that students were not worrying about the possibility of poor performance during test taking. The mean response scores for items focusing on physiological aspects of anxiety were 3.6 and 4.2. These mid-range mean scores indicated most students were not upset nor had uneasy feelings during test taking.


In response to sub-scale items on the learning strategy scales, participants rated elaboration fairly high and peer learning fairly low as indicated by the Elaboration and Peer Learning sub-scale mean scores. The mean scores for the Elaboration sub-scale was 4.21 and Peer Learning was 3.06.


There were six items on the Elaboration scale all focusing on study techniques that help students integrate and connect new information with prior knowledge. Mean response scores for these items ranged from a low mean score of 3.0 to a fairly high mean score of 5.0. The mean response score for the item asking students whether they write brief summaries of course readings had a low score of 3.0, indicating most students did not use this study technique. The remaining items on this sub-scale asked students if they try to connect the information learned in this course to prior knowledge or to other courses had higher scores of 4.2 to 5.0, indicating many students used these methodologies when studying.


There were three items on the Peer Learning scale focusing on whether students worked with classmates to complete assignments or enhance their understanding of course content. Mean response scores for all three items were fairly low, ranging from 3.3 to 3.8. These low scores seem to indicate students did not prefer to work with classmates in order to learn course material.


Relationships Between Strategies and Course Grade

The range of final course grades was from A through E. Final course grades resulted in the following distribution: A = 65 (22%), B = 120 (42%), C = 75 (26%), D = 24 (8%), and E = 7 (2%).


Two multiple regression analyses were conducted to predict final course grade from students’ self-reported motivation and learning strategies. One analysis included the six motivation strategies as predictors (intrinsic goal orientation, extrinsic goal orientation, task value, control of learning beliefs, self-efficacy and test anxiety). The second analysis included the seven learning strategies as predictors (elaboration, organization, critical thinking, metacognition, environment regulation, effort regulation, and peer learning). The regression equations for both the motivation strategies and the learning strategies were significant. Of the motivation components, extrinsic goal and self-efficacy were positively related to course grade, while test anxiety was negatively related. Of the learning strategies, elaboration was positively related and peer learning was negatively related to course grade.


Student Responses to Study Habit Questions

Students were also asked to respond to two selected-response questions and six open-ended questions focusing on their study habits. Not all participants answered all of the questions, possibly due to time constraints or lack of interest in responding.


The first selected-response question asked students if they studied differently for this course than for their other courses. Of the 150 participants responding, 78, or 52% circled “Yes” and 72, or 48%, circled “No”.


The second question asked students who they thought has responsibility for their success in learning. Again, 150 students responded. The majority of students, 119, or 79% circled “I am” indicating personal responsibility, 12, or 8%, circled “My instructor”, and 19, or 13% wrote in that both they and the instructor are responsible for their learning.


The first open-ended item asked students to list two ways they studied for this course. Reading the text and notes was the most frequently listed study technique, with 106 responses or 47%, followed by applying information learned in lecture to the lab class, with 51 responses, or 23%. Studying with peers was listed only 9 times, or 4%.


The second open-ended question asked students to list two ways they studied for other courses. Again, the most frequently listed study technique mentioned by students was reading the text and notes, with 115 responses, or 56%. The next most frequently occurring response was outlining readings, listed 31 times, or 15%. Studying with peers was listed 21 times, accounting for 10% of the responses.


The third open-ended question asked students to describe how they check their understanding of the course material. Thirty-two students, or 30%, indicated that applying the lecture information by working on the computer helped them to determine their understanding of the material, 29 students, or 28%, stated they quizzed themselves, and 16, or 15%, stated they didn’t check their understanding.


The fourth open-ended question asked students what they considered their strength as a learner. In total, 108 students responded. Twenty-six participants, or 24% indicated their strength was their ability to memorize, 22 students, or 20%, stated that they were visual learners, and 19, students, or 18%, cited their ability to comprehend and understand.


The fifth open-ended question asked students what they considered to be their weakness as a learner. Of the 77 students who responded, 33 students, or 43% indicated procrastination, lack of motivation and laziness, and 28, or 36% of students indicated they had a low attention span.


The final open-ended question asked participants what they thought would help them to become a better learner. Of the 97 students that responded, 23, or 24%, indicated a study schedule would be helpful, 23 indicated they needed to be more disciplined, 17, or 18%, stated that they needed more real world applications, and 14 students, or 14%, needed more time in their daily lives to dedicate toward school.


Student Responses to General Course Questions

Participants were also asked to respond to a series of selected response questions regarding the lowest grade they would be happy with, and how many hours a week they study for this course. They were also asked to respond yes or no to a series of nine items aimed at discovering their reasons for taking this course.


All participants wanted to earn a grade higher than C. For each student, actual grade earned was compared to their lowest grade acceptable. In total, 156 students, or 54%, earned the grade they indicated would be the lowest grade acceptable, 104 students, or 36% earned a grade lower than that which was acceptable, and 30 students, or 10%, earned a grade higher than their lowest grade acceptable.


Participants were also asked how many hours a week they study for this course. In general, 206 students, or 71%, indicated they studied between one to three hours per week, and 37 students or 13% indicated that they studied four to six hours per week. Forty students, or 14%, responded that they did not study at all for this course.


The last question asked students about the reasons they had for taking this course. The responses indicated most students, 248 or 85%, thought this course would be helpful in other courses, and for 233 students, or 80%, this course was a requirement of their academic major. Many students, 211, or 73% felt the course would improve their academic skills and 205 students, or 70%, felt the course would improve their career prospects. One hundred ninety-one students, or 66%, took the course because the content seemed interesting.



The results portray a complex combination of the motivation and learning strategies utilized by college students in a Computer Literacy course. Overall, the results appear to indicate that these students held both extrinsic and intrinsic goal orientations concurrently. For many students, earning a high grade was important, and many took the courses because the content seemed valuable and interesting. These students also reported they have both high self-efficacy and low test-anxiety, they utilized elaboration learning strategies and prefer to not study with classmates. Approximately half of the students earned the grade they indicated was the lowest grade acceptable to them, but about one-third earned a poorer grade than the lowest grade acceptable to them. The majority of students reported that they spent between one and three hours per week studying for this course, however, many indicated that more discipline and a study schedule would help them become better learners.


In terms of achievement goals, findings indicated extrinsic goal orientation was positively related to course grade. This finding is similar to results from a previous study focusing on college students’ goal orientations and use of self-regulation strategies in the classroom. In their study, Pintrich & Garcia (1994) found that having an extrinsic goal orientation, such as commitment to earning high grades, may actually help students focus not only on learning course material, but may also help maintain their self-efficacy.


In the current study, self-efficacy was also positively related to course grade. From this finding, it appears students had a combination of extrinsic goal orientation and high self-efficacy, which may have caused persistence in learning course material to achieve their desired academic goal.


Self-efficacy beliefs also influence the amount of stress and anxiety individuals experience as they engage in a task and the level of accomplishment they realize. Students reported high self-efficacy beliefs, therefore, it is not surprising they also indicated they had low-test anxiety. Individuals with a strong sense of competence approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than dangers to be avoided (Pajares, 1997).


Student selection of learning strategies used to accomplish a task is also dependent on both goal orientation and self-efficacy. In the current study, the learning strategy of elaboration was positively related to course grade. Results from research by Pintrich and Garcia (1994) found that students with either intrinsic or extrinsic goal orientations both reported substantial use of cognitive and self-regulated learning strategies, such as elaboration and organization. It appears a high level of concern for grades may actually lead to better cognitive engagement.


Interestingly, results of the current study also indicated students’ valued information they were learning. Though intrinsic goal orientation was not significantly related to course grade, student responses to items focusing on their reasons for taking the course indicated a majority of students enrolled because the course material was interesting. Students who enroll in courses because the content is interesting or enjoyable are intrinsically motivated (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Based on these findings it appears students in this course had a combination of intrinsic and extrinsic goal orientations.


Another characteristic of extrinsically motivated students is their desire to demonstrate ability, or hide their perceived lack of ability. The fear of appearing incompetent can cause students to use behaviors they feel might protect their sense of self-worth (Newman, 2002). Results of the current study indicated peer learning was negatively related to course grade.


Also investigated were the reported study techniques utilized by students, and what they felt would help them become more successful in their learning. Interestingly, approximately half the students indicated they study the same way for this course as they do their other courses, and half stated they study differently. Results from previous research have indicated that the use of various learning strategies may be conditional and contextualized. Students, therefore, need to understand situations when certain learning strategies may be more or less effective (Kiewra, 2002). When encountering a learning situation for the first time, students may not know how to think within that discipline. Pintrich (1995) suggests that in order for students to become successful self-regulated learners, teachers should help them become aware of how to think, learn and reason within the particular discipline. Perhaps this would be beneficial for students in Computer Literacy courses.


In order for students to be more successful in this course, learning techniques may need to be improved. The majority of students indicated they felt responsible for their success in learning, however, only half of them earned the grade that was the lowest acceptable, with one-third of students earning a poorer grade. Students also indicated they believed they could be more successful if they had a study schedule and more discipline. It may be beneficial, therefore, to provide students with appropriate strategies for learning course material and assisting them in establishing suitable study schedules.



This study investigated the use of motivational and learning strategies among students in a Computer Literacy course, and the relationship between their use of these strategies and their performance in the course, as indicated by course grade. Also examined were students’ study habits, desired course grade, and reasons for enrollment.  Students rated motivational strategies related to extrinsic goal orientation and self-efficacy quite highly. They also rated themselves as not very anxious about tests.  In terms of learning strategies, these students rated elaboration strategies highest and peer learning strategies lowest. 


Though it appears that these students were extrinsically motivated, their responses to open-ended questions indicated that they were also intrinsically motivated. Their reasons for taking the course included not just that it was required, but that they were interested in the content, and that the course would help them in other courses, as well as improve their academic and career skills.


While some of the students’ strategies seemed to help them earn their desired grade, many earned a grade that was lower. Over two-thirds of the students only studied one to three hours a week for the course, with 14% indicated they didn’t study at all.  Students’ own suggestions to remedy these results included aiding them in setting up study schedules. Other methods for assisting students in courses like these might include providing students practice with the study strategies, such as elaboration, which are most related to their success. Further investigations of students’ self-regulation and learning strategies can be expected to help college students such as these in achieving success in their college courses.

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