Maverick Winne awarded senior research chair

Apr 04, 2002, vol. 23, no. 7
By Carol Thorbes

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He describes himself as a bit of a maverick in educational psychology. But Phil Winne's unorthodox view of self-regulated learning may one day help students become smarter.

The Simon Fraser University professor of education has just been awarded a renewable senior Canada research chair ($200,000 annually for seven years) to further his research on self-regulated learning.

“Given the growing prevalence of computer and Internet technology on learning, where learners often work pretty much alone, and the increasing student-to-teacher ratio in classrooms, mastering self-regulated learning processes is vital,” says Winne.

Winne thoerizes that cognitive processes, such as monitoring and adjusting one's approaches to learning, are more prevalent than many of his colleagues believe. His theory is based on 20 years of research.

“I don't think we have to convince students and teachers of the importance of self-regulated learning,” says Winne. The author of dozens of articles on the process adds, “The emphasis should be on helping students improve processes they instinctively engage in, but often use ineffectively.”
Recently, Winne and his research team studied how SFU undergraduates view their learning strategies.

“We found some significant differences between how undergrads thought they were learning and how they actually studied,” says Winne. “Students often didn't realize they relied a lot on memorization rather than study tactics that deepen comprehension, such as elaborate reviewing. Sometimes they remembered things they never did.”

Winne's earlier research showed that both teachers and students can unknowingly misjudge how learning and teaching interrelate.

In a study with a colleague now at the University of Michigan, Winne invited teachers and students to review videotapes of their interaction in lessons.

“We discovered more than a few occasions when teachers thought they were giving clear guidance to students about how to learn, but more than a few of their students didn't have a clue what was going on,” says Winne. “There were also points where teachers said they had no particular intentions to shape students' thinking but students nonetheless believed the teacher was cuing them to use particular tactics to learn. I wanted to understand what caused these miscommunications and how to help both teachers and students work together more effectively.”

Winne is designing software that will help students identify, evaluate and adapt their study tactics. A key feature of his program is a wizard. “The wizard automatically compiles data about how students study and what they learn by studying that way,” he says. “Then, it provides feedback and suggests options for learning.”

Instructors could use data the wizard collects to evaluate features of their curriculum designs and modify them.

This spiraling feedback should lead to better instructional materials that are more motivating as students become more and more skilled at learning. “I call it bootstrapping self-regulated learning and teaching,” says Winne.

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