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Dear Students: When It’s Okay to be “All About Me”

By Dr. Michele Simms—-In Daniel Pink’s book DRIVE: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us (2009), he includes Peter Drucker as one of seven business thinkers who get it.  Drucker, the most influential management thinker of the 20th century, is cited for creating a revolution in human affairs: managing oneselfBest known for his ideas on managing businesses, Drucker ended his career dedicated to what is listed today as a critical 21st century skill: self-direction and self-management aka self-regulated learning (SRL).  “With the rise of individual longevity and the decline of job security, individuals have to think hard about where their strengths lie, what they can contribute, and how they can improve their own performance.” (Pink, 210).


Drawing on four decades of scientific research on human motivation, Pink identifies three elements that provide the staying power to motivate us to action: mastery, purpose, and autonomy, which he defines as “the renaissance of self-direction” (xi).  What does this mean for us in a very concrete way? How do we promote self-management as a key to life-long learning, what employers identify as a valued competency?

No surprise the answer is intrinsic, less about external rewards and more about the inherent satisfaction gained from doing the activity itself. What makes self-regulated learning powerful is that each person consciously plans, monitors and evaluates his/her learning goals. In the SRL process, the individual takes the initiative of being responsible for his/her personal and professional growth and continued competency in learning, with or without the assistance of others.


In a nutshell, you have to learn how you learn and hold yourself accountable. One way to do this is completing a short performance appraisal for yourself at the beginning of the semester:

  • What do I need to achieve to consider this class a success? (Of course, you must first be able to define success for yourself.)
  • How will I know I achieved my goal(s)?
  • What specific behaviors or tasks do I need to focus on?  Examples include better time management; attend all classes; keep up with the readings and assignments; turn off my phone; paraphrase what I just read; recall four points from a case study or podcast; consult the professor.

At the end of the semester, or at different intervals in the course, check-in to see if you’re achieving your goals. If not, why not?   Learn from your peers.  What behaviors are they engaging in to succeed?   You know what to do; what you need is your own voice to remind you, not an external person (who is often perceived as ‘telling’ or, worse, nagging).

Another example is Nilson’s (2013) short reflection written at the beginning of a semester/class on: “How I Got an ‘A’ in this Course.”  Be specific; again this activity is a conscious planning of your behaviors and holding yourself accountable for the end result.  When you get your grade, whether for the course or an individual assignment/exam, did you get the ‘A’…or not? Did you follow your own guidelines to achieve success?


Research shows that students who engage in self-regulated behaviors achieve higher GPAs and score higher on other measures of achievement. The skill-set acquired in SRL benefits students beyond their academic and career plans; it serves them well with any venture that requires the learning of new concepts or skills. How to be a self-regulated learner is itself learned. Said another way, all of us have the capabilities to continually develop and utilize this skill-set, faculty included; it’s not a particular personality trait or aptitude that predisposes a person to succeed at self-management.

Nilson claims self-regulated learning “is the ultimate in learning skills because you learn to learn independently on your own. And you start to realize it’s all about me.  It’s all about what I do or don’t do as to whether I am going to learn something well or not, as to whether I am going to write a good paper or not, as to whether I am going to get something out of this lecture or not.” *


This sense of agency, what Pink defines as autonomy, is liberating. In referencing the Spheres of Influence mental model, self-regulated learning is an area where you both control and influence your learning outcomes. You learn what you need to regulate in your environment to maximize the achievement of your goals and apply the practice of reflection and self-awareness to monitor your progress.

There’s a name for faculty and students who work together to promote self-regulated learning: it’s called getting an education.

Michele Simms, Ph.D.

Professor of Management, Cameron Endowed Chair of Management & Marketing




Nilson, L. B. (2013). Creating Self-Regulated Learners: Strategies to Strengthen Students’ Self-Awareness and Learning Skills, Sterling, Virginia: Stylus Publishing LLC.

*Nilson, L. As quoted from transcript (November 13, 2018), Module 4: Self-Regulated Learning. Posted in online course: Teaching Soft Skills in College Courses, University of Wisconsin/ Madison.

Pink, D.H. (2009). DRIVE: The Surprising Truth of What Motivates Us, New York, New York: Riverhead Books/Random House.





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