A behavior theory perspective on self-regulated learning derives largely from the work of Skinner (Mace, Belfiore, & Hutchinson, 2001 ; Chapter 3 ). Researchers working within the framework of his operant conditioning theory apply operant principles in diverse settings (e.g., clinical, academic) with adults and children. The aim of these studies is to reduce dysfunctional behaviors and replace them with more adaptive behaviors (Zimmerman, 2001 ).
Much behavioral research has been characterized by certain design features. Studies typically use few participants and sometimes only one. Participants are followed over time to determine behavioral changes resulting from interventions. The outcome measures are frequency and duration of the dysfunctional behaviors and the behaviors to be conditioned.
Behavior theory postulates that self-regulation involves choosing among different behaviors and deferring immediate reinforcement in favor of delayed (and usually greater) reinforcement. People self-regulate their behaviors by initially deciding which behaviors to regulate. They then establish discriminative stimuli for their occurrence, provide self-instruction as needed, and monitor their performances to determine whether the desired behavior occurs. This phase often involves self-recording the frequency or duration of behavior. When desirable behavior occurs, people administer self-reinforcement. These three key processes of self-monitoring, self-instruction, and self-reinforcement are discussed next.
Self-monitoring refers to deliberate attention to some aspect of one’s behavior and often is accompanied by recording its frequency or intensity (Mace et al., 2001 ; Mace & Kratochwill, 1988 ). People can regulate their actions only if they are aware of what they do. Behaviors can be assessed on such dimensions as quality, rate, quantity, and originality. While writing a term paper, students may periodically assess their work to determine whether it states important ideas, whether they will finish it by the due date, whether it will be too long or too short, and whether it integrates their ideas. One can engage in self-monitoring in such diverse areas as motor skills (e.g., how fast one runs the 100-meter dash), art (e.g., how original one’s pen-and-ink drawings are), and social behavior (e.g., how much one interacts at social functions).