Since the 50’s, research has widely studied the psychological mechanisms involved in learning and, in particular, identified methods and practices that make it effective. It has been found that effective learning requires different abilities which can be gathered in three main areas:

  • self-regulation learning (Bjork, Dunlosky, & Kornell, 2013; Zimmerman, 2008),
  • emotional regulation (Linnenbrink, & Pekrun, 2011; Pekrun, 2006; Schutz, & Pekrun, 2007)
  • motivation towards academic achievement goals (Eccles, & Wigfield, 2002; Pintrich, 2000; Winne, & Nesbit, 2010).

It has also been found that these three dimensions are linked to one another and that it is indispensable to take all of them into account (Efklides, 2011; Mega, Ronconi, & De Beni, 2014; Pekrun, Elliot, & Maier, 2009). MEL is an effective way of learning that integrates these three dimensions by dedicating space to the development of the regulation of attention and self-awareness. These two skills are in fact fundamental for developing and progressing in self-regulation, emotional and motivational aspects of learning.

Self-Regulated Learning (SRL)

Self-regulated learning (SRL) occurs when learners have an active role and are aware of the ways in which they regulate their studying (Bjork, Dunlosky, & Kornell, 2013; Pintrich, 2000; Winni, 2010; Zimmerman, 2008). SRL is a multidimensional construct which is based on the following competences:

  • the ability to plan (schedule) the study-time
  • the ability to efficiently manage individual study sessions
  • the ability to use effective study techniques
  • metacognitive ability

Study techniques

The study techniques considered most effective for university students by researchers are as follows (Brown, Roediger III, & McDaniel, 2014; Carey, 2015; Oakley, 2014):

  • varying the study activities. This technique named “the interleaving practice” is based on the importance of changing from one subject to another and between different activities such as reading, exercise and repetition during a single study session (Rohrer, Dedrick, & Stershic, 2015; Taylor, & Rohrer, 2010).
  • actively recalling (i.e. creating a cognitive structure) the material studied from memory. It is a very important technique known as “active recall” (Zaromb, Karpicke, & Roediger 2010) or “retrieval practice” (Kang, Lindsey, Mozer, & Pashler, 2014; Karpicke, 2012; Karpicke, & Blunt, 2011; Karpicke, Butler, & Roediger III, 2009; Smith, & Karpicke, 2014). A group of cognitive psychologists have promoted this technique on the website retrievalpractice.org giving the following definition “Retrieval practice is a strategy in which calling information to mind subsequently enhances and boosts learning. Deliberately recalling information forces us to pull our knowledge “out” and examine what we know”.
  • incubating the topics studied and then repeating what has been learned in subsequent sessions spaced over time. This technique, known as “the spaced retrieval practice”, is based on effective planning of the study session and time management dedicated to the repetition of what has been learned. (Karpicke, & Bauernschmidt, 2011).
  • elaborating the contents of the study session aiming to have an overview and to subdivide the contents effectively (use of logical maps and summaries).
  • being involved and practice using what you study.
  • studying in groups and sharing.
  • monitoring and evaluating one’s own learning and studying. The so-called Self-testing technique that consists in monitoring one’s own learning (Roediger, & Karpicke, 2006; Soderstrom, & Bjork, 2014) and the use of questions.

Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan and Willingham (2013) have proposed a review in which all the different study techniques proposed in the literature are analyzed and their effectiveness is evaluated. The result of their work is summarized in the following table below, which lists all the techniques considered in their work along with the relative estimated usefulness.


Technique Description  Utility
Elaborative interrogation Generating an explanation for why an explicitly stated fact or concept is true Moderate
Self-explanation Explaining how new information is related to known information, or explaining steps taken during problem solving Moderate
Summarization Writing summaries (of various lengths) of to-be-learned texts Low
Highlighting/underlining Marking potentially important portions of to-be-learned materials while reading Low
The keyword mnemonic Using keywords and mental imagery to associate verbal materials Low
Imagery use for text learning Attempting to form mental images of text materials while reading or listening Low
Re-reading Restudying text material again after an initial reading Low
Practice testing Self-testing or taking practice tests on to-be-learned material High
Distributed practice Implementing a schedule of practice that spreads out study activities over time High
Interleaved practice Implementing a schedule of practice that mixes different kinds of problems, or a schedule for studying that mixes different kinds of material, within a single study session Moderate

Study techniques for Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan, e Willingham (2013)

Metacognition in SRL

Self-regulated learning requires metacognition skill (Azevedo, 2009; Cornoldi, 2009; Efklides, 2011), which is the ability to observe the functioning of one’s mind (Flavell, 1979). The metacognition concept has been extensively investigated in literature, highlighting aspects such as monitoring one’s own thinking and attention, evaluating one’s cognitive procedures, identifying possible errors, and planning corrections (Veenman, Van Hout-Wolters, & Afflerbach, 2006). Metacognition is linked to the concept of awareness, and for this reason there are several studies that correlate metacognition and the effects of mindfulness on cognition (Hussain, 2015; Jankowski & Holas, 2014).

Emotional regulation in learning

Emotions play and important role in learning and academic achievement (Linnenbrink, 2006; Linnenbrink, & Pekrun, 2011; Mega, Moè, Pazzaglia, Rizzato, & De Beni, 2007; Pekrun, 2014; Schutz, & Lanehart, 2002). Much interest has been given to emotions in literature on learning psychology, see the book Emotion in Education (Schutz, & Pekrun, 2007). Pekrun’s Control Value Theory (2006) introduced academic achievement emotions defined as emotions directly related to attainment activities when studying. These are divided into: activity emotions (for example, joy in the study phase, boredom during the lesson, anger when you do not understand something) and outcome emotions (emotions derived from the results obtained). In particular, we highlight how positive activity emotions guarantee effective learning and how they are generally linked to the study strategies used, to cognitive resources and motivations. Among all of the emotions, special attention is devoted to anxiety, which can be a resource or an obstacle in academic achievement if not managed properly. (Ashcraft, 2001; Pekrun et al., 2002; Pekrun, 2006).  This dichotomous function depends on the intensity of the anxiety experienced and on the interpretation we give in causal terms when we experience it.

Motivation in learning

Student motivation is a crucial factor for academic goal achievement (Conley, 2012; Eccles, & Wigfield, 2002; Pintrich, 2003; Seifert, 2004; Winne, & Nesbit, 2010). Motivation is a multidimensional construct that can be described by using several important contributions (Efklides, 2011), such as the Carol Dweck’s Self-Theories (1999), the concept of Self-Efficacy introduced by Albert Bandura (1997) and the Achievement Goals Theory (Dweck, 1986; Dweck, & Leggett, 1988) later extended to Achievement and Avoidance Goals Theory (Elliot, Murayama, & Pekrun, 2011; Law, Elliot, & Murayama, 2012; Murayama, Elliot, & Yamagata, 2011). The social-cognitive theories of Dweck’s motivation deal with Self-perception and argues that students with an incremental vision of their own intelligence, compared to those with a fixed vision, have more academic success (Dweck, 1999). Research has highlighted that students who experience high self-efficacy have greater potential for academic success (Bong, & Skaalvik, 2003; Pajares, 1996; Zimmermann, 2000). The Achievement Goal theory has shown that students with mastery goals rather than performance goals have greater chances of learning effectively and getting good academic results (Dweck, & Leggett, 1988). The measure of the motivational components can be made by evaluating Self-perception, Self-efficacy, and mastery or performance goals. An incremental perception of the Self,  high Self-efficacy, and  mastery achievement goals reinforce intrinsic motivation (Ryan, & Deci, 2000) for effective self-regulated learning (Elliot, Murayama, & Pekrun, 2011; Eccles, & Wigfield, 2002).

Furthermore, resilience, which is a coping ability, can be taken into consideration because it has been shown that it is a transversal ability related to self-regulation while studying, emotional regulation and motivation. It plays an important role in the achievement of academic goals (Keye, & Pidgeon, 2013). In academic contexts, resilience allows students to deal with failures and keeps their motivation and desire for success alive.