Learning Strategy 4: Self Monitoring 

Robert Harris
Version Date: Februarfy 27, 2014


Studies about how people learn have shown that when you pay attention to what and how well you are learning, your learning improves. Remembering and applying new knowledge and skills become easier when you keep an eye on your progress while learning something. It might seem odd to say that you should "pay attention" while you're learning, but what that means in practical terms is that you think about what  you have learned so far, what you need to learn, and how fully you are learning the material.

What happens in the brain is that you are sending a signal that the material is important and that you intend to remember it. So, how is this done?

Self-Monitoring Questions

Monitoring your learning by yourself can be done by asking yourself some questions related to your learning progress. Here are some example questions for doing that.

  1. How well do I understand this?
  2. Can I summarize this accurately?
  3. How would I paraphrase this?
  4. How thoroughly do I know this?
  5. What am I still unsure about?
  6. What do I still need to learn about this?
  7. How confident am I about this material?
  8. Am I learning and remembering whiat's most important?

It's important to analyze "failure" states also. In fact, it's been said that those who analyze their wrong answers learn much more than those who focus on the answers they got right. So, include questions like these:

  1. Why didn't I understand this at first?
  2. What made me finally get it?
  3. What caused me to get that answer wrong?
  4. Is there a pattern to my wrong answers?
  5. How can I avoid a similar mistake in the future?

You can add questions of your own that are more specific to your subject:

  1. Do I fully understand the difference between induction and deduction?
  2. Am I learning the vocabulary well enough?
  3. Am I getting better at applying the coating evenly?

Self-Monitoring Action Questions

After you answer  your self-monitoring questions, you should have a good idea about what needs to be improved--in general. But you also need a specific action plan. To help you develop a plan for improvement, ask these quesions:
  1. How can I clarify this uncertainty?
  2. Should I re-read this chapter, taking notes as I read?
  3. What changes do I need to make in the way I study for this material?
  4. Do I need to add to my study time?
  5. Should I partner with a study buddy or a group?
  6. Would flash cards help me learn this material?
  7. Do I need a class or some tutoring in order to help me succeed?

You can make up your own questions and choose a set to work with, adding, changing, or deleting to suit the particular course or learning situation. Asking and answering these questions aloud is recommended. In other words, talking to yourself is actually an excellent way to learn something.


To sum up, Self-Monitoring involves (1) thinking and asking questions about how well you are learning something and (2) making any necessary changes to your learning practices in order to optimize your learning.

High Peformance Learning

For Self-Monitoring, the above and beyond, extra credit, high performance learning technique is to create a graph, check sheet, or other tracking document that shows visually where you are on the path to mastery. For example, if you want to learn 100 Latin vocabulary words, you could create a check sheet with four boxes next to each word on the list. The first box might be labeled "know Latin to English," the second, "know English to Latin," and the last two, "fluent Latin to English, " and "fluent English to Latin." Another possibility would be to use a graph with the X axis (horizontal) representing time and the Y axis (vertical) representing the number of vocabulary words you have mastered.

You can even track the progress of your use of various learning strategies by using a check sheet, such as the one described in Learning Strategy 19: Learning Strategy Checklist.

Graphs and check sheets can be highly motivating, and they also further the goal of thinking about what you are learning.

VirtualSalt Home
Learning Strategy 1: Mnemonics
Learning Strategy 2: Paraphrasing
Learning Strategy 3: Summarizing
Learning Strategy 4: Self Monitoring
Learning Strategy 5: Self Explanation
Learning Strategy 6: Mental Rehearsal
Learning Strategy 7: Self Assessment
Learning Strategy 8: The SQ3R Reading Method
Learning Strategy 9: Note Taking
Learning Strategy 10: The Leitner Flash Card System
Learning Strategy 11: Maintaining Interest
Learning Strategy 12: Conversation
Learning Strategy 13: Group Interaction
Learning Strategy 14: Idea Mapping
Learning Strategy 15: Drawing Pictures
Learning Strategy 16: Study Cycles
Learning Strategy 17: Sleep and Rest
Learning Strategy 18: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 19: Learning Strategy Checklist
Learning Strategy 20: Asking Questions
Learning Strategy 21: Idea Linking
Learning Strategy 22: How to Use a Book
Learning Strategy 23: Active Listening
Learning Strategy 24: Close Reading
Learning Strategy 25: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 26: Power Thinking
Learning Strategy 27: Planning for Learning
Learning Strategy 28: Outlining
Learning Strategy 29: Analogies
Copyright 2011 by Robert Harris | CCC 7000520813 | How to cite this page
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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com