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The Seductive Waltz With the Self in Self-Regulated Learning: Toward Communal Regulation of Learning

by Chen Schechter - 2017

This article proposes a complementary framework for scholarship on metacognition as well as on self-regulated learning. It is argued that educators’ and researchers’ seductive waltz with the “self” in self-regulated learning (e.g., self-monitoring, self-control) need not be abandoned when conceptualizing and empirically investigating teaching and learning. Rather, self-regulation should be complemented by a more holistic, integrated, and collaborative framework—that of communal-regulated learning—to develop effective learners in today’s fast-changing educational scene. This article presents the epistemological premises postulated as upholding the communal nature of learning regulation, while raising conceptual as well as practical questions for its adoption.

Winne, in the opening chapter of this yearbook, has forecast that the trajectory of self-regulated learning (SRL) will be situated in empirical investigation about what is involved in becoming educated in the 21st century:

I forecast that this trajectory points toward a nexus in which the student reemerges as the central figure—the self—who investigates and is empowered to research what works. What may become the field’s most alluring challenge is accepting that students should teach us what works. (Winne, 2017, this yearbook)

Perceiving the learner, the “self,” as the central figure who in fact engages in metacognitive activity, Winne has correctly recognized that Rene Descartes’s (1637/1999) famous declaration “Cogito ergo sum—I doubt, therefore I think; therefore I am” includes the emergence of metacognition. By doubting, one is thinking. It is only the human self who can reflect on the fact that if one is capable of doubting (thinking), then one indeed exists. Thus, Descartes’s declaration from nearly 400 years ago set the stage for the emergence of metacognition as a focus in research.

Extrapolating from the cogito ergo sum tenet, Descartes, probably one of the greatest modern thinkers, declared the human mind as fully capable of grasping the nature of reality (Ackoff, 1999). This notion of the understandability of the universe through the self’s doubting and thinking represented the first stirrings of what may be called the Machine Age, which was dominated by the reductionist approach. Reductionist analysis dictated that the whole cannot be understood until its parts are understood—for example, one cannot understand the automobile until one understands its subparts, like the carburetor or radiator. According to this approach, everything in the universe except God, who should be accepted by faith, must be comprehended through rational analysis that reduces each object to its indivisible parts. In other words, the reductionist answer to every “What is this?” question would always be: “‘This’ is whatever it is made of.”

This reductionist approach, epitomized in Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times (1936), which analogized modern life to a factory assembly line, later manifested itself in every branch of Western knowledge, including the field of education. Reductionism became one of the most central, vastly accepted beliefs of the modern era (Ahn, Tewari, Poon, & Phillips, 2006). Thus, the entire universe, as well as everything in it, came to be regarded as a clockwork-like mechanism. Scholars upheld that to understand anything, human beings need only investigate its separate parts and then put them together correctly. Indeed, according to reductionism, the only meaning of research was rational analysis, which is the process of breaking a complex thing down into its smaller parts to gain a better understanding of it. Recognition of the smallest components in isolation from each other was believed to enable the analyst to know the sum total; the analyst’s task would be to merely reassemble all the components in order to recreate the whole (Mazzocchi, 2008; Shaked & Schechter, 2017).

The self’s doubting and thinking, within the reductionist analysis approach, has served as an anchor in the scholarship on metacognition as well as on self-regulated learning. That is, educators and researchers have danced a “seductive waltz” with the self—viewing the parts and components of self-regulated learning (e.g., self-planning, self-monitoring, self-control) as making up the process of human learning. This epistemological premise regards the “self” as the primary learning and regulating entity in human nature.

In this article, I suggest that scholars dare to try another dance when conceptualizing and empirically investigating the phenomena of teaching and learning, one that goes beyond the focus on the “self” inside the person to a focus that spans communities of “selves” and relationships between selves. Namely, I propose communal regulation of learning as a complementary framework that may be more suited to what is indeed required from educated citizens of the 21st century, who must cooperate, even globally, to solve complex problems and to negotiate diverse viewpoints via teamwork. This article argues that the longstanding seductive waltz (Hikins, 1999) with the “self” in self-regulated learning need not be abandoned but rather should be complemented by a more holistic, integrated, and collaborative framework of “selves”—the group dance of communally regulated learning.


Let us return to the issue of human thinking and doubting while placing it in a communal context. Whereas the Modernist intellectuals observed that doubt may be debilitating and may cause disruption, nihilism, and an assault on authority, Peirce (1955), one of the founders of American Pragmatism, viewed doubt as liberating. According to the pragmatic view, when a civilization’s self-validating system of beliefs is doubted—through communal inquiry—then growth occurs within that civilization rather than decline. Hence, beliefs should be continuously exposed to perplexities of doubt to explore falsifiability of ideas. Peirce encouraged people to doubt knowledge, not for the purpose of reaching “the ultimate truth” but rather for the purpose of successive approximation toward “communal agreement about the truth.” It is by approaching a truth that is communally deliberated that citizens can reduce error and can ground knowledge in valid information (Peirce, 1955).

The importance of doubt in a democratic society, and especially in the educational system, is illuminated in Dewey’s (1909) theory of moral inquiry. Dewey insisted on viewing social problems as moral problems and vice versa. If moral problems are social by nature, then participation in the development of moral values becomes a central part of life within the collective. Each citizen contributes to the living embroidery, the texture that is created through an ongoing collective critical examination of social issues (Gouinlock, 1992). Dewey’s view of all social issues as potentially moral led him to argue that all relevant facts are potentially moral as well. Consequently, he upheld that all facts are subject to moral inquiry and doubt. Accordingly, Dewey (1909) regarded the skill of doubting, when supported by scientific inquiry and democratic deliberation, as an honorable moral objective in any organization because it facilitates the growth of individuals as social beings. Thus, the act of doubting society’s ongoing practices is seen on the one hand as increasing the burden and responsibilities of all its stakeholders, yet at the same time as evoking citizens’ tremendous potential for individual and communal growth.

Doubting as an “interrelated” rather than merely an intrapersonal cognitive practice was illuminated by Bohm (in Senge, 1990), who suggested that human cognition is interconnected and occurs in a continuously changing motion. Interestingly, Bohm created a syllogism (referred to as enthymeme in the rhetorical realm) proposing that human thought is solely a collective endeavor. The two premises of this syllogism were: (a) “language . . . is entirely collective  . . . and (b) without language, thought as we know it could not be there” (Senge, 1990, p. 242), meaning that language is a prerequisite for thought. The logical conclusion to be deduced from these premises would be that thoughts (and regulation of thoughts) are evoked through a collective endeavor.

Bohm’s enthymeme for language holds implications for a communal view of learning. If thoughts are an interconnected and evoked endeavor (Cherwitz & Darwin, 1995; Cherwitz & Hikins, 1983), educators should consider learning and its regulatory processes to be dialogic processes of negotiating and of creating meaning. In this vein, the following two interrelated premises may be postulated as logically upholding the communal nature of learning regulation:

Learning evokes through human beings’ symbiotic relational thinking with others in a particular context (e.g., peer learners or the teacher in the classroom). These collections of relations are the building blocks in learners’ growth. Therefore, learning should be comprehended through relationships, which are the ontological nature of the regulation of learning.

Learning is itself a relational property, which emerges out of the relationship of any learner with other learners. Thus, the learning process and its regulatory analysis are possible only because of and through relationality.

The Western tendency toward continuous entrapment in reductionist habits for attributing meaning can be dissolved by perceiving the relational nature of language and thoughts. Boden (1990), in this regard, argued that any “unit’s activity is regulated by the activity of neighboring units, connected to it by inhibitory or excitatory links whose strength can vary according to design and/or learning” (p. 14). In this sense, the epistemological premise of learning proposed here focuses on the interactions and relationships among learners as they regulate their learning in various contexts.

Communal-regulated learning illuminates the social nature of the self, as learners regulate their thoughts through their relationships with other learners. To illustrate this point, the sociopolitical consciousness of modern citizens in multicultural or war-torn nations does not evolve separately from, or despite the influence of, their out-groups or their geopolitical adversaries. Rather, each citizen undergoes learning and regulatory processes that feed into an evolving consciousness as a very result of those other social rivals. For example, my Israeli consciousness does not evolve despite my enemies, separate from their influence. Rather, my consciousness and regulative processes evolve because of my enemies, thus acknowledging my Palestinian-ness, Syrian-ness, and so on (e.g., natives and recent immigrants, Republicans and Democrats). In these interconnected and inseparable learning processes, the self as a learner, together with all the other learners in the environment, “participate in each other in an irreducible way” (Senge, 1990, p. 239).

Communal regulation of learning acknowledges that the learning process must forever remain incomplete. Put differently, communal-regulated learning resembles the image of crystallization, which acknowledges the dynamic and interrelated nature of human learning and calls for a communal regulation of thoughts where multiple human angles can create ever-changing and continuously “different colors, patterns, arrays, casting off in different directions” (Richardson, 1994, p. 522). This image of crystallization grants communal learners the privilege of participating in a continuous process of transformation. As a result, learners’ regulated learning occurs through a continuous negotiation of meaning with other learners.

By embracing this communal framework for regulation, learners can no longer hide behind their own separate prism (maybe prison?) for learning and regulation. When viewed as communally linked, learners’ multiple points of view can be incorporated into the collective regulation of learning. In this sense, communal-regulated learning dismantles the need for verifiability, which preoccupies so-called self-regulated learners, who encode the search for truth using a dualist vocabulary between the “self” and “others.” Verifiability becomes unnecessary when relations are perceived as the seed that evokes learning and knowledge. Communal regulation of learning, then, may better serve 21st-century learners in their efforts to account for and explain complex and dynamic teaching and learning processes in an increasingly globalized and interactive learning milieu.


Inasmuch as this article entails reflection on a possible alternative framework for regulation of learning, important further questions surface. If regulation of learning is evoked through the “irreducible” relationships (Senge, 1990) that learners maintain with other learners, does regulation exist outside relationality? Likewise, if regulative processes are evoked through the complex and dynamic relationships between the learner and the other participants in learning, whose regulation is it? Furthermore, if regulative processes are relational, what criteria would be pertinent to guide validation of this communal regulation of learning? Embracing the communal-regulated learning framework requires scholars and educators to espouse not only a different frame of reference but also a distinct language that will be sensitive to the dynamic relationships between the self (learner) and the other learning participants. Therefore, what is the language of communal-regulated learning—the language of relational regulation of learning?

Additional questions face educational leaders—including teacher educators, faculty ranging from preschool to collegiate levels, policy makers, and researchers. For example, inasmuch as learning occurs in an interpersonal sphere, encompassing networks of communications and actions among teachers and students, can educational leaders shift from a focus on knowing how an individual regulates thoughts and actions within the “self” to a focus on knowing how and why that individual regulates thoughts and actions in interaction with other “selves?” Can the education community move toward the regulation of learning as an interrelated holistic process rather than primarily focusing on reductive self-analysis? By calling for communal regulation of learning in school communities, educational leaders can lead the way in adopting more relevant 21st-century epistemological premises when inquiring into teaching and learning.

To conclude, the framework proposed here suggests a change in the dance partner for regulation of learning, thereby shifting our cognitive gears from a waltz with the self alone toward a communal framework for human beings’ dance with learning, which may be in better keeping with today’s rapidly changing educational tempo. This article highlights the need to conceptualize and empirically investigate communal-regulated learning as a complementary framework to self-regulated learning, with potential for facilitating effective learners. It is important to explore whether espousal of this holistic perspective upholding the communal nature of learning regulation will successfully help to develop learners who can better embrace the complexities of the 21st century.


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Shaked, H., & Schechter, C. (2017). Systems thinking for school leaders: Holistic leadership for excellence in schools. New York, NY: Springer.

Winne, P. H.  (2017). The trajectory of scholarship about self-regulated learning. Teachers College Record, 119(13).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 13, 2017, p. 1-8
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21919, Date Accessed: 5/22/2022 10:53:29 PM

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About the Author
  • Chen Schechter
    Bar-Ilan University
    E-mail Author
    CHEN SCHECHTER, Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, School of Education, Bar-Ilan University, Israel. His research areas include professional learning communities, organizational learning, learning from successes, educational leadership, systems thinking, and qualitative research methods. Relevant publications include: Shaked, H., & Schechter, C. (2017). Systems thinking for school leaders: Holistic leadership for excellence in schools. New York, NY: Springer. [Foreword by Michael Fullan]; and Schechter, C., & Michalsky, T. (2014). Juggling our mindsets: Learning from success as a complementary instructional framework in teacher education. Teachers College Record, 116(2), 1–48.
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