The t-MAIL project: teaching our kids self-regulated learning

We're a complex species...

An insect may start its life 'knowing' what its supposed to do, but as you move up the food chain you'll notice animals spending more and more time 'teaching' their offspring what to eat, how to hunt, how to interact. Moving further we come to our species, a species that locks its kids in schools for 20 years. Not all of us (unfortunately?), only the lucky (?) ones.  

Why do we do it?

We basically do what every species does: prepare our kids for their role in the world, giving them the necessary tools and skills required to survive.  And as human society has grown more complex century after century, so have the demands on these tools and skills. Literacy, numeracy, communication and social skills are what everybody needs, but we've created a system with many different, complex roles to support it and 20 years long, differentiated learning paths for many of those.

As our society evolved, and as we developed technology to evolve our society, these have changed, new roles, job types are defined, others become obsolete.  Nothing new there, but with the speedup in technological advances also the speed of these role changes is increasing.  We've seen ten thousands of Chinese factory workers getting replaced by robots with many more to come. Autonomous vehicles are test-driving on our roads. The huge investment which has been going into artificial intelligence these last couple of years is aimed at computers doing what humans do today.

We have a pretty good idea about the jobs that will be disappearing in the not-too-distant future, leading to the realization that we don't have a clue what jobs half of the kids who now start school will be doing. The jobs they get at that point may not be around for long.

Which brings us back to education, the skills required to survive the future will be different than the ones required today. Our schools need to prepare our kids for this future.

Realizing that we don't know what the future will bring, but that we do know it will be a quickly changing environment in which they'll need to continuously adapt, "Lifelong Learning" has become a popular term, and "Lifelong Learners" is what our schools need to deliver.  This brings me to Self Regulated Learning (SRL).  SRL is a skillset which has been proven to have a positive impact on many fronts, among which the engagement in lifelong learning.

Self-regulated learning involves various strategies students can use to uplift or maintain their motivation and positive emotions towards learning, as well as strategies that allow students to effectively plan, monitor and evaluate their work.  

It is usually described using the cyclical model developed by Zimmerman, see image below, which takes the student through phases were he prepares his learning, does the learning and reflects on what he has achieved.  For each of these phases there are strategies that focus on the student's motivation, his emotions and the learning itself.

Phases & processes of self-regulation according to Zimmerman & Moylan (2009) ©Routledge.

Helping primary school teachers to support their pupils' self-regulated learning skills is the focus of the t-Mail project that we're participating in and that is co-funded by Erasmus+ program of the European union. The t-MAIL project will develop and test a mobile application supporting primary school teachers in implementing classroom practices that stimulate students' self-regulated learning.  

In addition to enhancing our childrens SRL skills, with t-MAIL we try to learn more about using mobile learning for the continuing professional development of teachers.

More information about SRL and the t-MAIL project can be found at

Xavier Van Elsacker

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