Self-regulation as a future skill

The less work is controlled by external guidelines or other people and the more opportunities arise, the more important it is for individuals to manage themselves well. Self-regulation has therefore become a crucial core skill in the new world of education and work. The importance of self-regulation and self-directed learning for academic success was only recently demonstrated in a meta-analysis.

What is self-regulation?

Self-regulation includes time management or self-organisation, but goes much further. It involves selecting and defining goals, using one’s own resources efficiently, and applying strategies to achieve goals that have already been set. In addition to promoting performance, a broad understanding of self-regulation also includes promoting well-being. This means being mindful of one’s own resources and avoiding self-exploitation. If we can work almost anywhere and anytime, we need to take responsibility for ourselves, i.e. set boundaries, avoid procrastination, integrate our personal and professional lives and ensure our long-term life satisfaction. This includes also to know the own preferences concerning for example learning styles, need for collaboration or the desire to take responsibility. This all requires self-regulation skills.

What impact does self-regulation have?

Self-regulation has been shown to be an important predictor of a wide range of outcomes, including academic achievement in adolescence, long-term health and educational outcomes.

Self-regulation is seen as something that can be learnt – at least partly. The focus here is on training and methods aimed at developing skills and tools and building up knowledge and experience, e.g. on time management.

How can this skill be measured?

The primary challenge in assessing self-regulation arises from the complexity of the concept, as it is not easily captured by a single, universally applicable measure.

Nevertheless, there are several questionnaires that attempt to capture the construct self-regulation as accurately as possible. These questionnaires usually include brief descriptions of self-regulation strategies and respondents indicate the extent to which each strategy describes them on multi-item rating scales. A number of studies with questionnaires document three key dimensions of self-regulation:

  1. constructive thinking with the facets of time planning, action planning and volitional control
  2. intrinsic motivation
  3. effective behaviour

More recently, physiological aspects (e.g. physical fitness and mental health) have been added as a fourth dimension.

In addition, the individual key dimensions of self-regulation can be assessed separately. For example, the first key dimension “constructive thinking” can be partly covered by cognitive tests with complex problem-solving tasks that assess planning and organisational skills. An example of this is the module “Planning and Organising Projects“ which we use in study aptitude tests for graduate programs (e.g. TM-WISO). This module covering cognitive aspects of constructive thinking has been shown to be a valid predictor of academic success, matching the predictive power of quantitative reasoning skills (In this module, test takers are confronted with a complex planning task (e.g. project staffing for several projects) with information and restrictions (e.g. project descriptions and timeline, employee skills, preferences and availability). Test takers have to develop a plan fulfilling the requirements and optimizing the process.

In addition to constructive thinking, intrinsic motivation can also be well standardised and efficiently measured using proven (performance) motivation questionnaires.

When organisations want to assess self-regulation in selection procedures, the questionnaires have the weakness that participants can influence the results and answer in a desirable way. Questionnaires can be useful in selection procedures, as empirical studies have shown, but they should be combined with structured interviews, simulations and cognitive tests. 

What is the relationship between self-regulation and other personality traits?

There is currently little research on the extent to which self-regulation is related to other personality traits. Existing studies suggest moderately positive correlations with self-efficacy and initiative. There is also a positive relationship with job satisfaction and general well-being.


Self-regulation is a crucial core skill in the modern world of education and work, as it promotes individual well-being and long-term success. It is a complex construct made up of four very different key dimensions (constructive thinking, intrinsic motivation, effective behaviour and physiological aspects). Because of its complexity, self-regulation is difficult to measure. In the context of student selection, the assessment of constructive thinking via study aptitude tests and intrinsic motivation via standardised motivation questionnaires is particularly appropriate.

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