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Students' self-regulated learning at home during pandemic-related school closures


What factors determine whether students were able to successfully self-regulate their learning at home during pandemic-related school closures? The project investigates under which conditions students from different types of schools manage well during periods of self-regulated learning or which types of support they need.

The evaluations focus on two constructs: the students' willingness to make an effort and their enjoyment of learning. The aim is to help closing knowledge gaps about the multiple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on educational processes throughout the life course and thus to be able to discuss appropriate pedagogical implications for teachers and parents.



The project is funded within the focus funding "Education and Corona – The Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Educational Processes in the Life Course" of the German Research Foundation (DFG). The focus funding makes it possible to work on particularly urgent scientific questions. It aims to analyse pandemic-related influences on people's educational pathways and to consider the long-term implications for social developments (e.g. social inequality). The funded one-year evaluation projects therefore focus on the longitudinal section.




Longitudinal data from the National Educational Panel Study (NEPS) form the basis of the evaluations at the Leibnitz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LIfBi). Within the framework of the NEPS, additional COVID-19 surveys were started in spring 2020 - at the time of the first lockdown - in all starting cohorts in order to record the specific situation and challenges in connection with the (school) closures caused by the pandemic. For example, parents were asked how they were able to support their children in learning at home and how difficult it was to motivate them to learn. In addition, parents as well as students reported their satisfaction with the learning material provided by the schools, the possibilities of communicating with teachers via digital formats and changes in (digital) learning activities.

Analysis plan

Sub-study 1: Primary and secondary students' coping with learning at home during school closures
The first step is to look at the coping with learning at home of students in primary school (around grade 2 to grade 3) and secondary school (grade 8 to grade 9). Specifically, parental support and satisfaction with learning materials as well as children's difficulties in learning at home and changes in (digital) learning activities in the first and second phase of the nationwide school closures are compared. It can be assumed that the children differ in their motivation and in overcoming challenges in self-regulated learning; for example, in relation to their age or the type of school they attend. 
An initial analysis using data from May 2020 from parents with children in grade 8 showed that parents' satisfaction with school support, but not their perceived ability to support their child with learning, was predictive of their perceptions of the child's learning outcomes (Transfer Report 1, PDF).

Sub-study 2: Development of Effort and Eagerness to Learn
Due to the longitudinal design, the developments of children's willingness to make an effort and their enjoyment of learning can be compared in both cohorts before, during and after the school closures. Assumptions are that

  • students' enjoyment of learning suffered during the initial period of school closures, but may have stabilised as learning progressed at home
  • students who had a higher level of enjoyment of learning before the pandemic are less affected by the new learning situation than those who were already struggling before the school closures
  • students with lower prior knowledge and lower self-concept are less motivated to engage with the learning material without constant supervision by teachers

In addition, motivation and personality traits are important predictors of willingness to try hard and can be included in a predictive model to explain the development over time.

Sub-study 3: Identifying children at risk of having difficulties in learning at home
The third part of this project identifies groups at risk of experiencing difficulties in managing self-regulated learning during school closures. The focus is on educational background, gender, prior achievement and motivation at school. Initial analyses with data from the National Educational Panel Study have shown that girls seem to have fewer problems with learning at home than boys. Reading skills and willingness to try hard also seem to be positively related to perceived learning outcomes.



The project revealed that

  • Student learning enjoyment and learning effort decreased over primary and lower secondary school. Learning effort decreased gradually, but learning enjoyment showed a temporary increase after the transition to lower secondary school.
  • However, the average decreases that we observed did not mean that all students enjoyed learning less and put less effort in learning over time. In some students, learning enjoyment and learning effort increased.
  • Girls enjoyed learning more and put more effort in learning than boys.
  • Students in lower secondary school enjoyed learning less over time because their academic self-concept decreased and they valued learning less.

With respect to learning during the Covid-19 pandemic, the project indicated that:

  • During the pandemic, learning enjoyment and learning effort decreased in lower secondary school students. The decrease, however, was not necessarily a result of the pandemic. It could be part of the long-term trend that we observed.
  • Nevertheless, environmental factors could play a role. Learning enjoyment and learning effort decreased more in students who felt that they were more affected by various pandemic-related consequences, for instance family conflicts or financial problems.
  • Moreover, in students with high pre-pandemic academic achievement, the decrease was smaller if their parents declared that they were able to provide their children with learning support during distance learning. 

Project profile