The Role of Mental Effort in Fostering Self-Regulated Learning with Problem-Solving Tasks

Tamara van Gog*, Vincent Hoogerheide, Milou van Harsel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Problem-solving tasks form the backbone of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) curricula. Yet, how to improve self-monitoring and self-regulation when learning to solve problems has received relatively little attention in the self-regulated learning literature (as compared with, for instance, learning lists of items or learning from expository texts). Here, we review research on fostering self-regulated learning of problem-solving tasks, in which mental effort plays an important role. First, we review research showing that having students engage in effortful, generative learning activities while learning to solve problems can provide them with cues that help them improve self-monitoring and self-regulation at an item level (i.e., determining whether or not a certain type of problem needs further study/practice). Second, we turn to self-monitoring and self-regulation at the task sequence level (i.e., determining what an appropriate next problem-solving task would be given the current level of understanding/performance). We review research showing that teaching students to regulate their learning process by taking into account not only their performance but also their invested mental effort on a prior task when selecting a new task improves self-regulated learning outcomes (i.e., performance on a knowledge test in the domain of the study). Important directions for future research on the role of mental effort in (improving) self-monitoring and self-regulation at the item and task selection levels are discussed after the respective sections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1055-1072
Number of pages18
JournalEducational Psychology Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • Example-based learning
  • Mental effort
  • Problem-solving
  • Self-regulated learning


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