Learner Control vs. Program Control

Author: Keenan Kibrick

Definition: Learner control is when learners have control over their learning environment and Program Control is when the program controls the learning environment inside the software (Chang and Ho 2009). In most programs learner control is shown through the students ability to choose how they guide themselves through a program. This means that they can choose to skip parts of a program they feel competent with, choose which levels they would like to try, and decide how they want to learn the material. Meanwhile, in program control the program guides students through each step. Students cannot typically skip previous steps to go further, they are not allowed to skip tutorials, and they cannot choose what they would like to learn. These functions instead are decided by the program. Below are examples of each please try both to see how they work.

Learner Control:

The best way to learn about each is to try them out. A very good example of learner control is through the following game.

redistictring game

As you play the game pay attention to the Learner Control aspects inside the game. The user has the ability to choose each level of the game, and they are able to choose the difficulty they want. This is the players choice by how comfortable they feel in the game. Each lesson has access to extra material as well that a player can view if they choose. The most important aspect of the learner control though is that each student can control their own learning and pace of learning with the game. The learner may choose their pace in the game, decide how they want to play, and even choose what levels they want to play inside the game.

Program Control:

Aleks Math Software

Try the Aleks software by signing up for a free account. If you do not wish to go through the process a video below shows the tutorial of the game. As you go through the tutorial notice how you must click on each individual step to progress through the game. Follow the video below to see how many steps someone needs to take in order to get through a tutorial.

Every step has to be completed and a person is not allowed to move on until that step was completed. This does make it easier for a person to understand how every game aspect works. Since you cannot move on until you grasp one step you will never be lost. However, if you feel confident with the program you are unable to skip past parts that you might already know. In the trial version you will notice that you are allowed to skip, but that is for teachers only. In the actual version for students you are not allowed to skip these steps. Further, the game will assign you a level to start at in the game based on a skills test. You cannot progress further through the game until you have completed all the steps in order of the lesson you are on originally. This does have the bonus of making sure students understand every step in math before proceeding to a new challenging step, but it does limit the control the user has over their own education.

Reflection on playing Games:
Learner or Program control are different ways a program can work in the classroom and both have merit. After trying both Aleks and the Redistictring game decide which you think is better for your students? Some of you will favor the redistricting game for it's extra levels of user control. You might enjoy the freedom the game has to offer. Others of you will favor Program control because of the knowledge that you will always be prepared before your take the next step. It's up to you as a teacher to decide what suits your class best. Below are two examples of research on the subject that can help you make an accurate decision.

What Literature Says:
Research by Chang and Ho (2009 pg. 194) in learner versus program control favor learner control in their study of 115 students at a university using a program that assists students in increasing their English language proficiency . ln the study students were presented with two types of software. One based on program control had students presented with vocabulary terms followed by instructions and follow-up exercise in a fixed series. The Learner control version had the same content but definitions of the vocabulary was controlled by a mouse roll-over, the audio could be stopped or restarted at any time, the follow-up exercises were a choice rather then required, and the lessons could be done in any order. The study revealed that learner-control web-based instructional programs outperformed students who learned from a program-control web based instructional program on both academic performance and levels self-efficacy. Learner control also was shown to lead to higher levels of self-efficacy in students by suggesting that learner control gave students mastery over the program and more confidence with the program.

In a separate study at a non-college level Kopcha and Sullivan (2007) studied sixth and seventh grade students at a Northwestern Middle school and revealed opposite effects on learner versus program control. They were tested on an internet math program known as Operations with Integers math program. The program had various learning modules each that had to be completed in sequential learning order. The program control version advanced through screens using the next button. Students had to read through every screen in the process and perform each lesson in the series. The learner control students had the same screens, but were able to skip screens if they chose to and they had the ability to stop tutorials if needed. The results showed that students with higher levels of prior knowledge succeeded better with learner control then students with lower levels of prior knowledge. Conclusions pointed to lower level ability students using the skip button too much because they did not want to spend time reading the material, rather then an aptitude for the program.

Conclusions about literature
Both Kopcha and Chang speak on the issue of Learner versus program control and in the end come to separate conclusions. Learner control sparks better self efficacy by providing the ability for mastery and control (Chang 2009). However, for lower performing students or students with less prior knowledge a program control version is better because it prevents students from skipping or ignoring slides that students are unaware they may need to succeed (Kopcha 2007).

Links To learn More:
Jumpstart Games These games for younger children at jumpstart are perfect examples of learner control games as well. Notice how each game you play you have control over what you do. You can choose the levels you want to play, and in doing so you can choose the skills you want to learn.

Mind Institute The mind research institute is another great place to play a very good game on learning. This time though it's a very heavy program controlled game. While you control the penguin through many educational math levels students are never allowed to proceed past a level until they finish the level they are on. Further, they must always play the tutorial. They are allowed to return to previous games, but progressions is halted until a level is completed. The game is pay for however so you would have to buy it to see the program control in action.

Aspects of Learner Control This website from SDSU is another great website. It shows the aspects of learner control that a teacher should decide on when implementing web and software based programs inside the classroom. The various factors are ones teachers should consider when deciding how much control they want to give students versus how much control the program should have.

Chang, M.-M., & Ho, C.-M. (2009). Effects of locus of control and learner-control on web-based language learning. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 22(3), 189-206. doi:10.1080/09588220902920094

Kopcha, T. J., & Sullivan, H. (2007). Learner preferences and prior knowledge in learner-controlled computer-based instruction. Educational Technology Research and Development, 56(3), 265-286. doi:10.1007/s11423-007-9058-1