Learner vs. Lesson Control

Vicki Gebala

What is Learner and Lesson Control?

Learner Control is when the use has control of a program- they are able to navigate the program by using buttons, menus, or hyperlinks with either a mouse or a key board (Alessi & Trollip, 2001). Lesson Control is when the lesson, or program, has control over what the user is doing and when. Some programs will give more freedom to the learner than others, but "both user and program control always exist in some combination" (Alessi & Trollip, 2001).


Learner Control

Some programs allow students more freedom than others, making it easy to differentiate instruction. Some students learn new skills more quickly than others and may not need to go back and review. Other students, however, may have a hard time grasping the same information, so working with a program that will adapt and allow this student to revisit and review the skills is beneficial for this student (PA State, 2007). A learner controlled program will support both types of learners: the more advanced student can move at his own pace (quickly) through the lesson and move on to more challenging activities, while the other student can work through the lesson slowly and review as needed.

Students like to have choices. Every student has a different style of learning, each style of which can be fostered by the same software program depending on its level of learner control. Reigeeluth & Stein (1983) found that "instruction generally increases in effectiveness, efficiency, and appeal to the extent that it permits informed learner control by motivated learners". Because students are presented with a program that allows them to navigate easily and review when they want to, they are more opt to want to learn.

Williams (1996) took a look at how learner control gives students to work on their problem solving and decision making skills'"[Learner control is when] learners make their own decisions regarding to some aspects of the 'path', 'flow', or 'events' of instruction...Learners given control over their instruction might be more likely to think about what they are doing as a result of having to make choices along the way". This metacognitive process helps learners become more self-sufficient in their education.

The degree of learner control should depend on following variables: (Depover and Quintin, 1992; Hannafin, 1984; Milheim & Martin, 1991; Steinberg, 1989):
  • Previous knowledge
  • Student strategy and ability
  • Learning progress
  • Complexity of material
  • Familiarity with the subject

Lesson Control

Marlino, M.R. – "While some learner control can be motivating, too much can be confusing. The learner may not always be the best judge of the instruction required for effective learning.

Jiji, a math program by the Mind Institute, is a well designed game looking to help students improve both their math and problem solving skills. This program is a highly "lesson controlled" program, where students do not have much of a choice what levels or games they complete. As they complete each level, they are automatically told to move on to the next level. Students can, however, go back and repeat or review levels they have already completed. They do not earn lives or percentage points of any sort for completing already mastered levels, but it does give them a chance to review what they have learned if they are stuck on their current level. Students do have some control over this program, but the lesson mainly controls what the students are learning. This video shows a few of many students who get excited about "doing Jiji" in the computer lab.

Below: A screen shot of Jiji. The learner is able to: control his answer to the puzzle by choosing the correct number (1, 2, 3, or 4), go back to the main menu by using the left arrow, try the puzzle again by using the circle button, and can see how many lives they have left by looking at the penguin figures at the bottom of the screen.


Mind Institute
Mind Institute's Jiji math program is slowly making its way into elementary schools around southern California. Take a look at their site, as it explains how and why they designed Jiji the way that they did. This program allows the learner to control the pace, yet it has just enough control in the programming to guide students to success!

Ticket to Read
Ticket to Read is a learner controlled program that allows students to develop their reading skills. It's design is strong because it allows the learner to repeat audio directions and entire lessons, choose the stories they want to read, and design a playhouse using the tickets they earn.

Google Tools
Google provides tools for students of all age free of charge. We use several of these tools every single day for school related and personal activities. Google docs, gmail, and calendar are a few of the useful programs google offers, all in a mainly learner controlled environment.

Using Technology to Improve Achievement
This link is a great resource for understanding how to use technology to improve student achievement. Learner control and lesson control are both essential for developing learners and improving achievement.

Alessi & Trollip (2001) Mutlimedia for learning: methods and development. Allyn and Bacon, Boston.

Hannafin, M. (1984) Guidelines for using locus of instructional control in the design of computer-assisted instruction, Journal of Instructional Development. 7(3), 6-.
Marlino, M. R. (1995). Research findings and recommendations. Retrieved May 14, 2003 fromhttp://www.met.ed.ac.uk/calmet/conferences/resfndrc.ppt (Referenced from http://ets.tlt.psu.edu/learningdesign/lessons/control 2007-2010, The Pennsylvania State University)

Reigeluth, C. M. & Stein, F.S. (1983). The elaboration theory of instruction. In C.M. Reigeluth, ed. Instructional-design theories and models, 335-82. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Williams, M. D. (1996). Learner-control and instructional technologies. In D. Jonassen (Ed.), Handbook of research for educational communications and technology (2nd ed.) Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.