Who's in charge?

This is number 35 in my ongoing series on learning theories. In this series I have been providing a brief overview of each theory, and how each can be applied in education. All the previous posts in this series are linked below, with theorists listed in alphabetical order. The most recent post in this series featured spreading activation theory - a theory adapted from a hierarchical model of memory proposed by Ross Quillian and Allan Collins. In this post, I present a brief overview of Julian Rotter's locus of control theory. As always, this is a brief and concise explanation of the theory, and a personal interpretation of its possible uses in education. If you wish to delve deeper, you are advised to read the associated literature.

The theory

American psychologist Julian Rotter developed locus of control theory to address the fundamental question many of us ask - who is in control of my life? The theory explains social dimensions of personality. According to Rotter, people either view their position in life as being defined by external or internal influences. A person with an internal locus of control would generally view their success (or failure) as being the result of their own ability and/or actions. Those who have an external locus of control consider their success or failure to be the result of forces beyond their immediate control (e.g. luck or intervention from others). Locus of control has connections to a number of other social theories of personality including self-efficacy (Bandura) and attribution theory (Weiner).

How it can be applied in education

In education, locus of control usually rests with the teacher. In student centred approaches, the locus of control shifts to the learner. Allowing students to control their own learning encourages them to believe they can influence academic outcomes through their own ability and efforts. If students believe they have little or no influence over their own outcomes they may adopt attitudes that are negative and pessimistic. Too much teacher control can also lead to demotivation. Student centred learning encourages learners to develop an internal locus of control where anything is possible, and where in progressive versions, they choose what they will learn, how they will learn it and even how they will be assessed. However, there is a fine balance between giving students too much freedom, with little or no scaffolding, and enough freedom and responsibility for their own learning. Teachers might therefore ask themselves - who is in charge?

Previous posts in this series:

1.  Anderson ACT-R Cognitive Architecture
2.  Argyris Double Loop Learning
3.  Bandura Social Learning Theory
4.  Bruner Scaffolding Theory
5.  Craik and Lockhart Levels of Processing
6.  Csíkszentmihályi Flow Theory
7.  Dewey Experiential Learning
8.  Engeström Activity Theory
9.  Ebbinghaus Learning and Forgetting Curves
10. Festinger Social Comparison Theory
11. Festinger Cognitive Dissonance Theory
12. Gardner Multiple Intelligences Theory
13. Gibson Affordances Theory
14. Gregory Visual Perception Hypothesis
15. Hase and Kenyon Heutagogy
16. Hull Drive Reduction Theory
17. Inhelder and Piaget Formal Operations Stage
18. Jung Archetypes and Synchronicity
19. Jahoda Ideal Mental Health
20. Koffka Gestalt theory
21. Köhler Insight learning
22. Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle
23. Knowles Andragogy
24. Lave Situated Learning
25. Lave and Wenger Communities of Practice
26. Maslow Hierarchy of Human Needs
27. Merizow Transformative Learning
28. Milgram Six Degrees of Separation
29. Milgram Obedience to Authority
30. Norman The design of everyday things
31. Papert Constructionism
32. Paivio Dual Coding Theory
33. Piaget Cognitive Stages of Development
34. Quillian and Collins Spreading Activation Theory

Photo by NEC Corporation on Flickr

Creative Commons License

Who's in charge? by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


Jon Temple said…
It's a balance between the two, delegating learning and scaffolding learning. Enough freedom with a balanced approach to be ready to intervene. If teachers take too much control students will be more dependent on their teacher and vice versa. If the child id given then some probelms they might not have the skills to solve.

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