Teaching Strategies‎ > ‎Techniques‎ > ‎

Controlling Material

Instructor Control

Traditional teaching is lead by the instructor who provides knowledge through lecture, discussion and guides the student through structured learning activities.  In an online environment adaptive release techniques and learning units are used to guide students through a structured path. 

Adaptive release provides faculty control of when content is available to students by restricting access with a rule or set of rules.  Rules can be set to allow access to content after another media has been review, by time or date, only to an individual or to a group.   

A rule can be created with any or all of the following criteria:
  •  Availability
  • Date and Time
  • By Individual users
  • By User Groups
  • Scores on an assessment or assignment
  • Review of another item in the course

A learning unit allows faculty to provide a structured path or flow through course content.  Faculty can restrict students to progress through content sequentially.

Examples of how to use adaptive release and learning units:
  • Require students to review lecture material before progressing to an assessment
  • Guide students through a multi step assignment
  • Require a student to take a pre test before reviewing lecture materials
  • Allow students to take an assessment only after all assignments are submitted

 Learner Control

Learner control can be defined as when learners choose the aspects of the 'path', 'flow', or 'events' of instruction (Williams, 1996).  Students given the opportunity to choose paper topics that interest them, or allowed to write a paper or make a presentation to allow for self expression show increased motivation and achievement. 

Examples of how to allow learner control in a course:

·         Give optional no stakes practice quizzes with multiple attempts

·         Give optional study questions

·         Give students several formats to choose from for an assignment such as a paper or give an in class presentation

·         Allow students to select their own topic for a paper 

More resources on Learner Control
Penn State Learning Design Community Hub:  http://ets.tlt.psu.edu/learningdesign/lessons/control

The Best of Both Worlds

Both instructor control and learner control techniques are equally effective and can be used in conjunction.  According to Williams (2001), “most instructional designs are seen to consist of a mixture of learner-controlled and instructor-prescribed events” (p. 33.2).    Scaffolding uses a combination of the two to provide support and direction to a student while allowing the student to independently learn the skill or objective.   Boyer (2004) relates this to “an instructional dance, where students lead movements, direction, and pace while instructors follow in step, provide assistance, and enhance the experience.” 




Boyer, N. R. (2004). “Who’s in charge?  A system of scaffolds that encourage online learners to take control”. Association for educational communications and technology, 27th. Chicago. October 19-23, 2004.

Williams, M. D. (2001). Learner-control and instructional technologies. Handbook of research for
educational communications and technology
. Retrieved from http://www.aect.org/edtech/ed1/index.asp#index