Eric Ritholz, Online Coordinator, EdTech

Since the pandemic, there have been many opinions circulating regarding methods to improve the outcomes for online courses. Distilled to its essence two key factors come into focus:

1. Clear direction and navigation allowing students to proceed through assignments correctly requiring guidance from the instructor as to meaning and learning; not requiring guidance for procedure and technical issues.

2. Students are engaged in the learning itself and are provided or can discern the application of their learning to the goals and outcomes of the course.

This second point regarding student engagement has many contributing factors that span from course design to the method and practice of each individual student’s studies. Let’s explore one aspect of this: Ownership of Achievement as it relates to Locus of Control.

Internal Locus of Control

If I work hard, I will succeed. I am in control of my life.

I didn’t work hard enough to succeed. I will improve and do better next time.

I achieve my goals because I consistently work towards them.

External Locus of Control

There is nothing I can do about my future.

Why even bother trying? Most things are not in my control.

The times I succeeded is mostly due to luck, random chance, or God’s will.

In the unit on Learner Presence from the Methods for Online Teaching course offered as a training resource at Hostos, we’ve followed the terminology:

Ownership of Achievement or Self Mastery (Motivational)

Self-regulated learning is achieved in a matter of degrees and is not defined by specific successes or failures.

Emphasis should be placed on the concept of ‘self-regulated’ learning. An individual is encouraged to take ownership of their learning and put time and effort into actions they can control. In a manner of speaking, staying focused on the “locus of control” they can act on.

Admittedly, infographics like this are very polarized but that serves to illustrate the point rather than present the most accurate portrayal of the full range of students’ needs and motivating factors.

The purpose here is to bring focus to the issue and to ask: What do you (faculty) think could be done as students proceed through a course to shift their perspective gradually towards internal/personal achievement outcomes?

What milestones can be embedded in a course to reinforce these ideas?

What obstacles must be faced by both faculty and student to continue encouraging this shift?

Internal Locus of Control

I choose to

✅ take responsibility for my actions
✅ credit personal hard work for success
✅ not be easily influenced by others’ opinions
✅ feel confident when faced with obstacles

External Locus of Control

I choose to

❌ blame others for their circumstances
❌ credit luck for others’ successes
❌ be easily influenced by other’s oppinions
❌ feel helpless when faced with obstacles

Those who have taught an online course following the flipped learning model will recognize that making the shift from an external to an internal locus of control is a primary obstacle to measurable success for the students. Implementing flipped learning elements in online and hybrid course designs has the benefit of freeing up more time for the instructor to spend aiding students in overcoming obstacles they may not be able to address on their own. 

In the broadest sense, it is not ideal for a student to be on either extreme but rather to lean towards the internal locus of control. A student too focused on their own accountability may overlook mitigating factors that need to be addressed outside themselves and be overly critical of themselves.  

…individuals with a more internal locus of control cope better with stress, are less prone to depression, and are more satisfied with their jobs. However, it is important to find a balance between the two, as extremes of either can result in psychological difficulty (Psychology Tutorials December 25, 2019).



O’Bryan, Amanda, Ph.D. “Internal vs External Locus of Control: 7 Examples & Theories.” Positive Psychology. August 17, 2021. Accessed August 29, 2022.

The Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative (ELI). Shifting the Locus of Control to the Student. Accessed August 18, 2022. 


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