Choice + Control = College-Ready

Out of the Box June 19 / June 20, 2019

 – Steve Griffiths –

To succeed in post-secondary education, students need to be motivated, self-directed learners. An important role of secondary education must be to prepare students to be able to self-direct their learning. One important way to promote student self-direction is through giving students choice and control of their learning. Flipped Learning is a learner-centered pedagogy that is unique in that it provides students with as much choice and control as they are capable of handling.

At the first Flipped Learning conference in Australia four years ago, I heard about this interesting method of making videos called the lightboard. I immediately Googled “lightboard” and realized that I simply had to have one. I went home and researched and experimented and by the end of the weekend, I had constructed my first lightboard. Over the next year, I was driven to create the best lightboard videos I could, so I learned about camera settings, studio lighting and postproduction. Never once did I feel that the learning was difficult, boring, irrelevant or hard I was able to tirelessly work towards my learning goal because I was intrinsically motivated to learn. I had choice over what I was learning, and I had control over how I learned it. Our students need to be given some choice and control over their learning so they become self-directed learners.

Research has shown that giving students more choice and control over their learning can increase their motivation to learn and enhance their ability to self-direct their learning: an essential skill for success in tertiary education (see this study as an example). I use Flipped Learning as a way of giving my students control and choice over their learning.

A key difference in the learning between secondary and tertiary sectors is the amount of control the student has over their learning. Traditionally, secondary education has been associated with the teacher controlling the pace, the content and the method of instruction. But providing students with some control and choice over their learning has been found to improve student motivation and academic performance (see, for example, this study). I believe that one of my roles as a high school teacher is to help students to improve their ability to self-direct their learning. I do this by allowing my students to self-pace their way through the course using an in-class flipped mastery model. Each lesson, students decide on their own learning goals and chose the learning experiences they undertake in the lesson.

Self-determination Theory

So why do choice and control improve motivation and self-direction? An important theory of motivation is self-determination theory. According to self-determination theory, people are internally motivated to learn. However, at school, this internal motivation to learn may be eroded by external forces such as exam pressures and grades and a curriculum that often seems irrelevant to students. Self-determination theory states three psychological needs must be satisfied to motivate people: competence, relatedness, and autonomy.


Competence is the need to build competence and mastery over tasks. A student must feel that mastering the knowledge or skill is achievable to them. If they perceive that the goal is too far out of their reach, they are not motivated to try. Flipped Learning allows me to support competence because it allows me to differentiate instruction to meet the individual needs of every student, letting each student progress towards mastery at their own pace. Flipped Learning allows me the flexibility to design learning experiences that are optimally challenging for each student.


Relatedness is the need to feel connected to others. In the classroom, relatedness refers to quality, supportive relationships between the teacher and students and also between students. Flipped Learning supports me to build quality relationships with my students by allowing me to spend more time with each student, in every class, every day. Flipped Learning also allows my students to feel a sense of relatedness with their peers because there are more opportunities for active, collaborative learning experiences in the flipped classroom for students to work together and build strong relationships.


Autonomy is the need to be in control of one’s life. A student must feel that they are in control of their own learning. Flipped Learning is a learner-centered pedagogy where the student is at the center of his or her own learning. Flipped Learning supports my students to take control of their own learning by allowing them choice and control. My students have a choice over when and where they learn the course concepts through the video lessons. My students have control over their learning by allowing them control over the speed they learn the course concepts by being able to pause rewind and re-watch video lessons. In class, my students have some choice and control over the learning experiences; they choose the sequence of learning and with whom they learn.

So to summarize self-determination theory and to succeed in tertiary education, a student needs to be motivated to learn and succeed. Motivation requires the needs of competence, relatedness and autonomy to be met. Flipped Learning supports student motivation by differentiating learning for an optimum challenge, by building strong relationships and by providing students with choice and control over their learning. Another important theory that relates to student self-directed learning is self-regulation.


Self-regulation refers to the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that a person generates towards a goal (Zimmerman, 2002). In other words, our ability to self-regulate is what stops us from eating chocolate cake for breakfast and the reason why we turn up for work each day. Self-regulation is what keeps us doing what we need to do to achieve a goal. In education, self-regulation relates to the ability, motivation and willingness of students to learn on their own. Self-regulated students are more likely to achieve academically as well as view their future positively. Flipped Learning supports my students to self-regulate their learning by providing them with choice about what and how they learn, the learning tasks they perform, their study partners and the assessments they complete. Self-regulation requires students to monitor their own behavior, and modify their behaviors where required.

Go slow

So how do we start to give students more control and choice over their learning? The answer is, slowly. If students have had little exposure to choice and control over their learning in the past, they are not prepared to be given too much autonomy right away. My experiences are primarily with junior high school students in Year 9. At the beginning of the year I explain to them the benefits of self-directed learning and that one of our goals is to work towards giving them more choice and control over their learning. I then gradually introduce more and more choice and control as the students are ready for it. Flipped Learning is designed to provide students with control over the speed of their learning by allowing them to control the pace of the video lessons. As students become more self-directed in their learning, I allow the students to choose whether they watch the video lessons or access the course content in other ways that they choose. I also give students choice over the learning experiences they do.

Small steps matter

It is important to note that the teacher does not relinquish all control of the classroom to the students. The teacher is only giving students the choice and control that they are capable of handling at this stage of their development (with the goal of increasing their independence as they progress through school). Research has shown that even a small amount of choice and control can make a significant difference to student motivation and engagement.

In an ideal world, students would be free to pursue whatever learning interests they like. However, we are usually constrained by specific curriculum requirements and often specific assessment types. By developing students’ ability to self-direct their learning we are preparing them to be life-long learners so that they can pursue their personal learning interests whenever they wish.


Steve Griffiths
Steve Griffiths
I have been a high school science teacher for 6 years. I am now also teaching digital technologies. I have been flipping my classroom for four years and have made over 1000 videos. My preference is the lightboard. I have presented at a number of conferences and courses on flipped learning. My specialties are video making and designing active learning experiences

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