Adult learners. How "in control" are you?

For adult learners, being on top of their studies and feeling like they’re in control of all those juggling balls they’ve got in the air (studies, work, family, health etc.) can feel great.

There’s a small trap though. They can’t control everything.


They can’t control the weather, they can’t control someone else’s behaviour, and they can’t control who is going to mark their assignment. But they can control how they respond and behave towards all these things.


They can “control the controllables”.


Researchers have been studying this concept of Control since the 1950’s. Many of you will have heard the term INTERNAL Locus of Control and EXTERNAL Locus of Control. In Latin, Locus means Place (or location). Place of Control. So at one end of the continuum is INTERNAL and the other end is EXTERNAL. We all sit somewhere on this continuum.


Someone sitting closer towards the INTERNAL end of the line believes they directly influence their destiny. They control the controllables.

Someone sitting closer towards the EXTERNAL end of the line believes others influence their destiny. They believe in luck and fate. They have no control over their experiences - others, or other things do.


So how do your students manage those things they can’t control, and how can you help them manage these things so they continue to progress with their studies?


The first step is to listen to students as you’ll hear INTERNAL and EXTERNAL language. For example, if their assignment is overdue, is it someone else’s fault and not theirs? Or what about when things go really well. For example, they receive fantastic feedback on an assignment. Do they give themselves credit knowing how much effort they put into the assignment, or do they put it down to luck i.e. he/she probably gave everyone a high mark?


Here’s a simple exercise you could ask a student to complete.


  1. Think about your goal of reaching the end of the next big chunk of studies you have. It might be a unit, or a term, or a semester. Write down 3 very specific things about this goal that you can control.

  2. Now write down 3 very specific things about this goal that you can’t control.


The next part is the important bit.

  1. Build on list no. 1. Add more specific things (as many as you can think of) that you can control. For example, the amount of study, the time you go to bed, the amount of alcohol you drink, the healthy food choices you make, or the people you choose to spend time with.

  2. Now look at list no 2 and write down what can you do to manage what you can’t control. For example, you can’t control what mark your teacher/lecturer is going to give you but you can manage your thinking and how you respond to it. You can’t control your friend’s anger about an incident, but you can manage your own emotions about it so you don’t let it impact your own stress levels.


Locus of Control. It’s been around for a long time and it’s still gold.