Education is about more than teaching. Within education we need to know how to motivate students, how can we maximise the degree to which people learn, and often, how do we manage students or pupils when they don’t want to learn, or they disrupt others?

PCT makes the fundamental case that motivation is internal – it is driven from within by the student through their control systems. We need to treat pupils and students as having their own goals and needs and to try to understand them. The student needs to feel in control and threats to their own sense of control are likely to be challenged.

Gary Cziko, in Without Miracles, proposes that learning is also an internally driven process – it is not like soaking up information like a sponge, but is a trial-and-error process of selecting ways of understanding that work for the person. When we learn, we need to see the purpose of what we learn and we need to resolve the conflicts that new knowledge brings. For example, a student may not want to learn about evolution if it conflicts with their religious views.

In an in-depth book ‘Ways of Learning and Knowing’ Hugh Petrie describes education from a psychological perspective, incorporating PCT into his account.

A newly published book ‘Control in the Classroom’ by Tim Carey, provides an accessible and practical introduction for teachers to PCT in their everyday practice.

There is more to be said on learning in education using PCT – control systems can operate in different modes – controlled, automatic, passive observation and imagination. It is early days in understanding how these different modes can be utilised in education.

Classroom discipline

Interestingly, PCT has been used to explore a problem that Skinner, the behaviourist psychologist, encountered – countercontrol. When person A tries to control the behaviour of person B, person B tries to control A in return. Tim Carey and Tom Bourbon looked at countercontrol in schools – where a teacher would try to exert discipline and the children learned ways to use the rule to their own advantage or to get one up on the teacher. For example, when tokens were used to motivate children in a class, certain pupils legitimately collected their own tokens through good behaviour, but with the stash of tokens they accumulated, persuaded other pupils to do things to wind up the teacher for a token reward!

Watch this video to get an idea of why countercontrol is so important.

Surely there must be other ways to facilitate a good learning environment in the classroom? Ed Ford has used PCT in such a way…

Responsible Thinking

Ed Ford is a practitioner who has used PCT to help schools, and prisons, manage disruptive individuals. He calls it the Responsibility Thinking Process – RTP. Within RTP, children are given the responsibility over managing their own choices within the rules of the school.

Teaching PCT

Currently, PCT is not taught in psychology degrees in our schools. Click here to view the TEDx lecture of Warren Mansell’s lecture to Burnley College (2012) on the benefits of learning PCT in schools.

Within university settings across the world, PCT is now being taught as part of undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications. Warren Mansell, Reader in Clinical Psychology at the University of Manchester, UK incorporates PCT into the 1st and 2nd year undergraduate syllabus, and provided a specialist 22 hour module on PCT in the third year from 2008-2013. Students’ accounts of the module have been analysed in an online paper. Warren Mansell, Rick Marken (UAS), Tim Carey (Australia), and a range of other academics across the globe are providing postgraduate level courses and research supervision on PCT. Feel free to contact them if you wish to develop your own PCT course.

IAACT and The Connected School Program

The International Association for Applied Control Theory (IAACT) have taught the principles of PCT and the applications of PCT, including Method of Levels, within schools, social service agencies and prisons throughout the USA, Canada, Australia, Croatia and Slovenia. Over 5000 teachers have participated in this training. In addition to teaching PCT, the training also offers specific strategies that help people learn to self-evaluate and teach these skills to others. The evidence for this training is mounting. For example, teachers shift to a more student-centred approach after the training (Lanoue, 2009). The Australian organisation (AACTA) also has a website describing their initiatives.

Note: this page was drafted a few years ago on information needs to be updated. Volunteers welcome.