Learner autonomy, which has been a commonly discussed concept in language teaching and ELT since the 1970s, is an important concept in ELT now. According to the Henri Holec, definition of the learner autonomy is “the ability to take charge of one’s own learning” (Holec 14). Learner autonomy requires learners to be responsible for their own learning. This essay will explain the concept of learner autonomy. Then, it will demonstrate how learner autonomy can be fostered. Finally, the reasons why learner autonomy is important, and should be fostered will be explained.
Since the concept of learner autonomy has been a very commonly discussed subject, there are some disagreements about the definition, but Holec’s definition, “the ability to take charge of one’s own learning” (14), is a widely accepted definition and it is the one that is most frequently quoted. Another definition of learner autonomy, which is more detailed, has been made by Leni Dam: “Learner autonomy is characterized by a readiness to take charge of one’s own learning in the service of one’s needs and purposes. This entails a capacity and willingness to act independently and in co-operation with others, as a socially responsible person” (Dam 127).
The main goal of learner autonomy is to enable learners to have control on their own learning, as Elspeth Broady from the University of Brighton and Marie-Madeleine from the University of East Anglia state: “The key idea behind learner autonomy is that education should foster the learner’s capacity for independent thinking and responsibility for learning” (Broady and Kenning 9). To have a control over their learning, learners should be given independence, learners “must have control over their learning and an awareness of that freedom” (Lewis and Reinders 97).
Looking at these definitions, becoming an autonomous learner may seem to be a complex process. It can be attained when certain qualities such as motivation, awareness, and knowledge about language and learning are obtained. Teachers, at this point, should help learners to obtain these skills, therefore, autonomous learning does not mean learning without teacher, “teachersâ€¦have a crucial role to play in launching learners into self-access and in lending them a regular helping hand to stay afloat” (Benson and Voller 63).
To become an autonomous learner, one should take the “responsibility for all the decisions concerning all aspects of this learning.” (Holec 22) These aspects are:
determining the objectives
defining the contents and progressions
selecting methods and techniques to be used
monitoring the procedure of acquisition
evaluating what has been acquired (23).
These are the skills that a learner needs in order to “increase ability to take responsibility for learning” (Broady and Kenning 15).
In his/her path to become autonomous learner, a learner must develop “an awareness of language and learning” (Fenner, Newby, and Camilleri 83), because autonomous learning requires “learning the foreign language; on the other hand, learning how to learn” (80). Awareness of language is an important for “increasing insight into what language is and how it is learned” (Broady and Kenning 15), therefore, it is an important part of being an autonomous learner. “For example, if learners are to define their own objectives, they need to have some understanding of how to divide up the target language sensibly.” (14) Autonomous learners “require some understanding of second language learning” (14), because they need to be aware of the effective ways to learn language. “For example, learning all the words in dictionary is unlikely to be an effective approach because of the problem of memory overload.” (14) Awareness of learning is important for “increasing insight into what learning involves and one’s own learning style” (15). Learner with awareness of learning process can select the best strategies, techniques, and resources according to his/her learning style, goals, and needs.
Learners’ attitude towards their roles and abilities in learning is also important in autonomous learning. As stated by Anita Wenden, “two key attitudes underline learner autonomy: firstly, learners’ attitudes towards their own role in learning and secondly, their attitudes towards their ability to learn and take responsibility for learning” (Wenden 53). Learners’ attitude is important because their attitude can affect their motivation. “If, for example, learners do not see the monitoring of their learning as a part of their role, then they risk becoming dependent on others for feedback. Without regular feedback of some kind, motivation is difficult to sustain.” (Broady and Kenning 14)
Autonomous learning is not a talent or skill that is owned by a person innately, it can be gained by learner. Therefore, to be autonomous, learners should be encouraged to obtain learner autonomy. There are many factors affecting the learning process besides learner’s attitude, such as materials, teachers, and methods. They all should be in compatible with autonomous learning to encourage learners to obtain their autonomy.
At this point, to gain autonomy, learners need teachers’ help. Because, at the beginning, learners need a counsellor who would help him/her in taking certain steps such as defining one’s learning style, developing awareness of language, and self evaluating to become an autonomous learner. “The principles of autonomous learning are not meant to imply that the learner knows what is best . . . but that learners have within them the potential to discover what is best for them.” (Mishan 24) The role of the teacher in this process is different from the traditional definition which defines teacher as the provider of information. “[I]n autonomous learning environments, the role of the teacher shifts dramatically. The teacher is no longer the traditional purveyor of information, but rather, a counsellor, facilitator and resource.” (24) Of course, this new role of teachers requires them to have different skills as stated by Freda Mishan: “These roles can demand broader knowledge, expertise and initiative than does the expository model of teaching, and contradictory though it may seem, require even greater confidence than does taking ‘centre-stage’ in the classroom” (24).
Since the definition of the learner autonomy is “the ability to take charge of one’s own learning” (Holec 14), to foster the autonomy in language learning, the course and materials should be designed in order to encourage learners to take more responsibility. In order to encourage learners to be more autonomous, courses and materials should contain “environment integrated goal-setting activities, discussion of the language learning process, modelling of strategies, task practice, and reflection on experience” (Cotterall 116)
As well as materials, certain strategies can be used in order to encourage autonomous learning. Self-assessment, self-reports, learning journals, peer assessment, thinking about learning, involving in the planning of the course are some of the ways in fostering learner autonomy. An important factor using these strategies is the age of the learners. For example, when trying to involve students in the planning the course, it can be easy and rewarding with teenage and older students, but it will probably be more difficult with learners from younger age groups.
Internet, also, can be a device in fostering learner autonomy. As more people use internet and socialise through the internet, it can be used to create interaction among the learners and encourage them to work more cooperatively.
People can learn a language more effectively when they become autonomous learners because they can actually involve in the learning process actively, instead of just sitting in the class, and listening what teacher tells. “[L]earning is more effective if the learner integrates knowledge within a personal framework.” (Broady and Kenning 9) Therefore learners can be motivated whey they are given autonomy as Leslie Dickinson states: “a strong connection is made in the educational psychology literature between learner autonomy and motivation” (Dickinson 168). In terms of language learning, autonomy is also very beneficial because it develops cooperation. “Using language effectively for communication involves negotiation of meaning, rather than the mere decoding of linguistic tokens, thus requiring the ability to cope confidently with unpredictable information.” (Broady and Kenning 10) Autonomous learning is also rational in terms of economy, with autonomous learning teachers can use time more effectively. “[I]f learners can be helped to manage their own learning, then arguably a teacher’s time can be spent more efficiently.” (10)
Autonomous learning is not only beneficial for language learning, it “reaches beyond a school context: it is a life-long process of constantly developing awareness” (Fenner, Newby, and Camilleri 80).
Learner autonomy is a growing concept in language teaching. Autonomous learning is very beneficial for learner, teacher, and economy. With autonomy, learners can become aware of their learning styles, define their goals, needs, choose their materials and learn language more independently. Autonomous learning is beneficial not only for school or language learning but also for every part of the life, because, becoming autonomous, the learner actually learns “how to learn” (Fenner, Newby, and Camilleri 83). For these reasons learners should be encouraged to be autonomous, learner autonomy should be promoted through the all periods of education.