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Learner Autonomy FAQ


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This presentation tries to answer some of the most common questions about the concept of Learner Autonomy: what is it, why is it important, and how do I develop it?

The presentation is aimed mainly at teachers.

Published in: Education

Learner Autonomy FAQ

  2. 2. Learner Autonomy is, first and foremost, a mindset. A way of thinking about learning as a journey where you decide where to go, and how to travel.
  3. 3. You may occasionally hire a tour guide to explain about the local sights, but then you’re on the road again, to wherever the events and the people you meet take you.
  4. 4. Sometimes you go directly to the next town, and sometimes you stop for a drink on the way.
  5. 5. Sometimes you go to the museum, and sometimes for a hike in the mountains.
  6. 6. Sometimes you read about the history of the sights, and sometimes you just soak up the atmosphere.
  7. 7. Sometimes you have time to prepare and sometimes you rush off to the airport at the last moment.
  8. 8. Sometimes you feel great, and sometimes you are homesick.
  9. 9. And sometimes, you just need a break.
  10. 10. Autonomy, then, is an intimately personal affair. It is about your life, about what you want to achieve, and what you enjoy.
  11. 11. In this way, it is the only way to learn successfully in the long term.
  12. 12. Because no one knows you better than you do, and no one can make your choices for you, autonomy requires you to get to know yourself better.
  13. 13. Becoming autonomous is a process of discovery.
  14. 14. Because autonomy is about you and starts from within you, it cannot be forced upon you.
  15. 15. You, and you alone, can make the decision to start this journey.
  16. 16. But just as good travellers listen to others and learn from their experiences, good learners are not islands.
  17. 17. They rely on others to offer insights, and occasionally, show them the way.
  18. 18. Autonomy is thus about freedom, both freedom from being told what to do, and the freedom to do what you think is best.
  19. 19. Autonomy does not live happily in places without choice and it does not prosper in places where one part of the population is disadvantaged over another.
  20. 20. Restrictions on what to learn or how to learn do not favour the development of autonomy.
  21. 21. QUESTION 2 I am a teacher. How can I introduce the idea of autonomy to my students?
  22. 22. You are a great teacher! You are ready give your students the freedom to express themselves as individuals. Many teachers find this unnerving, as it makes their lessons less predictable.
  23. 23. You are obviously adventurous enough to consider taking a step towards making your classes more learner-centred. Applause! Many of your colleagues are not ready yet.
  24. 24. You have two basic choices. One is to introduce the idea of autonomy in your classroom. The other is to make use of resources specifically designed to develop learner autonomy, such as self-access centres and language advising.
  25. 25. Let’s start with the first option. There are some practical tips further down, but let’s talk about the preparation phase first. You will need three things: patience, patience, and ... patience! Developing autonomy takes time and depends on your persistence.
  26. 26. Don’t give up if your learners take some time to get used to their new-found freedom and their changing roles. It would not be realistic to expect your students to take responsibility for their learning from one day, or even month, to the next.
  27. 27. The overall classroom atmosphere needs to value and encourage reflection and learner initiative. Students need to recognise that their views and roles are valued before they are willing to risk greater participation.
  28. 28. As part of the preparation you will also need to talk to your students about what you aim to do and why. No one likes to be left in the dark, especially when there are changes in everyday classroom routine. Explain your thinking and what it means for your students.
  29. 29. So, what does encouraging in the classroom look like? Below you will find a link to a short article about implementing a pedagogy for autonomy with some practical tips on where to start. When you complete reading it, a computer-generated test will be emailed to you to check your understanding of the article (just kidding).
  30. 30. Article: implementing a pedagogy for autonomy. docs/article – fostering autonomy.pdf
  31. 31. So much for the language classroom. How about more specific approaches? The table below shows you some of the more common approaches to implementing autonomy.
  32. 32. APPROACH INVOLVES Learner training Specific courses or short courses where the focus is on developing skills for independent learning and raising students’ awareness of the importance of learning outside the classroom. Such courses usually include strategy instruction and often also include general study skills, rather than language learning skills only. Strategy instruction Often offered as part of regular classroom teaching, and sometimes offered as specific classes or short courses on language learning strategies. Self-access Often considered the most common way of implementing autonomy, the provision of a self-access centre, or online self-access materials, usually involves making available resources for independent learning and staff support. Sometimes self-access learning is integrated into the classroom with the teacher working with students in the centre, and sometimes self-access is used outside classroom time, for remedial or practice purposes. In North America Writing Centres often perform a similar role. Language advising A type of language support whereby a teacher and a learner meet to discuss the learner’s needs and progress, and where the advisor (or language counsellor offers feedback, recommends materials, and helps the learner to plan their learning. Specific tools Many institutions have developed or link to (online or print) tools, for the management of the language learning process, which often quite explicitly aim to foster learner autonomy. Examples include (electronic) portfolios such as those developed by the European Union, tandem learning programmes, and personal learning environments, that aim to facilitate and create links between formal and informal learning. Some have developed online learning environments that offer materials for self-study, tips for independent learning, and opportunities for staff and student communication.
  33. 33. QUESTION 3 Is learner autonomy suitable in my culture?
  34. 34. Autonomy is about freedom and being free is a fundamental human need. Autonomy therefore suits every culture. What does not suit every culture is being told how it views or develops towards freedom.
  35. 35. In my own teaching and academic work in over 30 countries, I have found many manifestations of autonomy, often within the same country. Each context demands its own interpretation and needs to be valued for its unique character. By respecting your learners and their backgrounds, you will together find the best way towards learner autonomy.
  36. 36. QUESTION 4 I want to do research on learner autonomy. Where do I start?
  37. 37. Below you will find references to some very active organisations and mailinglists where people are very welcoming and eager to help.
  38. 38. As a research tool you may want to check out the autonomy bibliography, which currently has over 1,700 references in the area of autonomy. Also have a look through current autonomy projects on the ‘LAPI’ page on .
  39. 39. a
  40. 40. If you would like formal instruction in this area, the University of Hull offers an online postgraduate certificate in language advising: postgraduate/online_PG/index.html
  41. 41. QUESTION 5 I want to learn more about autonomy. Can you give me some useful references?
  42. 42. You are in luck! Below you will find some of the key organisations, books, and online resources about learner autonomy and related areas. Happy browsing!
  43. 43. The AILA Research Network for Autonomy is a very active community. You can find it here:
  44. 44. The AILA Research Network for Autonomy is a very active community. You can find it here:
  45. 45. The IATEFL learner autonomy special interest group.
  46. 46. Auto-L, an online discussion forum for people interested in learner autonomy and self-access.
  47. 47. AUTO-L discussion list To Subscribe send a message to : Subject line: AUTO-L Request Message: Subscribe AUTO-L Your name Your institutional affiliation Your e-mail address
  48. 48. References: Learner autonomy Benson, P. (2000). Teaching and Researching Learner Autonomy. Harlow, Longman. Benson, P., & Voller, P. (1997). Autonomy and Independence in Language Learning. Harlow: Longman.   Knowles, M. S. (1975) Self-directed learning: A guide for learners and teachers, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Lamb, T. & Reinders, H. (Eds.) (2008). Learner and Teacher Autonomy: Realities and Responses. Amsterdam: Benjamins / AILA Review. Lamb, T. & Reinders, H. (Eds.) (2007). Supporting Independent Learning: Issues and Interventions. Frankfurt: Peter Lang. Lier, L. V. (1996). Interaction in the language curriculum : awareness, autonomy and authenticity. london: Longman. Winch, C. (2007). Education Autonomy and Critical Thinking. Routledge.
  49. 49. References: Self-Access Gardner, D. & Miller, L. (1999). Establishing Self-access. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lázaro, N. and Reinders, H. 2009. Language learning and teaching in the self-access centre. A practical guide for language teachers. Available from
  50. 50. What makes a good language learner? Naiman, N., Fröhlich, M., Stern, H.H., & Todesco, A. (1996). The good language learner. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  51. 51. References: Language advising http://ec.hku/1to1 Online examples and videorecordings with worksheets of language advising sessions. Mozzon-McPherson, M. and R. Vismans (2001). Beyond Language Teaching Towards Language Advising. London, Cilt.
  52. 52. Language exchanges and tandem learning
  53. 53. Lifelong learning Arthur, L. & Hurd, S. (2001) Supporting Lifelong Language Learning. Theoretical and Practical Approaches. London: CILT.
  54. 54. Strategies Strategy inventory for Language Learning, available from: oxford_quest.php Chamot, A. et al. (1999). The Learning Strategies Handbook. White Plains: Addison Wesley Longman. Cohen, A. (1998). Strategies in Learning and Using a Second Language. London: Longman. Cotterall, S. & Reinders, H. (2004) Learner Strategies: a Guide for Teachers Singapore: RELC. Macaro, E. (2001). Learner Strategies in second and foreign language classrooms. London: Continuum. O'Malley, J.M. & A.U. Chamot. (1990). Learning Strategies in Second Language Acquisition . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Oxford, R.L. (1990). Language Learning Strategies: What Every Teacher Should Know. Boston, Mass: Heinle & Heinle.
  55. 55. Learner training and study skills Reinders, H., Moore, N. and Lewis, M. (2008). The International Student's Handbook. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Rubin, J., & Thompson, I. (1982).  How to be a more successful language learner.  Boston:  Heinle & Heinle.
  56. 56. Some free articles About strategies: - 2004 - Guidelines.pdf About self-access: - 2007 - CALL EJ.pdf About language advising: - 2004 - language learning journal.pdf - 2007 - relt.pdf About autonomy:
  57. 57. Questions? Contact me through Skype: innovationinteaching Facebook: email me to join the autonomy community. I’d love to hear from you! Hayo Reinders