conditions for learner autonomy
Over the last decade under the influence of the attempts to change the whole educational paradigm from teacher centred to learner centred, the concepts of learner autonomy and independence have gained momentum, the former becoming a ‘buzz-word’ within the context of language learning. It should be noticed that “autonomous learning” is a termthat recurs over and over in recent literature of teaching English as a foreign language. This reshaping, so to speak, of teacher and learner roles has been conducive to a radical change in the age-old distribution of power and authority that used to plague the traditional classroom. Cast in a new perspective and regarded as having the ‘capacity for detachment, critical reflection,decision-making, and independent action’ [Little D. Learner Autonomy: Definitions, Issues and Problems], learners, autonomous learners, that is, are expected to assume greater responsibility for, and take charge of, their own learning. Mary Jo Rendon in her article “Learner Autonomy and Cooperative Learning” mentions the fact that teachers who view language learning as an individualized process encourage theirlearners to be autonomous.
But what is autonomy? For a definition of autonomy, we might quote Holec who describes it as ‘the ability to take charge of one’s learning’. On a general note, the term autonomy has come to be used in at least five ways:
a) for situations in which learners study entirely on their own;
b) for a set of skills which can be learned and applied in self-directed learning;c) for an inborn capacity which is suppressed by institutional education;
d) for the exercise of learners’ responsibility for their own learning;
e) for the right of learners to determine the direction of their own learning.
It is noteworthy that autonomy can be thought of in terms of a departure from education as a social process, as well as in terms of redistribution of power attending theconstruction of knowledge and the roles of the participants in the learning process. The relevant literature is riddled with innumerable definitions of autonomy and other synonyms for it, such as ‘independence’ in Sheering’s work, ‘language awareness’ used by L.V. Lier, ‘self-direction’ [Candy], ‘andragogy’ [Knowles M. S.] etc., which testifies to the importance attached to it by scholars. Smith saysthat “self-direction” is essential in the active development of abilities in learning. He adds “learners need to be empowered with a wide range of learning strategies to achieve competence and autonomy in learning the target language” [Smith R.]. T. Hedge gives the term ‘self-determination’. In her opinion, self-determination suggests that individual learner can reflect, make choices, and arriveat personally constructed decisions. Self-determination implies that learners should not be passive recipients of knowledge but should use their abilities for judging and deciding to take on more responsibility for their own learning.
The term autonomy has sparked considerable controversy, in as much as linguists and educationalists have failed to reach a consensus as to what autonomy really is.For example, in D. Little’s terms, learner autonomy is ‘essentially a matter of the learner’s psychological relation to the process and content of learning…a capacity for detachment, critical reflection, decision-making, and independent action’. Proceed from the definition it is possible to determine learner roles according to D. Little: reflections, decision-maker and performer. In the same vein,L. Dam, drawing upon Holec, defines autonomy in terms of the learner’s willingness and capacity to control or oversee her own learning. Here we can distinguish such roles as learner-controller and learner-manager. More specifically, she like Holec, holds that someone qualifies as an autonomous learner when he independently chooses aims and purposes and sets goals; chooses materials, methods and...