Learner Autonomy: Concept and Considerations
Abstract “Give me a fish and I eat for a day. Teach me to fish and I eat for a lifetime.”This proverb taken from Chinese culture is associated with learner autonomy. Once learning used to be the matter of receiving the body of knowledge which could then be used for the rest of life. But such view has been nonsense in this fast-paced world. Therefore, the learners should be provided with the skills necessary for the lifelong pursuit for knowledge. This article begins with the general concept of autonomy and goes on to consider different aspects of autonomy. It insists that learner autonomy does work in any culture provided that the teacher also has autonomy to some extent and curriculum is designed accordingly. While it highlights that total autonomy is neither feasible nor desirable in formal language learning contexts, it argues that learner autonomy is necessary for making someone lifelong learner.
Key words: learner autonomy, teacher autonomy, curriculum, culture, activities
Introduction: Defining autonomy
Autonomy, a relatively new concept in the field of education, has been defined differently by different scholars. Holec (1981 as cited in Schmenk, 2006) was the first person to define the learner autonomy as “the ability to take charge of one’s own learning” (p. 3). According to him, this ability is acquired rather than inborn. Taking charge means being able to make regarding all the aspects of language learning. As this suggests this is the total shift of responsibility of learning language to learners. Little (1995) observes that learners autonomy “aims to equip learners to play an active role in participatory democracy” (p. 176). Benson (2008) agrees with Little when he says, “because the concept of autonomy in learning draws its meaning from the concept of personal autonomy, it is centrally concerned with the kind of learning that best helps people to lead autonomous lives” (p. 4). Autonomous life refers to individual freedom with the “free choice of goals and relations as essential ingredients of individual well being” (Raz, 1986, as cited in Benson 2008). In this sense, autonomy has to do with individual freedom and human rights for making individual choices (p. 5). It is a matter of lifelong process rather than a need Journal of NELTA
for a particular situation or course. As discussed earlier, autonomy for learning is the part of the personal autonomy and we must learn to be autonomous. Education should enable an individual to lead an autonomous life. An autonomous person leads an independent life being responsible for his or her own actions rather than blaming others. So the boarder aim of education can only be fulfilled if learners are provided with the autonomy in learning. An autonomous learner “has the means to transcend the barriers between learning and living that have been a major preoccupation of educational psychology, educational theory and curriculum development” (Little, 1995, p. 175). The main aim of education is to bring change in the behaviour of a person. Behaviour can only be changed when the barriers between the learning and living are transcended. Receiving knowledge without applying it in real life is meaningless. Gardener (1993, as cited in Little 1995) has made distinction between three types of learners “the intuitive learner, the traditional student and the disciplinary expert” (p. 175). The disciplinary expert, according to Gardner, “is an individual of any age who has mastered the concept and skills of a discipline or domain and
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can apply such knowledge appropriately in new situations” (ibid). The autonomous learners are the Gardner’s disciplinary expert. For Schmenk (2006), defining autonomy as it is done in the preceding paragraphs is based on the linear concept of autonomisation which assumes the progression from heteronomy to autonomy. Dependence Heteronomy...
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Journal of NELTA
Vol. 15 No. 1-2 December 2010
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