Learner autonomy is often defined as learners’ ability to take control of their own learning (Holec, 1981). However, the development of learner autonomy is widely varied depending on teachers’ roles and overall classroom environment. In other words, if teachers have different knowledge or perspectives regarding learner autonomy or different abilities to implement a system rich in student choice and self-directedness, the impact on learner autonomy would be different. Beliefs are ‘mental constructions of experience’ that guide a person’s behavior (Sigel, 1985). Such beliefs are formed either through personal experiences or influences from other people (Wenden, 1991). Then, depending on the belief systems, teachers may or may not provide a climate that promotes learner autonomy. Therefore, there is a pressing need to ascertain language teacher beliefs about learner autonomy. In response, this paper seeks to examine a comprehensive view of English teachers on learner autonomy in language classrooms, focusing on how teachers’ beliefs about learner autonomy affect their expectations of learner’s involvement in the language classroom.
The Use of Technology and Learner Autonomy
Learners can control their learning processes as much as possible and can become quite independent of teachers when they work with computers. Jones (2001) states that teachers play a great role in developing learner autonomy in Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL). For example, students formulate their tasks independently without teachers’ detailed instruction (Toyoda, 2001) and they often reflect on their and their interlocutors’ responses through Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) (Shield, Weininger & Davies, 1999).
According to Kohonen (2001), making choices about learning contents and processes, reflecting on their learning process and being aware of their achievements and discovering new needs are the essential parts of developing learner autonomy. In a word, to develop learner autonomy, it is crucial for learners to have opportunities to reflect on what they have done and how they achieve their personal learning goals. CMC is a good way for them to reflect on their learning processes. In addition, the continuous interaction between teachers and learners will also provide teachers with opportunities to reflect on their own teaching and to be aware of what is in their students’ minds. Writing journals or diaries can also be used for this purpose (Carroll, 1994). Learners can easily keep a record of their individual reflections on their learning experiences in a computer.
Technology has often been used for repetitive practice for language learning with authentic audio and video texts. The practice of pronunciation, spelling, and grammar are popular examples of using technology as a tool for language learning. Research that examines the perspectives of teachers often investigates the impact of using technology broadly on language learning rather than focusing on aspects of learner autonomy. In addition, few studies employed quantitative measures to statistically triangulate qualitatively discovered teachers’ beliefs; in order to fully capture the various perceptions of teachers about learner autonomy, especially with the issue of using technology to promote it.
The subjects in the study were 128 English teachers (107 females and 21 males) in high schools from various areas in Korea. A few subjects (n=12; 9.4%) have been teaching English for more than 20 years, some (n=60; 46.9%) less than 10 years, and the others (n=56; 43.7%) have been teaching English for 10 to 20 years. Subjects’ responses were analyzed descriptively by calculating percentages and mean scores in order to determine the answers to the research questions about teachers’ perspectives on learner autonomy, the degree of contributions of learner autonomy in L2 learning, their beliefs on the role of technology in promoting learner autonomy, and the desirability and feasibility of learner autonomy in language classrooms.
The first section of the questionnaire item asked for teachers’ opinions about the degree of their students’ learner autonomy. Interestingly, 38.3% of the participants disagreed that their students have a fair degree of learner autonomy and half of them (50.0%) agreed that they are providing their students the opportunities for learner autonomy. This result reveals that although many teachers believe their students are not autonomous learners, they provide opportunities/activities to their students for the development of learner autonomy in language classrooms. The second section of the questionnaire asked about the use of technology in language classrooms. The results show that the majority valued using technology (internet: 71.9%; e-portfolio: 76.5%; e-journal/e-diaries: 89.1%; online dictionary: 85.9%; Youtube: 81.3%; digital books: 68.8%; computer-mediated communication: 82.8%) on promoting learner autonomy. It must be noted that there was no one (0.0%) who responded “disagree” to the effectiveness of students’ e-journal/e-diaries on promoting learner autonomy, reflecting the teachers’ strong beliefs that writing e-journal/e-diaries helps their students build learner autonomy successfully.
All behaviors are governed by beliefs and experience and if the teachers have positive beliefs about learner autonomy they would spend more time promoting it in their instructions. In addition, it is obvious that the key source of support for learners’ autonomy in the classroom is the teacher (Nosratinia & Zaker, 2014). Based on the results of this study asking teachers’ perspectives on their students’ levels of learner autonomy, it was shown that their positive perspectives affected their beliefs about the desirability and feasibility of learner autonomy in language classrooms. If the teachers consider their students to be autonomous, then they tend to believe that it is possible for learners to be involved in decision making, especially for classroom activities or topics.
There seems to be no disagreement among teachers about the idea that learner autonomy is a dynamic and motivating factor that influences learning foreign/second languages and that it is not about learning in isolation. Among many of the areas of research on learner autonomy, this research examines teachers’ beliefs about learner autonomy and concludes that what language teachers believe is closely related to learner autonomy practices.
First, teachers should put more effort into developing learner autonomy in order to help their students to improve language proficiency. If the school has obstacles that hinder teachers from developing learner autonomy in classrooms, they could provide certain tasks or activities that the students can work on outside of the classroom.
Second, teachers should provide various activities to motivate students to learn a language, which affect the development of learner autonomy. Although there was no cause-effect relationship between motivation and learner autonomy, it was found that teachers believed that more motivated students are more autonomous and that more autonomous students are more motivated in language learning. Therefore, teachers should bring interesting tasks that students can be involved in voluntarily.
Third, teachers generally believe using technology in the classroom is a positive factor that helps students to be autonomous learners. Therefore, teachers should provide various ways to apply technology in language classrooms. For example, teachers might ask students to write e-journals or e-diaries as homework, or let them use the internet for certain project-based activities. These various activities, in and out of classrooms, would improve the motivation to learn and develop learner autonomy. It is uncertain which would be achieved first, but it is clear that there is a close relationship between motivation and learner autonomy.
However, further research on this issue should be conducted in the future.
Finally, it is important that students are involved in classroom activities such as making decisions about the course topics or activities. Teachers and researchers should keep in mind that any teaching method intended to promote learner autonomy will immediately impact language learning. This awareness is a necessary condition of successful language learning and at the same time for learner autonomy.
Hyun-Ju Kim is an associate professor of English at Dankook University in Korea, where she teachers undergraduate and graduate courses in TESL, language testing, and applied linguistics. She is currently working on a book project on learner autonomy in language classrooms in Asian countries. She is a past presenter at ITBE.
Carroll, M. (1994). Journal writing as a learning and research tool in the adult classroom. TESOL Journal, 4
Holec, H. (1981). Autonomy in foreign language learning
. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jones, J. (2001). CALL and the Teacher's Role in Promoting Learner Autonomy. CALL-EJ Online, 3
Kohonen, V. (2001). Towards experiential foreign language education. In Kohonen, V., Jaatinen, R., Kaikkonen, P., & Lehtovaara, J. (Eds.) Experiential learning in foreign language ducation
(pp. 8-60). London: Longman.
Shield, L., Weininger, M. J., & Davies, L. B. (1999). A task-based approach to using MOO for collaborative language learning. In Cameron, K. (Ed.), Call & the learning community
, (pp. 391-402). Exeter: Elm Bank Publications.
Siegel, I. (1985). A conceptual analysis of beliefs. In I. Siegel (Ed.) Parental belief systems: The psychological consequences for children
(pp. 345-371). Mahawah, NJ: Lawerence Erlbaum.
Toyoda, E. (2001). Exercise of learner autonomy in project-oriented CALL. CALL-EJ Online, 2
(2), Retrieved from http://callej.org/journal/2-2/toyoda.html
Wenden, A. L. (1991). Learner strategies for learner autonomy: Planning and implementing learner training for language learners
. Hertfordshire, UK: Prentice-Hall International.