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Learner Autonomy in a Nutshell

Learner Autonomy in a Nutshell

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Published by: ahmdhassn on Dec 30, 2009
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05/18/2013

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LEARNER AUTONOMY IN A NUTSHELLAbstract
The aim of this study is to discuss the concept of learner autonomy in a very largescale. This presentation will be about the following questions concerning learner autonomy:a) what is learner autonomy? b) why is it necessary in EFL settings? c) what dispositions doesan autonomous learner display? d) what should be done to promote learner autonomy in EFLsettings? e) what is the importance of learner autonomy in terms of Common EuropeanFramework (CEFR)?
 
Introduction
Within the changing landscape, new conceptions of what it means to be an educated person,the deconstruction of the traditional language learning classroom, and teachers’ growingconcerns about their own roles in the teaching and learning process have been particularlyimportant (Benson and Toogood, 2001). Specially, the rise of ideologies of globalization, theinformation age and the knowledge-based economy are leading educational authorities to become much more “receptive to autonomy-related ideas than they once were” (Benson,2001). Early pedagogical experiments related to autonomy were inspired by humanisticexpectations aroused by the political turmoil and “counter-cultures” of late 1960s Europe(Gremmo and Riley, 1995, cited in Benson, 2006), which led to the development of self-directed learning and independent learning.As Allwright (1988: 35) puts it, the idea of learner autonomy was for a long time “associatedwith a radical restructuring of language pedagogythat involved “the rejection of thetraditional classroom and the introduction of wholly new ways of working”. It is no doubt thatthe pendulum in language teaching has swung dramatically from an emphasis on languageteaching methodology to a focus on the learner (Oxford, 1998). With the proliferation of self-access centers in the 1990s and more recent developments related to computer-based modesof teaching and learning, and learner-based approaches, Allwright’s (1988) “radicalrestructuring of language pedagogy” has become a reality that many language teachers mustcome to terms (Benson, 2006). The deconstruction of traditional language classrooms andcourses all over the world has underlined the growing interest in autonomy in recent years.What’s more, with the innovations that centre on the learners, learner autonomy, inevitably,has become an exhilarating concept in the field of foreign language learning over the lastthree decades. Likewise, more recently, learner autonomy has met with renewed interest asthe educational sector is witnessing an enormous and rapid development in terms of newtechnologies, and the past few years have seen the importance of learner autonomy, particularly in higher education (Gremmo, 1997: 111). In this respect, I try to explain learner autonomy from several different dimensions in this study.
 
What is Learner Autonomy?
Like many other terms, the concept of learner autonomy is so difficult to define properly.According to Benson (2006), this difficulty simply stems from two basic assumptions that“there are degrees of autonomy” (Nunan, 1997: 172) and that “the behavior of autonomouslearners can take numerous different forms, depending on their age, how far they have progressed with their learning, what they perceive their immediate learning needs to be, andso on” (Little, 1991: 4), which causes the educators to make several various definitionsranging from the simplest to the most difficult one. Thus, the pertinent literature hosts aconsiderable number of perceptions and definitions of learner autonomy.Some of the most well-known definitions in the current literature are as follows:'Autonomy is an adaptive ability, allowing learners to develop supportive structures withinthemselves rather than to have them erected around them (Trim, 1976, cited in Esch, 1996).'Autonomy is the ability to take charge of one's own learning' (Holec, 1981).'Autonomy is a capacity for detachment, critical reflection, decision-making, andindependent action (Little, 1990).'Autonomy is a situation in which the learner is totally responsible for all the decisionsconcerned with his/her learning and the implementation of those decisions' (Dickinson, 1993).‘Autonomy is a readiness to take charge of one’s own learning in the service of one’s needsand purposes’ (Dam, 1995)'Autonomy is recognition of the rights of learners within educational systems' (Benson,2001).As is easily observed in the definitions, “ability” has been very often replaced by “capacity”or “take charge of” has been replaced by “take control of” of one’s own learning (Benson,2006). Holec’s (1981) definition of learner autonomy has proved remarkably robust andremains the most widely cited definition in the field. Nonetheless, his definition explains whatautonomous learners are able to do rather than how they are able to do it. Apart from thedefinition by Dickinson (1993), the core is based on the “an attribute of learners, rather thanlearning situations.” In his definition, autonomy is regarded as the situation in which thelearners feel responsible for all the decisions, but all other definitions tend to take the term asa capacity or ability rather than a situation. As one can easily discern, there have been manyattempts to define the term properly over the last twenty five years. The point here is thatsome strongly advocate the idea that if learners are placed in situations where they have more

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