Ranges and Stages of Autonomy

E

Main Points:

 

 


There is general agreement in the literature that learners may be at different stages of becoming independent or autonomous learners ( Farmer & Sweeney: 1994; Sheerin: 1997; Nunan: 1997). In their paper on self-access in the Hong Kong context, Farmer & Sweeney (1994: 139) say that, "autonomy is not an absolute but a relative term, and the degree of autonomy may vary from one context to another". There is also an educational environment context, and Farmer & Sweeney(1994: 138) highlight the cultural aspect that among Hong Kong students there is a perception that, "no teacher equals no learning." which may pre-dispose Hong Kong learners to a low level of independence. The CILL Internet site tries to modify this perception among its users by explaining about independent learning.

This range in degrees of autonomy is analysed by Sheerin (1997: 57), who gives a model of activities involved in independent learning that illustrates the range of factors from dependence to independence (see Figure 1).

   

DISPOSITION TO

 
 

1

Analyse one’s own strengths / weaknesses, language needs

I

D

2

Set achievable targets and overall objectives

N

E

3

Plan a programme of work to achieve the objectives set

D

P

4

Exercise choice, select materials and activities

E

E

5

Work without supervision

P

N

6

Evaluate one’s progress

E

D

 

ABILITY TO

N

E

7

Analyse one’s own strengths / weaknesses, language needs

D

N

8

Set achievable targets and overall objectives

E

C

9

Plan a programme of work to achieve the objectives set

N

E

10

Exercise choice, select materials and activities

C

 

11

Work without supervision

E

 

12

Evaluate one’s progress

 

Figure 1: Sheerin’s (1997: 57) model of activities involved in independent learning.

The CILL Internet site helps the learners to develop the disposition and ability to do all these activities in the following ways.

It allows learners to analyse their own strengths / weaknesses and language needs by providing an explanation and a framework for them to analyse these, and by providing links to various test sites, and authentic communication situations such as e-mail pen pals, so that learners can test their language abilities.

The CILL Internet site helps the learners to set achievable targets and overall objectives by giving an explanation of the planning process, and providing learning pathways.

It helps the learners to plan a programme of work to achieve the objectives set through access to lists of materials in CILL useful for common learner requests such as report writing, by providing learning pathways, and by providing a copy of a page from the CILL learner diary which takes learners through a planning to evaluation process for one learning session.

Learners are encouraged to exercise choice, and select materials and activities from the links, pathways and materials lists by the multitude of choices of materials they can choose. Criteria for these choices are explained in the explanation of the planning process.

Work without supervision is encouraged , but the site provides e-mail connections to advice from tutors because it is recognised that there is a range to the degree of learners’ autonomy.

Self-evaluation of learners’ progress is explained and aided by the page from the CILL learner diary, but for less independent learners e-mail advice and tutor evaluation is available.

Farmer and Sweeney (1994: 139) also see autonomy as a developmental process involving learner training, "helping students to develop the confidence and motivation to believe that they can use these materials more independently, and that they can learn without a teacher." The CILL Internet site also shows learners how to use materials independently, for example with an example book chapter and details of how to use it.

David Nunan (1997: 195) sets out a scheme proposing five levels for encouraging learner autonomy in relationship to use of learning materials (see Figure 2 below).

Level

Learner Action

Content

Process

1

Awareness

Learners are made aware of the pedagogical goals and content of the materials they are using. Learners identify strategy implications of pedagogical tasks and identify their own preferred learning styles / strategies.

2

Involvement

Learners are involved in selecting their own goals from a range of alternatives on offer. Learners make choices among a range of options.

3

Intervention

Learners are involved in modifying and adapting the goals and content of the learning program. Learners modify / adapt tasks.

4

Creation

Learners create their own goals and objectives. Learners create their own tasks.

5

Transcendence

Learners go beyond the classroom and make links between the content of classroom learning and the world beyond. Learners become teachers and researchers.

Figure 2. Nunan’s (1997: 195) model ‘Autonomy: levels of implementation.’

The CILL Internet site puts this range of independence into practice in the following ways.

In Nunan’s Level One: ‘Awareness’, learners are made aware of the pedagogical goals and content of the materials they are using. The CILL site has details with each link that explain the pedagogical goals that can be fulfilled by accessing that link, and what type of materials they will encounter.

The process whereby learners identify strategy implications of pedagogical tasks and identify their own preferred learning styles / strategies is facilitated by the sections on planning and learning styles and strategies.

In Level Two: ‘Involvement’, where learners are involved in selecting their own goals from a range of alternatives on offer, the site offers some example goals in its section explaining a page from the Learner Diary.

In Level Three: ‘Intervention’, learners are involved in modifying and adapting the goals and content of the learning program. The planning of learners’ work is an on-going process of modification and adaptation in the light of previous work as learners move through the process from planning to evaluation, and as the results of the evaluation feed back into planning further work. As Holec (1980: 33) says, "The learner does not define his needs a priori, but works them out empirically as he goes along." This can be seen in the self-assessment sections of the learner pathways.

In Level Four: ‘Creation’, learners create their own goals and objectives. They graduate from use or reliance on the learner pathways to being able to create their own goals and objectives. This is explained in the sections on planning. To this description might be added the capability suggested by Holec (1980: 32) that learners may find that they wish to omit suggested materials on the grounds that, "The knowledge to be acquired is defined by the learner (or group of learners) on the basis of his (or their) communicative aims alone, without reference to the complete range of competence of a native speaker."

In the last level, ‘Transcendence’, learners go beyond the classroom and make links between the content of classroom learning and the world beyond. The nature of the Internet is that it is part of the world beyond as well as sometimes being part of a classroom. Learners can use it to communicate authentically with people in the world beyond, for example by using text conferencing or by taking part in on-line discussions. Therefore, this property of the fifth level of Nunan’s typology is available to learners at all levels when they access the CILL Internet site.

 


Farmer, Richard & Sweeney, Elaine (1994) Self-access in Hong Kong: A square peg in a round hole? Occasional Papers in Language Teaching 4 (ELT Unit: Chinese University of Hong Kong), pp. 24-30.

Holec, Henri (1980) Learner training: meeting needs in self-directed learning. In Altman, H.B. & James, C.V. (eds.) Foreign Language Learning: meeting individual needs Oxford: Pergamon

Nunan, David (1997) Designing and adapting materials to encourage learner autonomy. In Benson, Phil & Voller, Peter, eds. (1997) Autonomy and Independence in Language Learning London: Longman, 192 - 203

Sheerin, Susan (1997) An exploration of the relationship between self-access and independent learning. In Benson, Phil & Voller, Peter, eds. (1997) Autonomy and Independence in Language Learning London: Longman, 54 - 65