A most cited definition is one that dates back to 80's. Henry Holec wrote :
To take charge of one's learning is to have, and to hold, the responsibility for all the decisions concerning all aspects of this learning, i.e.:
- determining the objectives:
- defining the contents and progressions:
- selecting methods and techniques to be used:
- monitoring the procedure of acquisition properly speaking ( rhythm, time, place, etc.);
- evaluating what has been acquired.
The autonomous learner is himself capable of making all these decisions concerning the learning with which he is or wishes to be involved. (Holec 3)
Phil Benson suggests the use of control instead of responsibility "because it places an emphasis on the right to autonomy" (Benson, "Concepts of autonomy" 31). The same view is held by several researchers - Little, Kohonen and Wenden. Benson uses a critical approach to autonomy to address control as a central point. According to him there are three dimensions at which learner control may be exercised: learning management, cognitive processes and learning content. In other words, learners can enhance their productivity in language learning only if they know how to schedule their learning and have control over learning content. Benson uses the term control instead of responsibility, because he wants to stress that one has the right to autonomy (Benson, "Concepts of autonomy" 31).
At the very beginning of autonomy definition and implementation, by introducing this term, Holec is very strict with explanations about what autonomy is. Today, we often have different, more liberal approaches to autonomy, where textbooks on autonomy exercises have been written, for example in the book Autonomy in language learningMorrison and Navarro provide lots of activities which can lead learners to more autonomy in their learning. The main aspect of autonomy is that learners need freedom to explore the ways that suit them and enhance their productivity. A teacher is there only to direct learners if they get lost. Benson states that learners who are studying outside a class can obtain a greater level of proficiency that those who rely only on the classroom input. ("Teaching and Researching Autonomy" 79).
As the whole concept is partly derived from cognitive psychology some researchers call it self–regulated learning (Benson). However, prevailing name is self-directed learning and is derived form adult educational psychology (Wenden, Holec). Basically, both are the same but differently named. These two terms will not be discussed here, but are important to mention as some authors like Wenden and Holec use these in their papers, whilst others like Flavell use self-regulation in their work. Holec makes one another distinction where he states that we can write that a learner is autonomous but the learning process can only be labelled as self-directed . That is how we can write autonomous learner but not autonomous learning, and self-directed learning but not self-directed learner (Holec 4). However, others like Benson, do not make such distinctions and write 'autonomous learning' in their work:
Autonomous learning refers to learning in which learners demonstrate a capacity to control their learning. Autonomous learning programmes are educational initiatives designed to foster this capacity or allow it to flourish and, in general, the use of this term signals no more than a claim or intention. (Benson "Teaching and Research Autonomy" 123)
Morrison and Navarro state that there are many names attached to autonomous activities. Examples are individualised learning, self-directed learning and study skills. (Morrison and Navarro 8).
Holec indicates that in self-directed learning, learners decide on which methods and techniques they will use. Methods and techniques that are available to them are those that they have used in earlier studies, those that can be learnt from other learners or teaching materials and finally, those that they will choose as appropriate for learning. He also mentions criteria for choosing the proper methods and techniques - those regarding efficacy and adaptation. Efficacy criteria takes into account students objectives and examining whether a progress has been made and whether methods and techniques serve the objectives or they need to be changed. Criteria regarding adaptation to external and internal constraints on the learner along with the proposed methods and techniques need to be adapted to remove constraints that normally occur during studies (15).
Basically, autonomous learners need to be able to determine whether or not to take on learning tasks, clarify needs, set and prioritize their goals, set objectives, define content and progression, determine place and time, choose materials and select an assessment measure (Wenden "Metacognitive knowledge" 7). However, it is essential that one does not confuse self-instruction with autonomy which can happen easily if one forgets that autonomy is primarily "psychological relation between the learner and the content and the process of learning" and not freedom that is limited to organisations where they learn. Little states that teachers have certain level of freedom in interpreting the syllabus, its goals and content so they can share this freedom with their learners and learners can gain a certain level of autonomy within a class. ( Little "Autonomy in language learning" 84)
After Holec, there was another researcher who proposed a rather radical view of what autonomy is. Allright indicates that autonomy represents "a radical restructuring of whole conception of language pedagogy, a restructuring that involves the rejection of the traditional classroom and the introduction of wholly new ways of working" (qtd. Benson "Concepts of autonomy in language learning" 29). Although some level of modification to traditional classroom is necessary, the complete rejection of it and introduction of new concepts is not necessary according to Little. Teachers are not there to teach but to promote autonomy behaviour among language learners. They can do this by awareness raising, learning strategy training or by introducing reflectivity in learning.
Little extended the definition of autonomy by introducing a new term "capacity – for detachment, critical reflection, decision – making, and independent action" (Little "Autonomy in language learning" 81). He explains that certain level of freedom that is considered that autonomous learners possess is never absolute, but limited to social factors. It cannot be expected from children to become autonomous adults if there are no opportunities for autonomous behaviour (Little "Autonomy in language learning" 81).
The main aim of autonomous way of learning language is to help people to develop it and find it within themselves. The whole concept of autonomy is based on the fact that learners need to facilitate autonomy that everyone already possesses.
Benson discusses that when we are young, we are in control over our mother tongue. However, when we are getting older and as learning becomes demanding where certain formal instructions are needed, we start to give up much of our autonomy. Then we come to the teenage age and start learning foreign languages that can become difficult without formal setting. The theory about autonomy as our inborn capacity is derived from philosophers Rousseau, Illich and others (Benson "Teaching and Research Autonomy 73). Certain authors address the problem of modern education:
. . . we have adopted what might be described as a manufacturing model of education designed to produce uniform results through promotion of conformity, obedience, and memorization of content dictated by others, leading to the transformation of self-directed learners into other directed learners (Guglielmino 2).
There are good reasons why some level of autonomy is required among language learners so that learners can learn what teachers teach. Allright asks "Why don’t learners learn what teachers teach?" (Nunan 133). The reason for a great disparity between "what is taught and what is learned" is that "there is a mismatch between the pedagogical agenda of the teacher and that of the learner where teachers and learner come to the classroom with different mind sets and agendas "(Nunan 140). There seems also a mismatch in learning activity preference, where, for example, teachers prefer pair work and learners prefer some other activities such as error correction. Nunan writes "While the teacher is busily teaching one thing, the learner is very often focusing on something else" (Nunan 135). He proposes learner centeredness. As he states it is similar to the traditional curricula but "the key difference is that in learner-centred curriculum, key decisions about what will be taught, how it will be taught, when it will be taught, and how it will be assessed will be made with reference to the learner" (Nunan 134) . However, not majority of learners "come into the language classroom with natural ability to make choices about what and how to learn " (Nunan 134). He proposes to switch from being learner centred to learning centred. Learning-centeredness assumes an approach where learners are guided on how to "make critical pedagogical decisions by systematically training them in the skills they need to make such decisions" (Nunan 134). Such classrooms are focused not only on language being learnt, but also on learning process. In this way, learners are "systematically educated in the skills and knowledge they will need in order to make informed choices about what they want to learn and how they want to learn" (Nunan 134). Here, as he further writes it is not the case that teacher hands over responsibility and power to a learner from the first day, but directs learners at the beginning until they are able to make informed choices. He encourages learners "to move toward the fully autonomous end of the pedagogical continuum" (Nunan 134). This can be done by training learners to identify their own styles and strategies that suit them best. Nunan thinks that learners should be trained in ability to employ critical thinking and to make pedagogical decisions on what and how to learn. He also writes that learners need to become aware of curricula content and pedagogical materials in developing their critical learning skills. If a teacher is able to be explicit about what is expected from students by involving them in the process and not simply instructing them what to do, it can be beneficial to their learning outcome (Nunan 135).
Little proposes that students need to be aware the things that go beyond learninglanguage, proper strategies which can help them to become efficient learners. He states that learners need to become aware of themselves as learners and to know the learning techniques they should implement. He indicates that some learners write their journals to note how well they progressed in mastering personal learning skills. This method was applied among Scandinavian students and it came out as a successful way of a learning method. Students had to note which learning tasks were well or badly done. (Little, "Autonomy in language learning" 86)
Nunan gives one good explanation for a great disparity of what is taught and what is learned. This is because a target form will not be learned until learners are developmentally ready to acquire that particular form. He goes further stating that sometimes teachers are trying to teach unteachable (Nunan, "Closing the gap between learning and instruction" 150). According to Benson, learners are more ready to do exercises initiated by themselves than when it is initiated by a teacher (Benson, 80). Little thinks that it is not enough for learners to just listen what teachers tell and show, but is essential to take an active role in a classroom, that is by communicating (82).
Nowadays, it is essential for learners to become self-directed as they live in an information society where everything is changed rapidly . Knowles concisely noted the impact of these vast changes on the individual:
We are entering into a strange new world in which rapid change will be the only stable characteristic….It is no longer realistic to define the purpose of education as transmitting what is known…The main purpose of education must now be to develop the skills of inquiry. (15)
All these things along with World Wide Web has led to an explosion in the use of distance learning courses that require demanding skills with self-directed learning. In this fast changing world we need to be able to learn how to learn as it is the most enduring skill.
Learners who achieve foreign language proficiency are those who initiate and manage their own learning. This basically means that learners who rely only on instruction input fail to master a target language. Additionally, there is a Danish researcher Leni Dam who suggests that learners do not necessarily learn what teachers believe that they will learn. The only thing that teachers can provide for their learners is raising an awareness of metacognitive aspects of learning, i.e. to help them to become conscious of the whole process of learning, of how they think and learn (Dam, "Developing Learner Autonomy" 42)
Holec suggests that self-directed learning can happen with or without a teacher physically present (4). Holec writes that :
In a general way the extent to which a teacher is physically present is not a good standard by which to judge the extent to which learning is self-directed: whether a teacher is present or not as learning proceeds, it is principally the role of the learner which is the determining factor of self-directed learning. (4)
Little in the similar way argues that autonomy is not something that is limited to learning without a teacher and additionally that the responsibility of a teacher is crucial for autonomy (81).
As the main purpose of autonomy is to give learners freedom to choose their own goals, purposes, content and resources, the question is whether it can be fully undertaken without social interaction. Benson writes that one cannot learn if they do not interact with others and in this way total self-direction is not an option, especially when we think about learning languages, where social interaction is obligatory. (60). Since learning autonomy or self-directed learning, as some researchers call it (Holec, Knowles, Benson), is possible only in situations where studies are conducted in isolation but as language learning is only real in social interaction (Benson, "Teaching and Researching Autonomy" 60), it is impossible to require full self-directedness among students. Social interaction is of great importance in language learning as without it, there is not any chance for an individual to progress to any proficiency level. As Jennifer Moon writes, we do not build meanings alone, but "with the help of collected experiences of others", whether teachers, peers or scholars (20). Little also states that "all human learning may require a social aspect especially when the object of learning is a language" (Little , "Constructing a theory" 20). The degree to which learners understand and manage learning, determines the level of autonomy and the level of success they achieve. This is where the social context is a key factor. As Moon writes, experience is affected by social factors and further processed within the factors of an individual (21).
Some authors think that one can implement self-directed learning only if they can accept their responsibility during the process of becoming autonomous. A learner who is in the process of acquiring autonomy must nevertheless assume responsibility for the whole of his learning although he may benefit from help given by a teacher or derived from teaching aid (Holec 3). As Holec writes: "Few adults are capable of assuming responsibility for their learning, as proved experience, for the simple reason that they have never had occasion to use this ability. With the majority of them, therefore, autonomy has to be acquired" (Holec 22).
Every author approaches the problem of autonomy in distinct ways and in this sense we have different views about what autonomy in language learning is. Even learners can be seen as autonomous in many instances and achieve a different degree of autonomy. As Little writes "Autonomy, in other words, can manifest itself in very different ways " (qtd. Benson "Teaching and Research Autonomy" 66). For example, one learner can be good at resolving which topic to choose for improving language, the another is better at scheduling plans for learning whilst the third can easily decide which strategy to use when approaching a task. Those learners are thus different in ways that cannot be compared. (Benson, 66) Since there are different types of learners (if we take sensory preferences), auditory, visual and kinaesthetic, then, we cannot expect the same type of autonomy among them. That is why every type of learner is distinct and will show autonomy in different ways. Methods that teachers use to tackle students awareness of autonomy need to vary according to the type of learner that is taught.
Before going any further into a discussion it is necessary to take into account all the individual differences in second language learning . We can not write about autonomy without writing about its connection to the type of learners emerging into the learning process. If we teach auditory learner, we can not have an autonomous class without listening activities for example. Or if we deal with visual learners, we need to provide them visual aids in order to help them in the language learning process. Lastly, kinaesthetic and tactile learners like physical activities in order to learn something. Before having an autonomous class we need to have these facts in mind so that every type of learner can get a proper stimuli. For example, for kinaesthetic learners, working with flashcards, cuisenaire rods, collages is necessary in class as they like tangible objects. Also, they need to have regular breaks as they do not like to sit long. For kinaesthetic learners a proper stimuli would be to engage them in physical activities whether building or moving something (Oxford 4).
One of the crucial aspects of autonomy is that knowledge is produced through social interaction. That is how researchers divide knowledge into abstract and action knowledge. Abstract knowledge, or knowledge that is in its decontextualized form, remains such to the moment when it becomes part of one's own view of the world. Then it is called action knowledge and is integrated into learner's view of the world. Abstract knowledge is considered as someone's else knowledge as it is not integrated into learners' view of the world. Action knowledge is the only knowledge that is useful to learners as it helps learners to see problems from different perspectives. In Barne`s model, teaching is therefore more a matter of communication than of instruction. Authors list examples of abstract knowledge as situations when teachers teach what learners are supposed to learn. However, this is something that does not happen as learners cannot learn something until new knowledge becomes part of their lives and their new perspective. Otherwise, it will always be someone else's knowledge. Lev Vygotsky assumed that learning begins from the starting point of the child`s existing knowledge and experience and develops through social interaction. According to Vygotsky, "under guidance from adults or more experienced peers, children internalise meanings acquired through linguistic interaction as the directive communicative speech of others is transformed into self-directive inner speech" (qtd in Benson, "Teaching and Researching Autonomy" 42).
Constructivists state that real learning occurs in active involvement of an individual in social interaction. This type of learning is called active. Dam has a different name for passive knowledge. She names it school knowledge, but both are the same as the main feature is passivity. Passivity in learning is mostly something that can be seen in formal settings like public schools. Teachers are there to talk and learners to listen. This is why she stresses the importance of establishing a learning environment where learners will nurture active knowledge and acquire lifelong skills necessary for active involvement in learning outside a classroom (Dam, 42) . Nunan agrees with Dam and writes that teachers are teaching one thing but learners are focusing on something else (Nunan 135). Although, as Ellis mentions, the teacher may provide much of the input, it is ultimately the learners who decide what is processed and learned. (Benson "Teaching and Research Autonomy" 81). Nunan in his article Why learners do not learn what teachers teach explains in great details the whole process of modern schools.
Barnes also writes about action knowledge:
If we never use this knowledge we probably forget it. In so far as we use knowledge for our own purposes, however, we begin to incorporate it into our view of the world, and to use parts of it to cope with the exigencies of living. Once the knowledge becomes incorporated into that view of the world on which our actions are based I would say that it has become `action knowledge. (qtd. in Benson "Teaching and Research Autonomy" 40)
As it often happens, learners are not usually autonomous at the start of a course. Thus Holec proposes that learners devote their time for learning to learn before immersing themselves into autonomy. Whether it to be blended e-learning or some other way of learning where autonomy is necessary, learners are those who need to master certain skills to produce results in this approach to language learning (Holec 4).
Another important aspect of autonomy is that learners manage their learning with a little help of a teacher, or as it is named in Holec`s book - animateur. According to him in becoming autonomous one does not need a teacher but an animateur whose role is not to teach but to organize the group and evoke discussion and explain the strategies necessary for an autonomous class (Holec, 30) . What really matters is that learners need to make choice and in this way take responsibility of their learning. This is also one of the reasons why a traditional teacher is not needed in the process of learning autonomy. Both, teachers and learners, have to be able to change their views about something new. If they are not able to change their assumptions about the whole new learning methodology, they will not be able to implement self-directed learning.
The importance of autonomous approach to learning language is not only found in autonomous approach to language learning but also in other types of learning. Once language learners develop autonomous way of learning, they can easily apply their skills in other areas of their lives. Dam examined how teachers can implement autonomy in public schools. At the end of her article on autonomy Dam writes:
The work with the development of learner autonomy for more than three decades has been a success. Apart from learners with a high communicative proficiency (at different levels) the result has been learners who have: developed enhanced self-esteem, acquired an evaluative competence of self and others, learned how to learn and to accept responsibility, gained social competence by experiencing social forms of learning, prepared for life-long learning. (Dam, 49)
There are also tests that have been made to measure the level of autonomy that students possess. One of the most common is SDLS – Self –Directedness Learning Scale created by Dr. Lucy M. Guglielmino. It is the most used questionnaire among teachers, or as Holec calls them- facilitators. One unique scale to measure learner`s readiness for self-directedness is usually used to measure the level of language learning autonomy that students possess at the moment of autonomy implementation. Along with the test there is a comprehensive guide on autonomous activities, which with the help of a teacher, can lead a student to autonomous way of learning. The guide is written by Morrison and Navarro where " Learners are taken through the process of designing, implementing and evaluating an individual learning plan " (9). They transform theoretical understandings into practical insights in the book The Autonomy Approach. This is one of the most comprehensive books regarding learners autonomy with many useful tools for ESL and EFL teachers to implement in their classrooms. It is based on their over two decade experience during which they developed a step-by-step guide. Addition to autonomy research is `implementing` which they added to Wenden`s PME (planning, monitoring and evaluating). Wenden was first to introduce these three methods into the practice of learner autonomy. Morrison and Navarro then extended it by adding implementing as they state that "most of monitoring is about implementation" (16). It is a post-planning stage which consists of activities which learners undertake during their autonomy process (16). They added this new dimension "to clarify how to actually carry out these activities (16)".
In what ways motivation enhances productivity and autonomy among learners? Numerous studies proved that motivation is higher among learners who direct their own learning. "Even those with outstanding abilities cannot make great achievements without sufficient motivation. However, those with high motivation can make up for considerable deficiencies" (Dörnyei et. al., "Motivating Language Learners" 56).
Dörnyei states that a teacher is the one who has the power to share responsibility with students by offering them to choose and allowing them to establish priorities after which students become more self determined and their intrinsic motivation is as a result higher ("Motivation and Motivating in the Foreign Language Classroom" 278).
Dörnyeiet. al. write that goal setting plays an important role in motivation. Goals that are difficult, challenging, but that can be achieved lead to higher performance as opposed to goals that can be easily achieved ("Motivation in action" 54). They also mention a study of Locke and Kristof that reveals that specific goals can enhance productivity. (Dörnyei et. al., "Motivation in action" 54). It is important to mention that learners are more inclined to achieve goals that are achievable in the near future (Dörnyei et al., "Motivation in action" 54). As learning a language can be seen as a distal goal due to the nature of the goal, it would be good for language teachers to divide this learning process into manageable chunks for their learners. For example, they can provide their learners with materials, activities and pleasurable classroom environment so that for their learners learning a language becomes an enjoyable activity which becomes hard to postpone.
Dörnyei et al. developed a new theory on directed motivational currents (DMC). DMC is an '"intense motivational drive which is capable of both stimulating and supporting long term behaviour, such as learning a foreign/second language" ( "Directed Motivational Currents" 9). What makes this type of motivation unique is that it is usually short-term, highly-intense drive toward a goal. This motivation has a potential to disrupt daily routine of an individual and define different priorities. DMC is followed by individual beliefs that they have sufficient capabilities to perform the required actions and thus to participate in the project effectively ("Directed Motivational Currents" 15). People continue to develop DMC only if they perceive that they move toward their vision. As Dörnyei notes "The satisfaction and wellbeing one gains from this sense of progress is one of the main forward drives in a DMC, and in order to feel this satisfaction one needs to receive some sort of tangible feedback while moving forward: some aspects of continuous progress need to be visible" ( "Directed Motivational Currents" 15). People are aware that they are experiencing a unique feeling, something that cannot be experienced during a day and not even during periods of high motivation. One more distinctive feature of this type of motivation is that individuals experience very positive and supportive towards the process.
Scovel considers that affective state is force that has a great power in language acquisition, but at the same time, it is something about researchers do not have much knowledge about (Benson, "Teaching and Researching Autonomy" 88)
Dörnyei et al. state that DMC can help second language learners to "perform beyond expectations and across several levels" ( "Directed Motivational Currents" 9).
In order to enhance learners motivation teachers need to explain the purpose of instruction to the learners. However, among the youngest students and those who are at a beginner level this is not possible due to the nature of the task (Nunan, 136). Dörnyei et al. state that if goals are specific, hard and achievable they behave as efficient motivators. He is shocked that so little time is devoted to goal setting in L2 classroom although it has proven benefits ("Motivation and Motivating" 276).
According to Wenden , in order to approach autonomy we need to consider additional terms : metacognitive knowledge and metacognitive strategies. It would be difficult to discuss about autonomy without them. Wenden explains them in more details in her article in "Applied Linguistics". Wenden ("Metacognitive Knowledge" 516) writes about metacognitive knowledge as "knowledge about learning". Although this is a very simple definition, it mentions the most important aspects of it. It consists of knowledge that learners hold about themselves . It is also called `learner beliefs` by some researchers (Wenden, "Metacognitive Knowledge" 520).
Oxford argues that learners are not always aware of metacognitive strategies that could make learning quicker and more pleasurable. She further discusses that students often use metacognitive strategies that suit their learning styles (Oxford, 9).
As Wenden puts it "Learner training is one such innovation which has extensive, profound, and even dramatic consequences for the language teaching curriculum" ("Learner Training" 1). She further writes that training is used to help the learner how to learn and that the model of learning can be further used in every situation or place, whether it to be "the classroom, the self-access centre, student-teacher conferences, distance learning, informal settings " ("Learner Training", 1).
Wenden writes that metacognitive knowledge differs whether it focuses on a learner, a learning task or a process of learning (Wenden; 518). That is how it is divided into person knowledge, task knowledge and strategic knowledge. All three components are essential for autonomy approach as they help learners to manage their tasks (Wenden, 1998, 526).
Wenden notes that "learners generate their own hypothesis about factors that contribute to learning and that those notions are not arbitrary" ("Metacognitive Knowledge " 517). The way learners see themselves triggers the tools they will use in their future learning process, i.e. it will affect the way they perceive each language learning task, meaning it will have an impact on their strategic knowledge. Many researches have been conducted on how learning strategies are used to help learners to master a language. Metacognitive strategies should not be misplaced with metacognitive knowledge. They represent "general skills through which learners manage, direct, regulate, guide their learning i.e. conduct planning, monitoring and evaluating" (Wenden, "Metacognitive Knowledge" 519 ). Learning strategies can help students to become independent, lifelong learners. Skilled teachers help their students to become more independent by showing them effective learning strategies. (Oxford, 9)
Metacognitive strategies are good for all aspects of learning. Metacognition in writing was researched by Dion who writes that if students use them in writing, they can "understand and practice making appropriate decisions, engage in focused writing actions; consult more; ask advice; check words and rules in grammars, dictionaries and the internet" (66). Learners need to define their goals for writing, plan their writing, choose vocabulary, decide which strategies they will use, plan and revise in order to produce a meaningful text. For students writing in L2 , extra time is needed (66). Dion also proposes writing a journal where students will note their reflective critical thinking which in turn helps them to improve their autonomy (67).
Nunan goes further to claim that all learners that developed high levels of competence in foreign language "demonstrated an ability to relate the content of the classroom of the world beyond the classroom" (139). Nunan also examined 44 learners that reported that their success in language learning was due to its use outside classroom, whether they were using language newspapers, radio, television, international hotels and so on (139). He further writes that teachers need to find out how their learners think and feel about what and how they want to learn (140). Additionally, he writes that " ... everything we do in the classroom involves a learning strategy. This is so regardless of whether we are talking about communicative tasks such as role plays, selective listening, or debates, or more mechanical exercises such as pronunciation drills, vocabulary memorization, or cloze exercises" (Nunan, 142). Wenden proposes something similar and provides us a guidance on how to help learners to master a target language. She gives examples that teachers need to use surveys, oral interviews and focus groups in order to make profiles of learners metacognitive knowledge. By providing questions, teachers can assess how learners perceive the course and discover why some students are active and are independently involved in learning while others are not. In this way teachers can perceive a problem in a language learning group and can make some modifications to a course if necessary. She also suggests that teachers should help language learners to establish reflective and autonomous approach to language learning. She proposes four procedures that can rise awareness for activities: "elicitation of learner's metacognitive knowledge and beliefs, articulation of what has come to awareness, confrontation with alternative views and reflection on the appropriateness of revising, expanding one's knowledge" (Wenden, "Metacognitive Knowledge" 531). Teachers can present these techniques and show learners how this helps them in language learning tasks (Wenden, "Metacognitive Knowledge" 531).
It is necessary, however, to familiarize learners with the strategies for each particular task. They need to know how to handle different types of tasks in various situations. That is why some textbooks nowadays accompany guides on how to approach different tasks. This process of showing learners how to manage each task, was something teachers needed to handle with, but nowadays many textbooks provide useful guides that learners can read at homes. The next step is to teach learners how to learn a language. It can be achieved by discovering to which type of learners they belong and in this way presenting them their own preferred learning styles and strategies. As Nunan writes, Ellis, Sinclair and Willling (1989) provided a test which discovers each learner a learning style they prefer. A test is called ’ Learning Style Tasks’. What Nunan further suggests is that learners need to make choices. After this step they are advised to "provide students with opportunities to modify and adapt classroom tasks. This could be a preliminary step to teaching students to create their own tasks....At a more challenging level, learner would become teachers" (145). Lastly, what he proposes is that learners become researchers. That is the last stage in the learner-centred approach (145). Nunan mentions that:
. . . once strategies used by good language learners are identified, they can be taught to less effective language learners. Learners who have reached a point where they are able to define their own goals and create their own learning opportunities have, by definition, become autonomous. (147)
The problem of anxiety concerns psychology, that is why it seems important to include the findings of leading researchers in this field. Its relatedness to learner autonomy is crucial as it influences the process of learning and the learner`s ability to manage the stress level during the time during which they learn.
During studying, learners often encounter anxiety and other emotional obstacles which prevent them from achieving a goal, from mastering a target language. In order to control emotions, they often employ various techniques to help them to proceed with planned learning (Oxford, 9)
Benson further explores the way a learner can prevent anxiety during studying, by mentioning Walker`s list of anxiety prevention strategies:
. . . telling oneself not to mind classmates` laughter, imagining oneself having a friendly chat with the class, standing up slowly to signal that you need help, telling a classmate that you feel afraid, telling yourself that `it won`t take long`, looking for support in the teacher`s eye. (Benson, "Teaching and Researching Autonomy 89)
At the one hand, anxiety, if it is present in small amount, can have a beneficial effect to a student, resulting in student’s productivity. However, on the other hand, it can have reverse effects, if a student is anxious excessively. Being overly anxious, they will not feel like starting anything but instead, their only activity may be procrastination. It then becomes a vicious circle where a way out can only be in lessening their anxiety. There are various techniques available to them, like dividing their work into little chunks and in this way lessen their pressure when they remember that they need to finish their studying for an exam, for example. Another author, Joseph, advocates a different name for this skills that can help learners to become autonomous, she calls them practical intelligence. No matter how we call these skills, their function is the same – to help learners to finish a task. (Joseph 38) Skilful students have enough metacognitive knowledge to reflect on their thinking and are able to note their progress and see where they need to improve and in this way they are becoming knowledgeable when approaching a learning task. As learners progress through school they are in great need for monitoring and assessing their learning leading to cognitive maturity and practical intelligence. She suggests that raising the metacognitive awareness is good to embed in regular learning activities (Joseph 39). Struggling students may have benefits from metacognitive instruction which can help them to become aware of their thinking and progress. However, this is not something simple to do, to expect that they will use metacognitive knowledge immediately. Opposite usually happens due to their dependent approach to learning and due to confusion and anxiety after discussions about skills that could help them in the learning process. By breaking the habit of depending on others, struggling students become ready to overcome their academic difficulties. Teachers need to provide supportive environment where student will be able to discuss about metacognition with their teachers. In order to reflect on their learning, students can use reading logs and self-assessment checklist (Joseph 40). Joseph proposes metacognitive strategies and activities that include thinking like problem-solving tasks where learners are able to see how efficient learners approach a task by providing thinking skills that they use and that other learners do not know. The author states that in this way teachers can provide an insight into learning skills of efficient learners and encourage others to try the same techniques. Some other strategies proposed are self-assessment by providing self-assessment questions, encouraging questioning which helps them to process the content and designing problem solving activities (Joseph 41).
According to Oxford, good language learners are those who know how to manage their feelings and who use affective strategies in learning (Oxford, 14). Some of the strategies that are listed in Benson`s book are: "positive self-talk, skipping text, re-reading, carrying on regardless of obstacles, consulting answer keys, not dwelling on problems, taking breaks, reflecting on possibilities, taking notes to reduce anxieties caused by memory lapses, checking back for reassurance " (Benson, Teaching and Researching Autonomy" 97). Oxford lists deep breathing, positive self-talk and talking about feelings (Oxford, 14).
Students often employ various affective strategies to help them in language learning process:
. . . students are aware of emotional side of language learning and are capable of using strategies to control their emotions. These appear to include strategies to modify emotional responses as well as strategies to limit the effects of negative emotions. They also appear to be of two basic kinds: strategies involving self-talk or reassurance and strategies that are more concerned with managing learning in ways that reduce its emotional intensity. (Benson, "Teaching and Researching Autonomy" 89)
A key aspect of a learner autonomy is affection learners encounter during learning process. If one is very upset and is not capable of overcoming that feeling, it will not be possible to continue with learning activity. Anxiety while learning is one of the top reasons why learner autonomy is at times difficult to implement, as many learners face the feeling of anxiety during learning process. Learners are required to manage their stress during any learning activity. Some researchers note that by being able to manage their feelings, learners become more productive, as she writes that a learning is "easier, faster, more enjoyable, more self-directed, more effective, and more transferable to new situation" (Oxford, 8).
During studying, learners often encounter anxiety and other emotional obstacles which prevent them from achieving a goal, from mastering the target language. In order to control emotions, they often employ various techniques to help them to proceed with planned learning.
Oxford argues that "good language learners are often those who know how to control their emotions and attitudes about learning by using affective strategies such as lowering anxiety, encouraging themselves and `taking their emotional temperatures" (qtd. Benson 88). Studies on human learning stress the importance of affect during the learning process. It has also been suggested that language learners know how to lessen the level of stress produced during learning process by using metacognitive strategies to control emotions that prevent them to learn effectively. Walker numbers many strategies for controlling anxiety levels that her students reported in interviews such as: "telling oneself not to mind classmate's laughter, imagining oneself having a friendly chat with the class, standing up slowly to signal you need help, telling a classmate that you feel afraid, telling yourself that `it won`t take long`, looking for support in the teacher`s eye. Walker also stresses that teachers are those who need to provide environmental, emotional and linguistic support" (qtd. Benson 89).
As Nunan writes:
By sensitizing learners to the nature of the learning process, by helping them develop skills in cognitive operations such as classifying, brainstorming, inductive and deductive reasoning, by getting them to cooperate with each other, by giving them opportunities to make choices and to develop independent learning skills, we are fostering the cognitive, affective, interpersonal and intercultural knowledge, skills, and sensitivities which provide a rationale for a great many educational systems around the world. (Nunan 148)
Peter Skehan also notes that according to some researchers anxiety is facilitating in high-ability students, but those that are low-ability and even more average-ability students, it is connected with poor performance and in fact what is surprising-failure (Skehan 106). According to Skehan anxiety has "different effects at different stages of learning, being more facilitating at higher levels, but debilitating at more beginning stages" (Skehan 116). He further concludes "Possibly higher-proficiency learners have a wider repertoire of behaviours which enable them to cope with anxiety-provoking situations more flexibly (Skehan 116)."
Zheng gives Gregersen and Horwitz's insight of how they perceive the language learning anxiety. They state that the cause of learners' anxiety lies in their perfectionist nature. As nothing can be perfectly learned, their need for perfection leads them to feel uncomfortable with language learning. Since anxious learners are never satisfied with their progress and criticize themselves for any mistake, they start to feel worry and uneasiness as opposed to students who do not encounter anxiety and tend to feel happy about small progress (Ying Zheng 3). Zheng further explains that "reluctance to participate, avoidance of work, and negative attitude , are all possible defence mechanisms that anxious learners employ to balance their emotional equilibrium" (Zheng 4). Furthermore, Zheng writes about a theory of Eysenck who states that anxious learners engage in irrelevant activities and in this way block their capacity for learning. Because of this they experience difficulties in concentrating and are easily distracted (Zheng 5). Zheng gives an example of a researcher Sellers who examined students from the United States who were reading a text in Spanish. He found that highly anxious readers were more distracted by interfering thoughts and were less able to focus on the task at hand, which in turn affected their comprehension of the reading passage (Zheng 6).
More social learners will be more inclined to talk, more inclined to join groups, more likely to participate in class, more likely to volunteer and to engage in practice activities, and finally, more likely to maximize language-use opportunities outside the classroom by using language for communication. Thus extroverts would benefit both inside and outside classrooms by having the appropriate personality trait for language learning since such learning is best accomplished actually using language (Oxford, "Learning Strategies 5). Extroverts would be likely to maximize contact and the quantity of input received, maximize interaction, assuming negotiating meaning through interaction is crucial; and maximization of language output, assuming that the process of using language is important for development (Oxford, "Learning Strategies 5). However, it seems that:
. . . it is the sociability dimension of extroversion that is relevant for language learning.. it seems to be specifically the tendency to engage in verbal interactions which, when separated out from the other components of extroversion, is most predictive. (Skehan, 106)
A question of assessment has also been largely debated . If one wants to achieve full autonomy without the presence of a teacher, how will they do that? One of the solutions to this problem could be "tandem learning". This is a situation where two students with different mother tongues participate in language learning. The another solution is the use of technology widely spread today. By using software or web sites, learners can now assess their knowledge through specific programs largely available online. They have access to the wide variety of targeted exercises with immediate corrections. There is no need for specifically designed courses with monotonous exercises that are repeating. This is also one of the drawbacks of e-learning courses, as they are designed in one way and for particular learners. Learner autonomy is something that strictly opposes assessment in a traditional way. Instead, learners need to evaluate themselves and teachers are there to guide them on how to conduct evaluation. What is different in this approach is that there is no certification if a learner does not want to get a certificate at the end of a course (Holec 16). Holec distinguishes external and internal evaluation. Only an internal evaluation can fit in the definition of autonomy as learners evaluate what they have achieved compared to what they aimed to achieve. This is a process that goes inside of each autonomous learner. Learning process is not seen as something that has an end after evaluation as it is common in public schools. Most importantly, internal evaluation serves a learner as a way to plan their future learning (Holec, 17).
With the use of the Internet, individuals nowadays have the opportunity to gain specific knowledge by doing exercises that suit them best, without limiting themselves to the type of exercises that do not meet their needs. There are free new websites which are moderated by several people and updated on a daily basis. People are competing in becoming better at offering service whether free or paid. The same situation is with language learning websites. We also have examples of websites which welcome other people to design and upload their own exercises and in that way help both teachers and learners all around the world. One of such examples are websites like www.eslprintables.com, or www.busyteacher.com and the similar. Such places are suitable for free downloads of more than half a million worksheets and to practise grammar units specifically designed for different learners. However, the big drawback of such websites is that they have large portion of worksheets that have many mistakes whether in exercises or solutions at the end of a worksheet, leading a learner to false conclusions, especially beginners. Nonetheless, among intermediate or advanced learners it can be pleasurable activity to undertake.
Finding a mistake is an activity where many advanced learners enjoy to take part in. Levy notes that grammar-focused activities are common on language learning websites. (Levy, 770)
Benson notes that :
The amount of self-directed foreign language learning activity, both online and offline, is difficult to estimate, but it is almost certainly much larger than the few research studies in the literature would suggest. There are, for example, countless self-organised online bulletin boards and discussion groups devoted to foreign language learning that have barely been touched upon in research. (Benson "Teaching and researching autonomy" 76)
Benson writes that today there are many online self-educating communities that are present on the internet and is a place for people who discuss similar topics and who are open for discussion and support ("Teaching and Researching Autonomy" 75).
The importance of learner autonomy is particularly stressed here as it needs to prepare students for a shift from a teacher-based classrooms to individual or self-directed learning . The dependence on a teacher needs to be lessen to the smallest amount, while productivity of a learner enhanced to the level of self-directedness. Language training sessions are being delivered all over the world "aiming for a greater degree of responsibility for learning" (Wenden, "Metacognitive Knowledge" 3). Of course, those trainings are not aimed to learn everyone to become perfect language learner, but simply the one that "learn a language efficiently in ways compatible with the cognitive and psycho-social characteristics that they bring to the task" (Wenden, "Metacognitive Knowledge" 3).
Nunan also gives an example of Spada who came to the conclusion that "classrooms that were basically communicative in orientation, but that contained opportunities for explicit grammar instruction, were superior to traditional classrooms that focused heavily on grammar, as well as immersion programs that eschewed explicit grammatical instruction" ( Spada, 1990 in Nunan).
Podcasting considers placing specifically designed audio clips on a website where it can be downloaded for later use at any time. (Scutter et al. 180). Levy described the main features of a podcast:
At an average length of 13 minutes, the typical structure and content of a podcast included a preview, musical interludes, listening and culture material, learning strategies, and metainformation such as greetings, content overviews, summaries, and links between segments. (775)
The good thing is that learners do not remain passive as they are supposed to engage in activities that follow. Each relevant podcast has pedagogical content with metacognitive knowledge built in it. There is one beneficial side of podcasts as they follow learners level of knowledge. As learners move from beginner to more advanced level there are podcasts that suit their level of knowledge (Levy 775).
Podcasting is suitable for developing learner autonomy. This is why we have a growing number of universities employing such method of learning language. As Dale notes it has a "degree of self-empowerment, control and autonomy" (50). Many English students lose concentration during their courses and that may be the reason why they fail to understand the lectures. Podcasts can provide them enough listening input, and enhance the understanding of lectures. There are also students who are not able to attend classes and can gain benefits from this type of learning. Those who attend classes may be distracted by some factors and may miss important points from a lesson. Podcasting is also a good replacement for those who used tape recorders before as now they have lectures that are edited before uploading to a website. An additional good thing is that some special equipment is not necessary, apart from a mobile phone that students already possess and software that can be found for free online (Scutter et al. 181).
Podcasting allows personalised listening experience where users can choose where, when, what to listen or they can engage in repeated listening. It can provide learners comprehensible input. Learners can now use podcasts to focus on form of target language – its grammar and pronunciation for example (Rosell-Aguilar 76). Furthermore, there is one more advantage when using podcasts in a group activity- it can become even more engaging by interactions such as "reporting, discussing, summarising, comparing, contrasting, and so forth" (Rosell-Aguilar 77). The findings of several researchers like Sathe and Waltje reveal that:
56.7% of their 120 respondents agreed that the iPods they had been lent helped them to learn language better, 77.3 % enjoyed doing listening exercises with the iPod, 67.6% felt more motivated to spend time on listening and speaking assignments, and 50.9% believed there had been an increase in their knowledge of the target language. (Rosell-Aguilar 77)
The questionnaire that was conducted by two researchers Bamanger and Alhassan reveals that listening to podcasts enhances students:
. . . productivity in learning a foreign language. As they have researched the way podcasts impact students writing, the study reveals that listening to podcasts considerably affects the way students write comparing the control and experimental groups. It has been reported that learners in the experiential group scored higher in spelling, punctuation and capitalization. ( Bamanger and Alhassan 70)
Results in the questionnaire showed that learners in the experimental group had mainly positive attitude towards podcasting. This study shows that it is beneficial for EFL learners to engage in training and become familiarized with the podcasting technology. As the authors indicate, the vast majority of podcasts are authentic materials uploaded from lectures, but there is also a growing number of podcasts containing moderated content for those students who have trouble understanding native speakers (64). Bamanger and Alhassan researched the way podcasting was used among EFL learners to produce better writing skills. Their results are as follows:
. . . students who received the podcast lectures along with the in-classroom lectures achieved better writing performance than those who received the classroom lectures alone. Participating learners showed positive attitudes towards implementing podcast lectures, stating that podcasts were effective for learning English grammar and vocabulary. Unpredictably, most of them stated that they had not used the podcast before the course. (71)
If we look at the very beginning of podcasting, when in 2004 the term was first coined, we can see the shift in students` opinions who participated in surveys in 2005 around the world, where positive feedback was not as expected . The researchers think that the main reason could lay in the fact that the technology of podcasting was not developed enough to meet the expectations . During the period of over one decade this fact has changed, podcasting is improving, and this may be the main reason why students are becoming more satisfied.
If we discuss about disadvantages, Scutter et al. suggest that students may not attend lectures and in this way leave academic environment. However, this is not the case as students often do not see podcasts as a replacement for attending the classes. Students also do not seem to actively engage with the lecture but only focus to listening input. In this way, students avoid deep learning according to constructivist view as it can only happen during the active involvement in learning material. This is also a point for a discussion as Scutter et al. share the view of Kavakiauskiene who states that podcasts demands an active involvement in selecting and interpreting information (Scutter et al 182).
Mobile – assisted language learning (MALL) refers to learning mediated via handheld devices available anytime, anywhere and that can be formal or informal (Hulme and Shield, 3). Mobile phones as learning devices has its benefits due to their portability and potential to be with learners anywhere and anytime (Burston 57).
As Lockwood writes:
A revolution that involves access to, usability of, and the pedagogic application of hand-held devices that exploit the power of modern computing, wireless communication and which bring different media and resources to the fingertips of learners at almost any spot on the planet – at a cost substantially less than a conventional desktop machine. This is not an exaggeration, since the World Bank estimates that 77 per cent of the world’s population is within reach of a mobile phone network. (Lockwood 15)
Yang considers that as mobile devices have evolved, so have their purposes in language learning (19).
There has been a shift from Computer – Assisted Language Learning (CALL) to MALL by introducing mobile technologies due to easiness of handling. Both MALL an podcasting belong to Web 2.0 technologies and are beneficial to learners by providing learning environments that are comfortable, collaborative and community-based. (Wang and Vasquez 423)
Common characteristics of mobile devices are Internet access, short message service (SMS) text messaging, audio and video recording. Some authors have researched the use of SMS in learning a language. This is conducted in a way that supports the screen dimensions and general handling capabilities of mobile phones. It is important to mention that SMS way of learning a language is used in synchronous situations, meaning that students need to be at the same time online when messages are delivered. Levy and Kennedy conducted a research with students of Italian language who were learning Italian via SMS and it proved to be a successful method in vocabulary learning (77). Although it breaks the 'anytime, anyplace' feature of MALL, it is still beneficial to those learners that can be available at a particular time (Levy & Kennedy 771)
As Yang notes, rapid development of mobile phones and their usability has a great impact on the way we approach education. There has been a great shift from stationary PC's to mobile devices which allows learners to become independent at any location and time. (English Language Teaching, Vol.6, 2013) Stockwell points out that beneficial effects that learners can have from MALL is that they can use their mobile devices when they have few minutes extra, without wasting time to start it up and without worries whether longer activities will be interrupted due to external time constrains. As he further notes "issues regarding timing may be written into the software." He provided an example of the program that Chui and Bull provided for Chinese learners of English. This program directly asked the learners where they started an activity on a start-up screen, whether it was a hotel, a restaurant or some other place, and it calculated the time learners were interrupted during the particular activities and it was further used for developing different types of activities (Stockwell 211). The problem in synchronous learning is in learning rhythms that are different for every learner. Combined with the intellectual and psychological factors conditioned by preoccupations, learners alertness is not the same during a day. This is why not every learner is capable of learning at the same time. Because of this synchronous learning is not the most suitable option, but instead, asynchronous learning is a great replacement so that every student learns during the periods most suitable to them. (Holec 16). As he puts it:
The acquisition procedure has reference to spatial and temporal dimensions: where the acquisition takes place, at what times, according to what timetable, at what rhythm, and so on. Adult audiences are distinctive in that contrary to ’vocational’ learners involved in a schools system they are subject to spatial and temporal restrictions that are often very rigid and always very specific to each individual. Among these restrictions it should be in particular noted that very often the end of the course is fixed so far as the learner is concerned, either because he has been ’credited’ a certain length of time or because he has to make use of the ability he seeks to acquire at some definite time, determined in advance. (Holec 16)
Although there were certain constraints with usability of mobiles in education, such as low image quality and small screens, in recent publications we do not have such obstacles. Another benefit as Chinnery reported in 2006 is that mobile phones are readily available. For example in Japan in 2005 they were common amongst college students and in the USA 82% had at least one. It is also considered less expensive than Pc's. The additional benefit is its portability, "learners can study or practice manageable chunks of information in any place on their own time, thereby taking advantage of their convenience." There is one more potential that MALL has, social aspect that contributes to language learning (Chinnery 13). Mobile devices are getting better and their use for educational and pedagogical purposes is growing. As now programmable phones or otherwise called smartphones have good graphic quality and some are inexpensive and affordable to greater population, it seems that there are no obstacles which educators need to overcome in order to use mobiles in language learning (Burston 67). As Burston puts it: "The programming capacity of modern mobile phones can provide a rich mix of text, audio, graphics and even video to support language exercises designed to foster receptive and productive memory retention that targets basic communicative competence" (Burston 68).
However, there are also certain challenges that authors tried to explain earlier, limited audio-visual quality , limited power, reduced screen sizes, although nowadays some of these issues do not represent any obstacles, audio-visual quality for example. Programs that are designed for MALL learners are improving and so are their quality and usability.
What is especially good about mobile devices is that they are portable and they allow self-directed learning to be implemented. This is exactly why MALL is especially suitable for self-directed learning as: "In self-directed learning the subject decides for himself when to study, how long to work at a time, and he can therefore adjust his learning rhythm to his acquisition rhythm. Where the end of the course is decided for him by others, he can to some extent overcome this restriction by speeding up his learning rhythm either by devoting more time to his studies or by increasing the number of maximally effective sessions" (Holec 16).
Kukulska –Hulme and Shield argue that there is not enough research on speaking and listening in MALL, but those researches that have been conducted show that both could be well supported with the use of mobile phones. However, all those studies focus on asynchronous learning, meaning that learning is taking place at any time and is not bounded to time and place like it is a case with synchronous learning. Authors further argue that synchronous m-learning is difficult to support as this is opposed to the fact that students need to be available at a specific time and place. The 'anytime, anyplace' aspect of m-learning principle would be then disrupted (12).
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