Autonomous Learning Essay

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2.1 A General Review on Learner Autonomy

Two classic definitions of autonomy influenced my study a lot when I set up my research programme.The first was put forward by Henri Holec in 1981, and the second by David Little in 1991.

2.1.1 Definitions of Autonomy

Learner autonomy is when the learner is willing and capable of taking charge of his/her own learning. The learner should be capable of determining the objectives;defining the contents and the progressions; selecting methods and techniques to be used; monitoring the procedure of acquisition, evaluating what has been acquired.(Henri Holec,1981). Autonomy is a capacity for detachment, critical reflection, decision making and independent action. It presupposes, but also entails, that the learner will develop a particular kind of psychological relation to the process and content of his learning.(Little,1991). It is clear from this that autonomy is not a method of language learning it is a capacity: the capacity to take control ones own learning.(Benson, 2001:2)This seems to distinguish it from some other types of learning with which it is sometimes associated, such as: self-study, distance learning and independent learning.

The main point here is that most of these can be seen as ways of organizing learning, as methods. They may be more or less teacher-led and the degree of teacher control is not clear. Holec use the term autonomy to refer to a capacity and not a method It is a capacity that usually needs to be acquired, hence our emphasis is on learning how to learn. On a general note, the term autonomy has come to be used in at least five ways: the first is for situations in which learners study entirely on their own; the second is for a set of skills which can be learned and applied in self-directed learning; the third is for an inborn capacity which is suppressed by institutional education; the fourth is for the exercise of learners responsibility for their own learning; and the last is for the right of learners to determine the direction of their own learning. (Benson & Voller, 1997: 2) It is noteworthy that autonomy can be thought of in terms of a departure from education as a social process, as well as in terms of redistribution of power attending the construction of knowledge and the roles of the participants in the learning process.

Autonomous language learning requires the learners to be responsible for their learning, including deciding their learning objective, choosing their learning materials, monitoring and adjusting their learning process and evaluating their learning results. There is broad agreement in the theoretical literature that learner autonomy grows out of the individual learners acceptance of responsibility for his or her own learning (e.g., Holec, 1981;Little, 1991). This means that learner autonomy is a matter of explicit or conscious intention:we cannot accept responsibility for our own learning unless we have some idea of what, why,and how we are trying to learn. The learner must take at least some of the initiatives that give shape and direction to the learning process, and must share in monitoring progress and evaluating the extent to which learning targets are achieved.

The pedagogical justification for wanting to foster the development of learner autonomy rests on the claim that in formal educational contexts, reflectivity and self-awareness produce better learning. The autonomous learner shows initiative regarding learning, and shares in monitoring progress and evaluating the extent to which learning is achieved (Schunk, 2005).The ideas that cluster around the concept of learner autonomy have also been promoted under banners such as, humanistic language teaching, collaborative learning, experiential learning, and the learning-centered classroom. We prefer the term Learner autonomy because it implies a holistic view of the learner as an individual. This seems to us important for two reasons. First, it reminds us that learners bring to the classroom a personal history and personal needs that may have little in common with the assumed background and implied needs on which the curriculum is based.

Second, it reminds us that the ultimate measure of success in second or foreign language learning is the extent to which the target language becomes a fully integrated part of the learners identity. In conlusion,some of the most well known definitions in present literature are: Autonomy is the ability to take charge of ones own learning (Henri Holec,1981); Autonomy is essentially a matter of the learners psychological relation to the process and content of learning (David Little,1991); Autonomy is a situation in which the learner is totally responsible for all the decisions concerned with his [or her] learning and the implementation of those decisions. (Leslie Dickinson,1987); Autonomy is a recognition of the rights of learners within educational systems. (Benson,2001)

2.1.2 Theoretical Background of Learner Autonomy

Autonomy is not developed by single, clearly defined theories or methods, its evolution has reflected a more general trend in language teaching; however, its independence from specific theories does not mean that theory is not relevant. In fact, many researchers in the literature seek justifications of learner autonomy from a wide variety of philosophical, psychological, and political sources. And some approaches to educational psychology” humanism, constructivism” had a profound impact on the advocacy of autonomous learning. A review of the two approaches to language education, especially to second language learning and teaching will be offered. Constructivism

Constructivism is one of the hottest topics in educational psychology. Constructivism is a new educational psychology school which is influenced by Piagets cognitive developmental psychology and Vygotskys social interactionism. Constructivism is described as a learning theory based on authentic and real-world situations. Students internalize and construct new knowledge based on past experiences. The constructivism theory is student-centered and encourages higher level processing skills to apply their working knowledge. In other words, everyone makes their own sense of the world and the experiences that surround them. In this way the learner is brought into central focus in learning theory(Williams M.&Burden R.L., 1997:2). The educational impact of constructivism is positive, in that instruction is based on students prior knowledge, allowing them to make significant connections and solve complex problems.

Vygotskys point of view was that acquisition and participation were synergistic strategies in learning situations. Aspects of participation involved teaching in contexts that could be meaningful to students based on their personal and social history, negotiating, class discussions, small group collaborative learning with projects and tasks, and valuing meaningful activity over correct answers. Social Constructivism emphasizes that learning takes place through interactions with other students, teachers, and the world-at-large. (Vygotsky,1978) In terms of process of learning, acquiring and constructing new knowledge, the student plays an active role. The student brings past experiences and prior knowledge to the classroom and uses these to actively connect with new ideas or problems that are presented. Knowing is being able to internalize the material, connecting it with things you already know.

Students use higher level processing skills, such as evaluating, analyzing and synthesis to apply newly constructed knowledge to problems or situations. According to the theory of constructivism, student responsibility is greater, as they discover how new knowledge connects with prior knowledge. The learner continuously asks questions and guides their own learning process. Students learn that there is not just one way to solve problems, but rather multiple ways to finding answers. Typical classroom instruction, consistent with the constructivist learning theory may include: problem-based approach to teaching, hands-on activities, including the use of manipulatives, experimentation, and simulations. The constructivist theory allows teachers to be creative and innovative with teaching.

In brief, constructivism believes that learning is a process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based on their past knowledge. Constructivist learning theory advocates that learning is student-centered and instructed by teachers, which puts great emphasis on learners. Students are not passive receiver. Instead, they are active constructors. The learners select and transform information, construct hypotheses and make decisions relying on a cognitive structure. Cognitive structure (i.e. schema, mental models) provides meaning and organization to experiences and allows the individual to go beyond the information given. Humanism

Humanism is a school of thought that believes human beings are different from other species and possess capacities that cannot be found in animals. Humanists, therefore, give primacy to the study of human needs and interests. In humanistic view, the basic concern is the human potential growth and education is to enhance actualization and give free harness to ones potential. Humanistic approaches emphasize the importance of the inner world of the learner and place the individuals thoughts, feelings, and emotions at the forefront of all human development(Williams,M.&Burden, R.L. 1997:4).

These aspects of the learning process are often unjustly neglected, yet they are vitally important if we are to understand human learning in its totality. There are five basic objectives of the humanistic view of education: the first is to promote positive self-direction and independence (development of the regulatory system);the second is to develop the ability to take responsibility for what is learned (regulatory and affective systems);the third is to develop creativity (divergent thinking aspect of cognition);the fourth is to arouse curiosity (exploratory behavior, a function of imbalance or dissonance in any of the systems);the last is to cultivate an interest in the arts (primarily to develop the affective/emotional system).

2.1.3 Teachers Role in Autonomous Learning

In literature works there are many detailed descriptions of the teachers role in developing learner autonomy. According to Huttunen (1986), teachers should guide the learners in the process of their logical, psychological and ethical development towards autonomy. Their task is to enrich, balance, and clarify the learners experience and to help them to seek new experiences to structure and simplify experiences they need, and to find ways of associating the learners experiences with the various aspects of life in their culture, including its heritage; Higgs (1988) stated that in the process of learners autonomous learning teachers should act as a manager who is available as a resource, will create learners a supportive and nonthreatening learning environment, can motivate learners to achieve their potential and can help learners to be aware of institutional requirements and expectations associated with the discipline in which they are learning; according to Nunan (1993), teachers are readjusting their traditional roles and to the new ones.

They become active participants, monitors, consultants and guides in the process of students language learning and help students to develop better learning strategies; Hill (1994) suggested that since the decision to promote autonomy comes usually from the teacher, and the success of attempts to empower learners to become actively involved in their learning depends to a large extent on the teachers ability to redefine roles; to Little (1999), he believes that teachers should be responsible for deciding whether and to what extent it is possible for learners to determine their own learning objectiveness, select their own learning materials and evaluate their own learning process; HuaWeifen (2001)believes that language teachers should enable students to set learning objectives, choose learning materials, develop the effective learning strategies, monitor their learning process and evaluate the learning results. She further proposes three roles of teachers in developing students independent learning: a counselor who helps learners to develop their own learning ability instead of making decisions for them, a facilitator who provides psychological, social support and technical support, and an information resource; Xiao Fei (2002) feels that teachers must adjust their counselors, roles from the purveyors of language information to the organizers and managers of learning activities, and resource learning providing necessary help.

Teacher serves as one of many resources for students, not necessarily the primary source of information. The teacher engages students in experiences that challenge previous conceptions of their existing knowledge. The teacher uses student responses in the planning of next lessons and seeks elaboration of students initial responses. The teacher encourages questions and discussion among students by asking open-ended questions. The teacher assists students to understand their own cognitive processes (metacognition) by using cognitive terminology such as classify, analyze, create, organize, hierarchy, etc. when framing tasks. The teacher encourages and accepts student autonomy and initiative by being willing to let go of classroom control The teacher makes available raw data and primary resources, along with manipulative and interactive physical materials. The teacher does not separate knowing from the process of finding out.

Nouns and verbs. The teacher facilitates clear communication from students in writing and verbal responses, from the point of view that communication comes from ones deep structural understanding of the concepts being communicated. When they can communicate clearly and meaningfully, they have truly integrated the new learning. The teachers role is to anticipate and address student misconceptions while presenting authentic questions and real-world problems or situations. The teacher does not provide clear answers on how to solve these problems or questions, but guides students to make sense of how things work according to what their past experiences are and how it applies to the new knowledge they are constructing.

2.2 Input Theory

2.2.1 Krashens theory of language acquisition

During the late 1970s Krashen put forward an account of SLA first known as the Monitor Model after its main claim about the role of monitoring in language learning (Krashen, 1979). In the early 1980s this was expanded into a broader-based model, described in Krashen (1981;1982), which consisted of five linked hypotheses: acquisition/learning, monitor, natural order, input, and affective filter. The aspect of the model that became most developed was termed the Input Hypothesis, the title of Krashens last major theoretical book (Krashen, 1985). In order to better understand the Input Hypothesis, it is necessary to have a general idea about the five hypotheses as they are closely related to each other.

They are:The Acquisition-Learning Hypothesis;The Monitor Hypothesis ;The Natural Order Hypothesis; The Input Hypothesis ;The Affective Filter Hypothesis. Krashen summarizes the five hypotheses with a single claim: People acquire second languages only if they obtain comprehensible input and if their affective filters are low enough to allow the input in ¦In other words, comprehensible input is the essential ingredient for second language acquisition. All other factors thought to encourage or cause second-language acquisition work only when they contribute to comprehensible input and/or a low affective filter. [pic]

2.2.2 Input hypothesis in second language learning

The Input Hypothesis is Krashens attempt to explain how the learner acquires a second language. In other words, this hypothesis is Krashens explanation of how second language acquisition takes place. So, the Input Hypothesis is only concerned with acquisition, not learning. According to this hypothesis, the learner improves and progresses along the natural order when he/she receives second language input that is one step beyond his/her current stage of linguistic competence. For example, if a learner is at stage i, then acquisition takes place when he/she is exposed to comprehensible input that belongs to level i+1. Since not all of the learners can be at the same level of linguistic competence at the same time, Krashen suggests that natural communicative input is the key to designing a syllabus, ensuring in this way that each learner will receive some i+1input that is appropriate for his /her current stage of linguistic competence. The Input Hypothesis is simply stated: Humans acquire language in only one way一by understanding messages or by receiving comprehensible input (Krashen, 1985,2). That is to say, language acquisition depends upon trying to comprehend what other people are saying.

Provided that the learner hears meaningful speech and endeavors to understand it, acquisition will occur (cited in Cook, 1993). The theory (Krashen 1981;1985; 1989) also makes the following claims, as Ellis (1994) has summarized:Learners progress along the natural order by understanding input that contains structures a little bit beyond their current level of competence. Although comprehensible input is necessary for acquisition to take place, it is not sufficient, as learners also need to be affectively disposed to let in the input they comprehend. Input becomes comprehensible as a result of simplification and with the help of contextual and extralinguistic clues; fine-tuning (i.e. ensuring that learners receive input rich in the specific linguistic property they are due to acquire next) is not necessary. Speaking is the result of acquisition, not its cause; learner production does not contribute directly to acquisition.

It is understood that to be useful to the learner, the input must be neither too difficult to understand nor too easy. This is conceptualized by Krashen in terms of the learners current level, called i, and the level that the learner will get to next, called i+1.For the learner to progress rather than remain static, the input has always to be slightly beyond the level at which he or she is completely at home; the gap between the learners i and the i+1that he or she needs is bridged by information drawn from the situation and from the learners previous experience. We also use context, our knowledge of the world, our extra-linguistic competence to help us understand (Krashen, 1982, 21).Krashen emphasizes that input does not need to be finely tuned in the sense that it is linguistically adjusted to contain i+1.It requires only rough tuning, which is automatic if the focus is on successful communication.

2.2.3 The web-based meltimedia language input for autonomous learning Students need accessible materials:comprehensible input, the underlying assumption is that the learner needs help identifying the critical features in the wealth of the linguistic and nonlinguistic information they receive (Plass & Jones, 2005, p. 470). This means that the supports embedded in a multimedia instructional approach should guide what students notice in a word, sentence, passage, or image. The autonomous leaners need to be provided with more and up-to-date language input in as many ways as possible, such as vedio and audio materials downloaded from the internet. This strategy can also be accomplished through immediate and focused teacher feedback. When a teacher highlights portions of an assignment that require revisions, the students ability to evaluate and revise her work increases. These strategies help the learner understand task directions and focus on pertinent information to comprehend or revise.

2.3 Web-Based Language Teaching and Learning

2.3.1.The development of web-based language teaching and learning Web-based language learning is developed from Computer-Assisted Language Learning. It may be defined as the search for and study of applications of the computer in language teaching and learning (Levy, 1997:1).As for teaching, the lecturer presents a language teaching plan in a logical order and learns whether the students responses are correct or not correct by computers. As for learning, the language learners use computers to monitor their own progress, and provide themselves with proper lessons, materials, etc. Richards. J.C.(1998) also points out that CALL refers to the use of computer in the teaching and learning of second or foreign language. The CALL in the academic literature has been existed for about forty years. The subject is interdisciplinary by nature, and it has evolved out of previous efforts to find ways of using computer for teaching or for instructional purpose across a wide variety of subjects areas, with the weight of knowledge and breadth of application in language learning ultimately resulting in a more specialized field of study (Levy, 1997).

According to Warschauer and Healey (1998), CALL has experienced three stages in the last forty years: behavioristic, communicative and integrative. Each stage will be featured by its important projects and development despite the fact that there is in fact no clear-cut line among stages (Hu&Jiang, 2002:5 34-538). The first stage of CALL, Behavioristic Call, started from the 1950s and applied in 1960s and 1970s, was on the basis of the then dominant behaviorist theories of learning. Programs of this stage were repetitive language drills and can be concluded as drill and practice. One of the most complicated projects of this period is the PLATO (Programmed Logic/Learning for Automated Teaching Operations) system, which operates on its own special PLATO hard ware, including central computers and terminals.

The vocabulary drills, brief grammar explanations drills, and translation tests at various intervals (Ahmad, Corbett, Rogers&Sussex, 1985)were included. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, behavioristic CALL was replaced because of two important factors. First, behavioristic approaches to language learning had been out of stage at both the theoretical and the pedagogical level. Secondly, the application of microcomputer provided a whole new range of chances. The stage was set for a new era of CALL-Communicative CALL. One of the main advocates of this new approach was John Underwood, who in 1984 proposed a series of premises for Communicative CALL (Underwood, 1984:52). According to him, the Communicative CALL focuses more on using forms.

The teacher uses the computer to teach grammar implicitly rather than explicitly; allow and encourage students to utter naturally rather than just manipulate prefabricated language; it does not assess everything the students do nor give them congratulatory message, lights, or bells; avoids telling students that they are incorrect and is flexible to a variety of student responses; it uses the target language exclusively and creates an environment in which using the target language feels natural, both on and off the screen; and will never try to do anything that a book can do just as well. Many types of CALL programs were developed and applied during this period. Integrative computer assisted language learning covers the more recent development of 1990s, and even the multimedia computers and the Internet.

This period was greatly influenced by the growth of constructivist approach, which believes that knowledge is not obtained through the transmission of teachers, but the meaning construction of learners themselves in a certain social and cultural context with the others, including their teachers and their peers, and also the use of resources. Furthermore, this approach emphasizes that learners are the necessary component of learning main body in the cognitive process and the active constructor of knowledge meanings, and teachers take the roles as organizers, guiders and facilitators. Also, the importance of authentic learning environment and social interaction is emphasized. This phase is featured by the use of multimedia, hypermedia and interactive technologies to enhance comprehensive skills. 2.3.2 web-based language learning context and input thoery

Compared with the traditional language teaching and learning context, web-based language learning would expose college students to greater amount of language information input. On the one hand, the colorful, multi-facet, and limitless information provided by the internet and computer programs attracts the learners attention. It could also make their English study much easier. It is obvious that, the multimedia, hypermedia and Internet enrich the information input and to a large extent promote the students curiosity, interest and motivation in English learning. On the other hand, the multi-facet or multi-channel information input may be in some way distract learners attention and make learners feel at a loss in their autonomous learning after class, thus weaken the learners productivity of English language. Therefore, to help learners to wisely choose the useful information to develop their own autonomous language learning models become the teachers focuses.

2.4 Assessment in autonomou learning

In a recent report, Dam and Legenhausen (1999: 90) claim that learners ability to reflect critically on their learning is a measure of the effectiveness of the learning environment. They use the term evaluation to refer to the metacognitive activity of reviewing past and future learning experiences in order to enhance learning, and claim that: In an autonomous classroom . . . [evaluation] is viewed as the pivot of a good learning/teaching cycle . . . Evaluation has a retrospective and prospective function, in which the learning experiences of the past are reflected upon and transformed into plans for future action. The potential for learner autonomy increases as an individuals learning awareness grows. Therefore activities which prompt learners to reflect on their learning aim to enhance learners insight into their learning processes. Assessments for autonomous learners may cover a wide area of knowledge,for example, reading an authentic language text or a small, tightly focused area ,for example, questions at the end of a worksheet on a specific grammar point. Assessments may serve one or more of a number of purposes, such as confidence building, demonstrating learning gain, or motivation, and they may be constructed in a number of ways, for example, by the teacher, by the learner, collaboratively or as a portfolio (Gardner and Miller, 1999).

Assessments with any combination of the above criteria can be self-assessments because this term refers simply to the mode of administration, i.e., assessments which are self-administered. It is reasonable to assume that autonomous learners would benefit from feedback on chievements in their learning through engaging in some kind of assessment procedure. The individualised nature of autonomous learning makes large-scale, institutionalised assessments problematic although an autonomous learner may make the decision to include these as part of a personalised assessment regime. Self-assessment seems to accommodate itself much more easily to the diverse and flexible requirements of an autonomous learner. Indeed, it has been argued that self-assessment is an integral part of autonomous learning (Holec, 1981; Tudor, 1996; Thomson, 1996; Gardner and Miller, 1999) and that all learners engage in it (Holec, 1985) although not necessarily knowingly (Thomson, 1996). Dickinson (1987) argues that self-evaluation of performance is an important skill for all language learners but of particular importance to autonomous language learners. Thomson (1996) implemented a self-assessment project as a way of getting learners involved in self-directed learning.

The effectiveness of self-assessment is detailed by Nunan (1996: 21), who states that, Autonomy is enhanced when learners are encouraged to self-monitor and self-assess. An important aspect of the monitoring process for learners is simply knowing how they are doing in their learning. They want to know if they are becoming more proficient as users of the target language. Brindley (1989: 60) says that self-assessment has five purposes. Firstly, learners have greater responsibility for assessment of their proficiency and progress; secondly it lets them diagnose their strong and weak areas; thirdly it lets them compare their present level with the level they wish to obtain; fourthly it helps them become more motivated; and lastly it helps them to develop their own criteria for monitoring their progress.However, Brindley (1989: 61) also points out that there are objections to self-assessment. The idea that learners can be reliable judges of their own performance is by no means universally accepted.

Therefore self-assessment is a skill, that has to be learned. Brindley (1989: 83) divides this learning into technical training, and psychological training. Technical training is to help the students judge their own performance, and consists of self-monitoring of language use, development of criteria, definition of objectives, and knowledge about language learning. Self-assessments help learners monitor their level of success in specific learning tasks. A series of self-assessments will contribute to monitoring progress towards specific learning objectives.

They can also have a motivational effect. Success breeds confidence. Self-assessment does not always demonstrate success but where it does, even on a small scale, learners motivation will be enhanced. Teachers also need to know how well learners are doing. They have a professional responsibility to help learners learn. Gardner and Miller (1999: 210) suggest the assessment should contain the following pieces of information: the purpose of the assessment, the benefit to the learner, the procedure for conducting the assessment, the procedure for marking the assessment, a suggested marking scale, a choice of follow up actions based on the score achieved.

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