Learner Autonomy: Is it important? If is it, why is it and how can we promote it? #ELTchat Summary 06/02/2013

A PLN for ELT Professionals

Learner Autonomy: Is it important? If is it, why is it and how can we promote it? #ELTchat Summary 06/02/2013

ELTchat, Wed. 6 February 2013, 12.00

Learner Autonomy: Is it important? If is it, why is it and how can we promote it; should we?

I’ve punctuated the title a bit, in ways that Twitter discourages. This becomes important in the light of comments in light of one of the comments near the end of this post; it wouldn’t be fair to say we’d missed something that wasn’t advertised (not in a finite question, at least).

Free Royalty Image from Morguile.com


We got off to a flying start, with definitions:

NikkiFortova The way I understand it is the learner’s ability to take responsibilty for their learning inside and our he class
elawasell Learner Autonomy – being able to study on your own, have a say about the direction of learning, responsibility for own learning

These two hit the spot, to the extent that after questioning whether they said the same thing (which it was agreed they did) Shaun said

shaunwilden @elawassell @NikkiFortova Job done then see you next week 🙂

Later on, we found that we needed to refine these deinitions a bit with respect to age and culture. There was less unanimity here, but we agreed on this point:

cerirhiannon I would say that for a lot of Ss it’s also learning not to lean on the teacher?
cerirhiannon autonomy for VYLs can include introducing simple choices . eg which colour they want to use
Marisa_C @cerirhiannon possibly but very YLs need T much more and can only take baby steps in autonomy
NikkiFortova @cerirhiannon Totally 🙂 Untying the apron strings, so to speak
cerirhiannon at risk of creating a tangent – some cultures do not value student autonomy / independent direction – they expect the T to lead
BobK99 @cerirhiannon #eltchat Not a tangent. V imp. Hard to foster autonomy in Ls conditioned NOT to be auton. Diff expecta’ns of what learning IS
cerirhiannon RT @NikkiFortova: age is a factor. Older Ss want Tchr to be the sage on the stage, .. #eltchat& > yup age can be a cultural factor too 😉


We then got on to the How:

Shaunwilden … How do you do it?
elawassell @Shaunwilden where to begin?! I encourage the use of the dictionaries, on-lineOALD is a great tool
elawassell I try to help my Ss to find materials to read in English – Even if it is facebook or twitter. Graded readers, books – dep on level
cerirhiannon ask ss questions – about what they’re learning, how, what they want, what works for them
NikkiFortova @cerirhiannon so the questions are like learner training – important in fostering autonomy
elawassell @cerirhiannon Oh yes – Needs analysis is very important! That’s where I always start with my Ss- I teach 1-1
cerirhiannon … we can encourage ss to think about qs they want to ask too
NikkiFortova @cerirhiannon Oooh asking them to think of questions is really good. I’ll try that this afternoon 🙂
cerirhiannon RT @Shaunwilden: @NikkiFortova Dont they need guidance to be able to think of their own? > definitely .. that’s where T comes in
cerirhiannon RT @Shaunwilden: @NikkiFortova guidance ? #eltchat > discussing case studies – other people’s questions can be a good starting point maybe
cerirhiannon RT @Shaunwilden: @NikkiFortova what sort of qs might they come up with > so many! can be simple e.g. where can I find videos?
NikkiFortova RT @cerirhiannon: qs could be anything! e.g. what do I want to be able to do in English? why am I studying English? how much …
elawassell We can encourage Ls to take part in Meet -ups – to practise the language with other learners.
AlexandraKouk RT @cerirhiannon: we can help ss with autonomy outside the classroom by helping them track and share what they do via e.g. studylogs

General Reflections

The first of these tweets set the tone:

madridESL Learner autonomy is huge. We can’t just force vocabulary and grammar into people’s heads. They have to make the effort themselves.
BobK99 MT @madridESL: #eltchat… They have to make the effort themselves. > Indeed 😉 Most true of ALL lang teaching? ( the word, not the assoc.)
afterthought: and perhaps true of ALL learning, not just lang.
cerirhiannon autonomy can be a mindset for T (i facilitate, I don’t do) and for the S (I don’t expect my T to do everything for me)
NikkiFortova maybe a silly question, but are things like cooperative tasks, pair check & handing feedback over to learners all part of autonomy?
Shaunwilden @NikkiFortova @cerirhiannon  Dont they need some guidance to be able to think of their own?
cerirhiannon RT @Shaunwilden: @NikkiFortova Dont they need guidance to be able to think of their own? #eltchat > definitely .. that’s where T comes in

What We Didn’t Cover

There was a nicely-judged prompt towards the end:

cerirhiannon 2:41 PM  RT @BobK99:#eltchat Hard to foster autonomy in Ll conditioned NOT to be auton.> which i guess is where “should we?” comes in?

So we had over a quarter of an hour to discuss this point (the last point on the ‘agenda’). I think the mood throughout was that we should foster LearnerAutonomy, but we didn’t discuss it in so many words. The nearest we came to it was in this exchange:

AlexandraKouk So what are the advantanges of fostering LA?
Shaunwilden @AlexandraKouk Less work for the teacher? 🙂
BobK99 RT @Shaunwilden: @AlexandraKouk Less work for the teacher? 🙂 #eltchat > Not JUST a joke tho; if I can take a back seat, I’ve done a gd job
Shaunwilden @BobK99 Yes agreed

So this was a reason for doing it, and implicit in my comment was the belief that a good teacher should do it.

But I don’t think we fully addressed this point. I think that teachers generally believe they should foster learner autonomy, but we didn’t make explicit (the buzz-word du jour when I did my PGCE was ‘surface’) our reasons for believing this.


Shaunwilden RT @AlexandraKouk: Here’s a graph of possible LA componentshttp://t.co/TsEGuxro #eltchat Thats a useful char
AlexandraKouk …according 2 ths article Learner autonomy & second/foreign language learninghttp://t.co/DCEhmG74, higher motivation

A number of other links were posted, but apparently by people with no interest in the discussion


Many thanks to the moderators for keeping us on track, and to Ceri (whom I’ve found myself quoting so often that she’d be forgiven for thinking I was a stalker)! Thanks also to providers of other insightful tweets that haven’t’ made the cut’ – but I’ve already missed Scotland/Italy, and I’m blowed if I’m missing France/Wales too


About the summariser

Bob Knowles is a semi-retired teacher and producer of teaching resources. Bob has been a moderator of the UsingEnglish forums for over six years. He was nominated for an ELTon in 2012 with aDictionary of Vowels and Vowel Sounds, which forms the basis for When Vowels Get Together – a work-in-progress. For updates on this progress – interspersed with bits of whimsy about language, philology, ELT, choral singing, music … (‘unconsidered trifles’) – read Bob’s blog, Harmless Drudgery.