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Learner Autonomy has been a buzz word in foreign language education in the past decades, especially in relation to life-long learning skills. It has transformed old practices in the language classroom and has given origin to self access language learning centers around the world such as the SALC at Kanda University of International Studies in Japan SALC, the SAC at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and ELSAC at the University of Auckland [1]. As the result of such practices, language teaching is now seen as language learning and it has placed the learner as the centre of our attention in language learning education.

The term "learner autonomy" was first coined in 1981 by Henri Holec, the "father" of learner autonomy. Many definitions have since been given to the term, depending on the writer, the context and the level of debate, educators have come to. It has been considered as a personal human trait, as a political measure or as an educational move. This is because autonomy is seen either (or both) as a means or as an end in education.

Some of the most well known definitions in present literature are:

  • 'Autonomy is the ability to take charge of one's own learning' (Henri Holec [1])
  • 'Autonomy is essentially a matter of the learner's psychological relation to the process and content of learning' (David Little)
  • '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)
  • 'Autonomy is a recognition of the rights of learners within educational systems'. (Phil Benson)

Taken from Gardner and Miller, Establishing Self-Access from theory to practice. CUP (1999)See also Dam, Leni who has written a seminal work on autonomy Dam, L. (1995) Autonomy from Theory to Classroom Practice. Dublin: Authentik.

One of the key aspects to consider in defining Learner Autonomy is whether we view it as a means to an end (learning a foreign language) or as an end in itself (making people autonomous learners). These two options do not exclude each other, both of them can be part of our views towards language learning or learning in general.

Principles of learner autonomy could be:

• Autonomy means moving the focus from teaching to learning.

• Autonomy affords maximum possible influence to the learners.

• Autonomy encourages and needs peer support and cooperation.

• Autonomy means making use of self/peer assessment.

• Autonomy requires and ensures 100% differentiation.

• Autonomy can only be practised with student logbooks which are a documentation of learning and a tool of reflection.

• The role of the teacher as supporting scaffolding and creating room for the development of autonomy is very demanding and very important.

• Autonomy means empowering students, yes the classroom can be restrictive so are the rules of chess or tennis but the use of technology can take students outside of the strictures of the classroom and the students can take the outside world into the classroom.

There are several organisations with researchers and practitioners interested in learner autonomy. One of them is the AILA Research Network [2] which organises symposia, meetings, and maintains a mailinglist called Auto-L.

There is a bibliography with over 1,700 references [3]. Researchers can add their own publications.

There is also a Learner Autonomy Project Inventory (LAPI) which allows researchers to disseminate information about their autonomy-related projects [4]. Another relevant source of information is


  1. [Holec, Henri. (1981). Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon)

See also

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