Encouraging autonomous learning

By Yolande Deane
DELTA qualified EFL teacher with 5 years’ teaching experience

 Autonomous Learning

What is autonomous learning?

The idea of autonomous learning; encouraging students to learn and organise their studies independently, outside the classroom is very popular in most EFL journals or magazines. A class of adults, who are learning to speak English, will all have varying needs and goals they want to attain. These needs and goals may not be met during a two or three hour class they attend twice, three times or even once a week.  Therefore, encouraging students to organise their learning outside the classroom and to find ways to enhance their own learning independently is seen as a way of helping students attain their individual learning goals.

The reality

From my own experience of learning languages it is always generally easy to work out for yourself what you are not particularly good at, but it may not be easy to work out how you go about getting better, at what you think you are not good at. This is where students rely on the teacher to give them guidance; it is during this time of guidance that you can encourage the students to become more autonomous.  As teachers we know that students who take time to review what they have learnt, or have effective ways of recording what they have studied are the ones who tend to make the fastest progress.


Autonomous learning may seem alien to some students for many reasons; some may come from and educational background where the teacher is seen as the fountain of all knowledge, and therefore they believe that only what is taught in the lesson should be learnt, and the teacher should guide everything.   The concept of the teacher being a facilitator of learning within the classroom would be completely alien not just to students but also to some teachers!

Why should we encourage autonomous learning?

Encouraging autonomy is a good way of keeping up motivation in the classroom, it means that the students have other resources and outside knowledge that they can bring into the class to share, rather than the teacher being the only source of new knowledge about the language. I believe that it also build s confidence, as the student begins to slowly build up their own knowledge specific to their needs and goals.  Nonetheless, it is still important for the teacher to be aware of their students’ learning goals in order to guide them to helping themselves. The question is, how can you do that when the needs and aims of the student are so varied?  In my next blog I will try to deal with this question.

Learner Autonomy Special Interest Group

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