Hurd, Stella; Beaven, Tita and Ortega, Ane
Developing autonomy in a distance language learning context: issues and dilemmas for course writers.
System, 29(3) pp. 341–355.
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The relationship between autonomy and the teaching and learning of languages at a distance is complex. On the one hand, in order to complete successfully a distance learning programme, learners need to develop a series of strategies and skills that will enable them to work individually. At the same time, distance learning programmes have a clear structure in which the amount, rate and content of the learning programme is determined by the course writers, and not by the student. If autonomy is about the learner being ‘able to make significant decisions about what is to be learned, as well as how and when to do it’ (Van Lier, L., 1996. Interaction in the Language Curriculum, Awareness, Autonomy and Authenticity. Longman, London and New York, pp. 12–13), then it would seem to be incompatible with distance learning. This paper investigates the notion of autonomy in relation to distance language learning, and examines the skills and strategies needed by those learning at a distance in order to achieve successful outcomes. It explores in particular the dilemma posed by the highly structured nature of Open University language courses and the need for learners to develop autonomous approaches. Using examples from the Spanish Diploma, it outlines ways in which autonomy can nevertheless be effectively promoted through careful attention to materials design.
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