The Open UniversitySkip to content

Developing autonomy in a distance language learning context: issues and dilemmas for course writers

Hurd, Stella; Beaven, Tita and Ortega, Ane (2001). Developing autonomy in a distance language learning context: issues and dilemmas for course writers. System, 29(3) pp. 341–355.

Full text available as:
PDF (Proof) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (487kB)
DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar


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.

Item Type: Journal Item
ISSN: 0346-251X
Extra Information: This publication also appears in a 2 volume PhD thesis of published work -
'Second language learning at a distance: Metacognition, affect, learning strategies and learner support in relation to the development of autonomy.'

See Volume 1: Introduction to the published work and Volume 2: Submitted publications.
Keywords: Autonomy; Language learning; Distance learning; Learning strategies; Course design; Metacognition; Leaning support; Self-evaluation
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS) > Languages and Applied Linguistics
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies (WELS)
Research Group: Centre for Research in Education and Educational Technology (CREET)
Item ID: 620
Depositing User: Users 12 not found.
Date Deposited: 12 Jun 2006
Last Modified: 28 Mar 2018 01:15
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Download history for this item

These details should be considered as only a guide to the number of downloads performed manually. Algorithmic methods have been applied in an attempt to remove automated downloads from the displayed statistics but no guarantee can be made as to the accuracy of the figures.

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU