Supporting learner autonomy: theory and practice in a distance learning context

Murphy, Linda (2007). Supporting learner autonomy: theory and practice in a distance learning context. In: Gardner, David ed. Learner Autonomy 10: Integration and support. Authentik books for language teachers, 10. Dublin, Ireland: Authentik Language Learning Resources Ltd, pp. 72–92.


There is overwhelming consensus among language learning researchers on the benefits of developing an autonomous approach by learners (Hurd et al. 2001, p344). Despite the difficulty in defining what Little (2004) describes as a "problematic term" and a "slippery concept", he suggests there is also broad agreement on what this means. Autonomous learners "understand the purpose of their learning programme, explicitly accept responsibility for their learning, share in the setting of goals, take initiatives in planning and executing learning and evaluate its effectiveness" (Little 2004). However, it is also argued (e.g. by Candy 1991; Little 1995) that the achievement of learner autonomy depends on the willingness of teachers to hand over these responsibilities. Teachers must be committed to creating a learning environment where learners can gradually "learn how to learn" and experience autonomy in order to become more autonomous, a process which Little (2004) calls "autonomisation". In distance learning, much of the responsibility for autonomisation rests with the teaching/learning materials. However, these materials are often mediated and supported by tutors who can use their contact with learners to develop learning skills. This chapter explores the tutor role in autonomisation in a distance language learning programme of The Open University in the UK (OU(UK)).

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