How to measure autonomy in language learning. — In this chapter I am going to talk about the difficulties found while trying to measure autonomy. In addition, I am going to briefly describe some of the studies done about autonomous language learning.
The most famous example of a comparative study between traditional school and autonomous language learning is by Dam and Legenhausen (1996), who compared the autonomous classroom taught by Dam to a normal German classroom. They found that the learners from an autonomous classroom used the language in a more varied manner than the learners from a mainstream classroom. Little mentions that :
“They have provided a wealth of evidence to show how and why Dam’s approach is more successful than mainstream teacher-led approaches (see, e.g., Dam and Legenhausen 1996, Legenhausen 1999a, 1999b, 1999c). (Little (n.d.) online)”
Legenhausen has continued to provide data on the topic, mostly with data collected on the project called LAALE (Language Acquisition in an Autonomous Learning Environment) (Legenhausen 2001: 57).
Autonomy is generally discussed as having different degrees, and learners becoming ‘more’ or ‘less’ autonomous over time, and as Benson (2011: 65) notes this implies that we have at least some ‘intuitive scale’ for measuring autonomy. However, more precise scale of autonomy is not available, because of the individual nature of autonomy. Benson provides us with an example of this:
“At the risk of over-simplification, one learner may be good at drawing up and following study plans using self-access materials, while another may be good at creating opportunities for interaction with target language speakers. Learners may also call upon different aspects of autonomy as different situations demand them. We might want to say that these learners are ‘equally’ autonomous, although they are, in fact, autonomous in different and possibly noncomparable, ways (Benson 2011: 66)”
Benson notes that in order to measure autonomy we have to be able to determine the components autonomy consists of. However, the problem lies with the fact that not all the elements are visible (Benson 2011: 65-66).
Moreover, Breen and Mann (1997: 141) discuss the possible danger of creating situations where learners start to wear a ‘mask of autonomous behaviour’, which means that learners learn to imitate the kind of behaviour the teacher requires them to perform, instead of genuinely becoming autonomous. According to Benson (2011: 68-69) there has not yet been a reliable method of testing autonomy, but what can be seen from the current study is that the tests need to be context-sensitive and usually suitable only for single use. It would seem that rather than being able to give an accurate scale of learners’ autonomy, we are able collect and record the personal experiences of learners. This method has been used for instance by Karlsson (1997) and Nordlund (1997) in the ALMS-project at the University of Helsinki.
All though an important area of study, measuring autonomy as such is not the focus of this study. Rather than trying to measure levels of autonomy or compare it to other learning styles, the current study studied the attitudes and preparedness of teachers, teacher trainees and learners towards autonomy even before they necessarily had experienced autonomous learning.
Dam, L. & Legenhausen, L. (1996). The acquisition of vocabulary in an autonomous learning environment – The first months of beginning English. In R. Pemberton, E. S. L. Li, W. W. F. Or and H. D. Pierson (Eds.), Taking control: Autonomy in language learning. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 265-280.
Legenhausen, L. (2001). Discourse behaviour in an autonomous learning environment. In L. Dam (Ed.), The Aila Review 15. United Kingdom: The Charlesworth Group, 56-69.
Benson, P. (2011). Teaching and Researching: Autonomy in Language Learning (2nd edition). Great Britain: Pearson Education.
Breen, M. P. & Mann, S. (1997). Shooting arrows at the sun: Perspectives on a pedagogy for autonomy. In P. Benson & P. Voller (eds.), Autonomy and independence in language learning. London: Longman, 132-149.
Karlsson, L. (1997). Student and teacher case studies. In L. Karlsson, F. Kjisik and J. Nordlund (eds.) From Here to Autonomy. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 93-120. [online] http://www.helsinki.fi/kksc/alms/pdf/FromHeretoAutonomy.pdf
Nordlund, J. (1997). Research into attitudes towards autonomy among teachers and learners, and the process of change. In L. Karlsson, F. Kjisik and J. Nordlund (eds.) From Here to Autonomy. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press, 65-93. [online]
Author : Johanna Riihimäki