Promoting learner autonomy in the 4.0 era

How to promote learner autonomy has long been a great interest of educators and

researchers. Promoting learner autonomy in the new era has its own advantages and

challenges as learners in Industry 4.0 have different characteristics than those in the past.

The paper gives an overview of learner autonomy then discusses teachers’ and students’ roles

in the new era in an attempt to propose some ideas for promoting learner autonomy in

today’s 4.0 era.

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Promoting learner autonomy in the 4.0 era Le Thi Tuyet Minh, M.A Abstract How to promote learner autonomy has long been a great interest of educators and researchers. Promoting learner autonomy in the new era has its own advantages and challenges as learners in Industry 4.0 have different characteristics than those in the past. The paper gives an overview of learner autonomy then discusses teachers’ and students’ roles in the new era in an attempt to propose some ideas for promoting learner autonomy in today’s 4.0 era. Keywords: learner autonomy, student-centered learning, learner involvement, learner engagement , learning design 1. Introduction Learner autonomy plays an important part in learners’ success and has attracted a myriad of research. To promote learner autonomy successfully in the 4.0 era has peculiar features as the new era presents teachers and students with distinctive advantages and challenges. The paper begins by giving an overview of learner autonomy then discusses teachers’ and students’ roles in the new era. Finally, some ideas for promoting learner autonomy in the 4.0 era are proposed. 2. Literature review To begin with, the development of learner autonomy in teaching methodology will be taken into consideration. According to Little (2007), in the early 1980s, the concept of learner autonomy was associated with self-learning – a matter of learners doing things on their own. Through the 1990s, ‘independent learning’and ‘critical thinking’ were included in curricula under the impact of learner-centered theories. Learners do things not only on their own but also for themselves. This emphasized the new responsibility of learners in the learning process. By the turn of the 21st century, textbooks for language teaching had begun to include sections on learner autonomy. Learner autonomy has become popular with educators and researchers so far. The foundational definition of learner autonomy was coined by Holec (1981, as cited in Little, 2007) as ‘the ability to take charge of one’s own learning’. Little (2007) stated learner autonomy as “the product of an interactive process in which the teacher gradually enlarges the scope of her learners’ autonomy by gradually allowing them more control of the process and content of their learning”. Richards (from https://www.professorjackrichards.com/learner- autonomy-in-language-teaching/) also mentioned learner autonomy as the principle that learners should take a maximum amount of responsibility for what they learn and how they learn it and that “they should be involved in decisions concerning setting objectives for learning, determining ways and means of learning, and reflecting on and evaluating what they have learned.” In the process of developing learner autonomy, teachers must provide support or scaffolding in so far as it can lift them to new levels of achievement. The theory of scaffolding by Bruner along with the concept of a zone of proximal development (ZPD) by Vygotsky should be well implemented in promoting learner autonomy. Various research has suggested plentiful pedagogical implications for promoting learner autonomy. Little (2007) proposed three principles for successful second and foreign language teaching: learner involvement, learner reflection and target language use. The principle of learner involvement requires that the teacher draws learner’s attention into their own learning process, making them share responsibility for setting the learning agenda, selecting learning activities and materials, managing classroom interaction and evaluating learning outcomes. Teachers must provide suggestions and procedures, cultivating a classroom dynamic that constantly lifts them to new levels of effort and achievement. The principle of learner reflection requires ‘reflective intervention’ as a key feature of the teaching-learning process. Planning, monitoring and evaluating learning entail explicit reflection on the process and content of learning. The principle of target language use entails that the target language is the medium through which all classroom activities are conducted, organizational and reflective as well as communicative. The effective use of group work and the appropriate use of writing such as posters, journals, and various kinds of written text as the output of group projects are considered as the key to a successful implementation of this principle. Likewise, Benson (2007) pointed out five principles for implementing autonomous learning: active involvement in student learning, providing options and resources, offering choices and decision-making opportunities, supporting learners, and encouraging reflection. The notion of learner autonomy has asserted its remarkable role in the new era with the emergence of eLearning on LMS, especially during the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic when educational institutions have to shift to online learning. As O'Neill (2019) stated, online learning supports autonomous learning in 3 important aspects: time, control, and pace. It enables learners to study whenever and wherever they want, empowers them to self-direct their learning, and allows them to learn at their own speed. She also put forwards some ideas for facilitating autonomous learning, which include providing motivation, planning, setting goals, and buddying up. 3. Teachers’ and students’ roles The nature of teaching is reflected with the insightful analogy by the philosopher Socrates when he compared teaching to the art of the midwife. As Adler (from https://radicalacademy.org/adlerteaching2.html ) says: “Just as the midwife assists the body to give birth to new life, so the teacher assists the mind in delivering itself of ideas, knowledge, and understanding. The essential notion here is that teaching is a humble, helping art. The teacher does not produce knowledge or stuff ideas into an empty, passive mind. It is the learner, not the teacher, who is the active producer of knowledge and ideas.” However, Little (2007) raised the problem of learners’ reluctance to take charge of their own learning as “they are accustomed to the passive role that school traditionally assigns to learners and distrustful of the idea that they should set learning targets, select learning materials and activities, and evaluate learning outcomes”. Students tend to consider their teachers as the main source of learning. They think it is the teachers’ job to tell them what they have to do and what they have to learn. When expected to move from this traditional role, students frequently show anxiety. Even though teachers give students opportunities to learn English independently, students are not willing to do so because they are used to being spoon-fed by their teachers. For many students, they are used to the teacher-centered teaching pattern. They have little or no acceptance of responsibility for their own learning. Therefore, it is necessary and crucial to help students develop the abilities to learn autonomously. Students need to change their traditional roles and become more aware of their central roles in learning. They should take on these new roles: planner, organizer, manager and evaluator of their own learning so as to become autonomous learners gradually. The move from teacher-centered to student-centered approach in teaching methodology has entailed new roles for both students and teachers. Teachers play many roles in fostering autonomy such as facilitators, consultants, guiders, supporters, co-learners and inspectors in learning processes. Teachers need to prepare learners for their new role by developing learners’ self-awareness and their awareness of learning goals and options. It is also necessary to develop confidence in learners’ capacities. As the theory and practice of foreign language teaching enters the new century, the importance of helping students to be more autonomous in their learning has become more prominent. Autonomous learning is often emphasized as part of the requirement for the 21st century learning. In order to train students to become global citizens, educators need to equip them with the 21st century skills which include critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and communication. Abas (2015) stated that today’s students easily get bored with lectures in class and tend to go online to keep themselves entertained. As Brown (2006) pointed out, today’s students engage with the world differently than earlier generations did as they prefer to satisfy their curiosity digitally, and largely online and offline based on constructivist learning. Thus it is essential that educators in the 21st century need to provide meaningful and relevant learning experiences so as to engage their students effectively. It has been two decades since the new millennium. Gone with the millennial learners, educators now work with Gen Z and Gen Alpha learners, who are dubbed ‘digital natives’. To excite and sustain today’s learners’ interests, teachers have to employ advanced technology in their instructional designs. Figure: Major generations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Z) 4. Promoting autonomy in today’s learners Learner autonomy can be leveraged to support learners in self-directing their life-long learning. Success in learning very much depends on learners having a responsible attitude. As the saying goes: you can bring the horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. We can provide good materials and create good conditions for learning, but learning can only happen if learners are willing to contribute. Developing awareness does not come naturally to most learners; it is the result of conscious effort and practice. There are types of learners who need more guidance than others, and there will be times when learners need more support than at other moments and there will be tasks in which learners will depend more on the teacher than usual. Fostering learner autonomy involves the cultivation of learning strategies because when students bring with them learning experiences and habits formed in traditional learning and teaching. In order to learn autonomously, teachers should give students adequate training to prepare them for more independent learning. Teachers must provide enough guidance and support that can lift them to new levels of effort and achievement. Learning language is a path with different orientations to follow and many different branches and terminals for different persons. Learners should try their best with teacher’s help to reach their full potentials. Taken from Garvin and Sweet’s (1991 as cited in Abas, 2015) conception “to teach is to engage students in learning,” in order to promote learner autonomy successfully, first of all, educators must foster learning by engaging them in meaningful and relevant activities. The activities should be active, experiential, and authentic. To cultivate a classroom dynamic, teachers should be able to turn ‘school knowledge’ into ‘action knowledge’. The two notions are created by Barnes (1976, as cited in Little, 2007). That is to alter the knowledge we study at school into the knowledge which is incorporated into our life. If so, students will be eager to learn, remember longer and understand the lesson thoroughly. As Confucius said: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” If teachers can make each of their lessons become a series of exploration and discovery, they can draw students’ interest. In addition, good teachers make their teaching an enjoyment. In addition, teachers need to redesign the learning to make it personalized by addressing learning needs, interests, language levels or diverse backgrounds. Teachers’ work is to help students know what they do not know yet and prepare them to go further than what teachers themselves know. Teachers should always encourage students to experiment with moving towards the right- hand side of the continuum. Learner responsibility can really only develop if teachers allow more room for learner involvement. However, the change in teacher’s roles can be or perhaps should be gradual, rather than abrupt and dramatic. We understand that the teacher should make students aware of the objectives they should achieve and help them achieve them by: - offering opportunities to learn: good ideas and activities - being open to students’ ideas and suggestions - supporting students’ initiatives - encouraging learners to make decisions about their learning process: setting aims, choosing materials, methods and activities, establishing criteria for evaluation and using them in evaluation. Furthermore, along with developing learner autonomy, teachers need to pay attention to fostering the relatedness among students in their groups or in the class since this relation has interdependence and substantial effects on the learning process. Learner autonomy does not mean working alone. Students can work in group projects, share learning experiences and learn from each other. A good companion is a catalyst and a stimulant for the learning process. Importantly, the teacher should attempt to create an atmosphere in which the learners could feel more responsible for their own learning. On the other hand, learner autonomy must be carried out under strict teacher‘s supervision because it is easy for students to neglect their study, especially when the teacher applies project-based learning. These ideas are in accord with six factors to help increase student engagement behaviorally, emotionally, and cognitively proposed by Pino-James (2015). The six factors consist of making it meaningful – the matter of the activities being meaningful to students so as to engage them; fostering a sense of competence – the notion of a student’s ongoing success in a learning activity; providing autonomy support – the matter of nurturing the students’ sense of control over their behaviors and goals; embracing collaborative learning – the matter of making productive group work; establishing positive teacher-student relationships; and promoting mastery orientations – the matter of intrinsic motivation in pursuing an activity rather than extrinsic rewards. In the 4.0 era of today, with ever-changing technologies, therefore, teachers also need to possess teacher autonomy so as to learn how to leverage the technologies in responding to changes in society as well as teaching and learning context. Teachers will not be able to administer autonomous learning processes in their students if they themselves are not autonomous learners. Facilitating language acquisition and promoting learner autonomy ask for an expansion of knowledge. In the process of attempting to understand and advise students, teachers are likely to be engaged in various investigative activities, asking questions which are themselves useful in raising students’ awareness of learning. In order to engage students in autonomous and effective reflection on their own learning, teachers need to constantly reflect on their own role in the classroom, monitoring the extent to which they constrain or scaffold students’ thinking and behaviourThere is a sense, then, in which teachers and students can learn together. Therefore, learner autonomy must be presupposed by teacher autonomy. If the question of how to cultivate the view of learner autonomy among students is one side, the question of how to promote teacher autonomy is another side of the coin. For promoting autonomy in today’s learners, the writer proposes some changes. Changes regarding contents and activities To intrigue autonomous learning, contents and activities must have a clear meaning and immediate value to students. These kinds of homework can be implemented in groups, in pairs, or individually. - working on vocabulary: classifying new vocabulary according to themes, categories; making vocabulary cards with the new words to play games - collecting materials for the projects - grammar activities: changing and adding exercises that are more communicative - submitting assignments as blogs - submitting assignments as podcasts or videos: Podcasts and videos can develop students’ creativity and help them gain new skills. However, students need a lot of guidance from the teacher for both content and technological support. - gamifying the lessons: Students enjoy games. Creating games is not only the job of the teacher but also the task that students like getting involved. Changes regarding classroom management Teachers should help learners to realize the importance of their contribution and develop the abilities that learners will need to take charge of their own learning. Motivation is a prerequisite for learning and the development of responsibility. We need to encourage intrinsic motivation, the motivation of interest for the learner. Motivation and responsibility can mutually reinforce each other. The teacher now plays the role of an assistant to the learning process. The teacher does not transfer knowledge, but is the one who assists students in their learning projects. Changes regarding evaluation When we assess students, besides content mastery, every element involved in the learning process is open for evaluation because the evaluation is understood as a reflection on the learning process. Contents, activities, materials, learning strategies, products, participation, external factorsare all evaluated because they are part of the process. In addition, students are considered the subject of the evaluation process, not the object of evaluation. Changes regarding attitudes towards technology Today’s students have grown up in the digital age. Teachers should take advantage of technology, rather than view it as a distraction, to increase student engagement, and should not approach technology with fear. Teachers should embrace technology while fostering their autonomy. Technology in the classroom allows students to collaborate with each other, engages them, facilitates learning and is a perfect tool for promoting autonomous work. Some of the approaches to promote learner autonomy in the era of technology include flipped learning and blended learning. The present advancement has made innovative, helpful and applicable technologies available for education. To make their instructional designs more appealing to students, teachers can utilize a variety of today’s technologies with LMS (Learning management systems), the channels like Youtube, TED talks (Ted-ed), etc.; the apps for creating presentations like Mentimeter, Flipgrid, Padlet, etc.; the apps for quizzes like Quizizz, Quizlet, etc. The most popular platform for creating games nowadays is Kahoot, which has been used by both teachers and students recently. 5. Conclusion Learner autonomy is an attitude, a philosophy and a methodology. It is a desirable goal in teaching and learning. Developing learner autonomy entails the following: a shift in focus from teaching to learning, a change in the learner’s role, a change in the teacher’s role, and evaluation becomes an integral part of the learning process, including teacher/learner and learner/learner interactions. Educators need to re-design learning so as to engage learners, raise their interest and awareness of autonomy. In the 4.0 era of today, integrating technology into instructional designs is a must to teachers. I now conclude with some of the sayings of Confucius about studying: "Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune." References Abas, Z.W. (2015). Fostering learning in the 21st century through student engagement. International Journal for Educational Media and Technology, 9 (1), 3-15. Adler, M. J. The art of teaching. Retrieved May 31, 2021, from https://radicalacademy.org/adlerteaching2.html Benson, Phil. (2007). Autonomy in language teaching and learning. Retrieved May 31, 2021, from Brown, J. S. (2006, September-October). New learning environments for the 21st century: Exploring the edge. Change, 38(5), 18-24. Retrieved from Little, David. (2007). Language learner autonomy: Some fundamental considerations revisited. Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching, 1(1). DOI:10.2167/illt040.0 O'Neill, E. (2019). What is learner autonomy?. Retrieved May 31, 2021, from https://www.learnupon.com/blog/learner-autonomy/ Pino-James, Nicolás. (2015). Golden rules for engaging students in learning activities. Retrieved May 31, 2021, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/golden-rules-for- engaging-students-nicolas-pino-james Richards, J. C. Learner autonomy in language teaching. Retrieved May 31, 2021, from https://www.professorjackrichards.com/learner-autonomy-in-language-teaching/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Generation_Z

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