Learner Autonomy: A Theoretical Phantasm?

By Susann Schuster.

Published by The Learner Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Supporting the autonomous learner in the classroom is an innovative attempt to foster learner engagement and learning outcomes. Some proponents go so far as to stress the importance of the concept of learner autonomy for lifelong learning. The literature suggests several instruments (i.e. portfolios, diaries, learning contracts or individualised learning plans) in order to engender learner autonomy. Over the past 30 years, the literature has engaged extensively in elaborating the theoretical framework of learner autonomy and its practical application in the classroom. Aiming to equip students for lifelong learning, strong focus has been put on identifying the components of the autonomous classroom, and its academic and behavioural effects on students. According to various case studies, a number of schools have been identified to have tested or permanently adopted an approach fostering the autonomous learner. However, the majority of the findings focus on descriptive analyses of case studies. Contributing to these findings, this paper discusses findings of an empirical study nestled within the Australian schooling system. Its objectives were threefold. Firstly, it aimed to identify whether the concept of learner autonomy has been widely adopted by schools or whether it remains a theoretical concept rather than a feasible one. Secondly, it attempted to identify how schools define the concept of learner autonomy and thirdly, how this concept is generally implemented by schools. Drawing upon the existing literature, this paper argues that learner autonomy is more than a theoretical construct as it is implemented by the majority of Australian schools. However, its definition and application varies significantly amongst schools and school types. This indicates that learner autonomy must be considered as a flexible concept that takes various shapes that extend beyond commonly cited concepts in the literature.

Keywords: Education, Learner Autonomy, Lifelong Learning, Learning Plans

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp.159-180. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 2.062MB).

Susann Schuster

Associate Lecturer and Phd Student, Department of International Studies, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Having studied English, French and German as a foreign language at Master level, my interest in language acquisition, literature, cultural studies, teaching and psychology is evident. My university studies, my work experience as a teacher and research assistant at the University of Dortmund, Germany as well as my travel experiences have contributed to shaping my current Ph.D. topic, “Commitment in Learning Plans”. After my move to Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, I have been able to further my teaching experience as an associate lecturer for German at the Department of International Studies as well as working on my thesis. Writing my Ph.D. and teaching enables me to combine findings and experiences from a theoretical and practical point of view. This has led to research interest in further domains such as organizational psychology and motivational research which continuously influence my work.


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