Enhancing learner autonomy with CALL - the important role of teachers to ensure success

Thứ ba - 29/07/2014 03:59


For a definition of autonomy, the most frequently quoted one is of Holec (1981) who describes it as “the ability to take c-harge of one's learning”. Learners’ ability to take c-harge of their learning would include the ability to make decisions in the learning process, relating to (1) determining the objectives; (2) defining the contents and progressions; (3) se-lecting methods and techniques to be used; (4) monitoring the procedure of acquisition; and (5) evaluating what has been acquired. (Holec, 1981)

Just like other teachers, language teachers today see independent learning as an important goal. It is in accordance to Rubin's definition of the "good" language learner: one who sets his or her own direction and takes responsibility for his or her own learning (Rubin, 1975).

Technology's role in enhancing learner autonomy has been praised over the past years, with many claims in favor of language learning enhanced by technology. Those claims include that technology supports various learning styles; that the Internet and computers provide abundant resources to autonomous learners; and that some software packages can offer a complete curriculum for language learning (Healey, 2002).

What technology can provide?

Technology offers a great deal of the linguistic input: huge amounts of data for learning and teaching, including authentic texts, graphics, audio, and video clips, both online and offline. Another useful feature of computers and the Internet is the ability to provide practice in various ways. Technology provides tools for learners to cre-ate web pages, write blogs, forum, newsletters, multimedia presentations, chat, teleconference as well as to cre-ate online communities of different interests. In this way, the use of technology can foster learner autonomy and provide a flexible and friendly learning environment.

What technology cannot provide?

It is very difficult, if not to say impossible, for technological solutions to provide engagement of learners with the learning community. It is up to facilitators and teachers to make the links between what the learner is doing independently and what is going on in the classroom. In a technologically rich environment with a wealth of choices, learners can feel overwhelmed and unable to decide what to do. Aimless learning often results in little improvement. Repetitive practice and common interface sometimes can be boring. Consequently, language learners do not know how to learn efficiently on their own. Guidance should come f-rom somewhe-re, preferably f-rom the teacher.

Role of designer and teacher

If teachers involve in course design, some principles for language course design which aim to foster learner autonomy and support the transfer of responsibility for decision making f-rom teacher to learner should be respected: the course reflects learners’ goals, tasks are explicitly linked to a model of the language learning process, learning tasks link closely to real world communicative tasks, the course promotes reflection on learning (Cotterall, 2000).

If teachers just play the role of someone to teach or to facilitate learners then the focus should be on how to help learners learn the language on their own with the highest motivation. A good way to arouse students’ interest is to cre-ate an appropriate environment in which learners realize the importance of English as a communication tool and thus become curious about the content (Zhuang, 2010). If learners work on their own in a CALL environment, certainly they will need advice about material as well as suitable language data to work with. In this situation, facilitators play an important role by helping learners recognize whe-re they are and see whe-re they need to go next.

Facilitators also help learners organize their learning and be motivated to continue. Learners may need supports and guidance f-rom facilitators in setting up and accomplishing tasks. Facilitators also help cre-ate and organize community, setting up groups, providing logistics for group projects, and making the links between independent study and classroom and home (Healey, 2002). These activities include both collaborative tasks such as group work, project work, and debate and individual activities such as reflective journals and extensive reading to promote learner autonomy.

In addition, to become less dependent on the teachers, learners need to replace their passive learning attitude with a more active one. Facilitators’ role in the CALL environment is to involve learners in searching for learning materials and participating in learning activities (Kavaliauskiene, 2002). There are various ways for teachers to support learners with these CALL tools like finding resources to provide to learners, assigning learners with tasks to find resources on their own or use specific tools and materials online, creating content or asking learners to cre-ate content and interact to each other via web pages, especially web 2.0 tools. Specific activities for learners can be surfing for documents, finding pen pals, taking part in online competitions, joining chat rooms, reading English books, journals, newspapers, magazines.

CALL teachers also play an important role in organizing and coordinating learning activities. Assignments of group or pair work f-rom the teacher are fundamental for learners to practice collaborating and to learn f-rom each other. Synchronous (Yahoo Messenger, Gtalk, Skype) and asynchronous (forums, blogs, wiki) tools help students get together to do the tasks given by teachers f-rom different venues. Chat logs, forum and blog posts, wiki projects can be saved to share with other groups, and for teachers to observe the learning process involved in the discussions.

To help develop learner autonomy in the CALL environment, teachers should accept the new role in classroom. They should see themselves more of a manager, a resource person and a counselor. The new role of the teacher in the classroom requires changes in their knowledge and behaviors.


In conclusion, autonomous learning puts forward a new challenge to English teachers. In fact, creating a good autonomous learning environment is difficult. It takes careful thought and thorough preparation and an ongoing commitment to adjusting to learner needs. Technology provides a wealth of resources and potential, but is not a solution on its own. Teachers need to improve themselves in order to be qualified for the multi roles in a supportive learning context.

  1. Cotterall, S. (2000). Promoting learner autonomy through the curriculum: Principles for designing language courses. ELT journal, 54(2), 109-117.
  2. Healey, D. (2002). Learner Autonomy with Technology: What do language learners need to be successful? TESOL 2002, CALL-IS Academic Session.
  3. Holec, H. (1981). Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning. Oxford:  Pergamon.
  4. Kavaliauskiene, G. (2002). Three Activities to Promote Learners' Autonomy. The Internet TESL Journal, VIII(7).
  5. Rubin, J. (1975). What the" good language learner" can teach us. TESOL quarterly, 41-51.
  6. Zhuang, J. (2010). The Changing Role of Teachers in the Development of Learner Autonomy--Based on a Survey of" English Dorm Activity". Journal of Language Teaching & Research, 1(5). 

Tác giả bài viết: Nguyen Quang Vinh (English Department, Hanoi University)

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