The paper has the following headings and subheadings: Chapter 1; Background; Problem Statement; Research Question/s, Significance, Chapter 2; Literature Review, the proposed subheadings in the literature review chapter showing the sequence of the review, Reference List; all references used in the paper
The concepts of learner autonomy and independence have been brought into attention and have become a 'buzz-word' within the context of language learning over the last two decades (Little, 1991). In terms of its rationale, Camilleri Grima (2007) claimed that it improves the quality of language learning, promotes democratic societies, and prepares individuals for life-long learning, that it is a human right, and that it allows learners to make best use of learning opportunities in and out of the classroom. This is the same reason behind self-access centers as well as many other projects which universities undertake as much as their resources allow. It was also the rationale behind Jones' Cambodian experiment. There is no doubt that the rationale behind the decision to establish self-learning programs in Cambodia, Japan and indeed many "Expanding Circle" countries, is explicit, defensible and relevant. Jones' approach to implementation however is wary of adopting wholesale the self-access method which comes loaded with the western value of learner autonomy.
Yet, Teachers' voices have been largely absent from such studies, and little is actually known about what learner autonomy means to language teachers. This is a significant gap given the influence that teachers' beliefs have on how they teach, and, of particular interest here, on whether and how they seek to promote learner autonomy. Palfreyman (2003) does acknowledge that the gap may exist between theoretical discussions of learner autonomy and teachers' own understandings of the concept and makes the point with specific reference to the manner in which learner autonomy has been conceptualised from technical, psychological, and political perspectives. This study addressed this gap by examining what 'learner autonomy' means to language teachers in a Department of English of a known university in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia.
The study is to explore the teachers' perceptions on what is 'learner autonomy' and how much those teachers understand the principles of the concepts, and the study also compare what the teacher know of the concept with the extend they want to promote these practices in their professional interactions with students. Moreover, the research will attempt to understands the challenges that the English teachers have faced in the efforts to cultivate learner autonomy.
1.3. Significance of the research:
There are inevitably links between what the teachers know, think, and believe and the positive realization of the concepts into practice. It has been a very productive field of research in language teaching since the mid-1990s and this work has established a number of insights about the nature of teachers' beliefs and their role in language teaching and teacher learning which are now widely accepted. (Phipps & Borg, 2009). There are two particular points of significance in the study. First, teachers' beliefs can powerfully shape both what teachers do and, consequently, the learning opportunities learners receive. Therefore the extent to and manner in which learner autonomy is promoted in language learning classrooms will be influenced by teachers' beliefs about what autonomy actually is, its desirability and feasibility.
Second, teacher education is more likely to have an impact on teachers' practices when it is based on an understanding of the beliefs teachers hold (Borg, 2011). Understanding teachers' beliefs about autonomy is thus an essential element in the design of professional development activities aimed at promoting learner autonomy. In addition to this the findings of language teacher's challenge in helping students to become autonomous in their study will help teacher, head teachers, head of departments, school administrators, educators, and policy makers to provide more support to the efforts.
1.4. Research Questions
This study will address the following questions:
1. What do ELT teachers in the Department of English in University X think about learners' autonomy?
2. What extend do ELT they understand the concepts of 'learner autonomy'?
3. What extend do they want to promote their students' learner autonomy?
As Gremmo (1995), observes the last 25 years have seen an increasing amount of attention to learner autonomy, self-directed learning, self-access systems and individualized /independent learning in second language learning literature (e.g Holec 1980; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Little, 1991; Nunan, 1997; Wenger, 1999; Lantolf, 2000; Lantolf & Thorne, 2006; Toohey, 2007; Dang, 2010; ).
In his essay on "The Culture of Education" (1996), Jerome Bruner proposes that learning is the creation and re-creation of meaning by the individual. In this process of "joint culture-creating", two subjective worlds overlap, however partially, to form "an intersubjective world, that defines the individual's participation in learning and it is the study of this process which is the object of the ethnography of autonomy" (Riley, 1988). Hill (1991, cited in Pennycook, 1997) quotes Kant's definition of autonomy as "the foundation of human dignity and the source of all morality." Given the lack of theoretical debate on autonomy in linguistics and SLA research (Benson & Voller, 1997), definitions of autonomy in second language learning have tended to reflect such broader educational and socio-political derivations, generally tending to fall into five categories:
situations in which learners study entirely on their own;
a set of skills which can be learned and applied in self-directed learning;
an inborn capacity which is suppressed by institutional education;
the exercise of learners' responsibility for their own learning;
the right of learners to determine the direction of their own learning (Benson & Voller, 1997).
Learner autonomy has been argued to be shaped by attributes from personal psychology, learning environments, interactions between personal psychology and environment, and the desire for access and power. Thus, the current study employs Vygotsky's notions of socio-cultural theory (Lantolf, 2000; Lantolf & Thorne, 2006) and community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1999; Wenger, et al., 2002) to understand human behaviours, that is, students' learner autonomy in particular. This approach positions learners into a local environment whose identities, resources, and practices construct its members' capacity of learner autonomy (Toohey, 2007). Psychological attributes of learner autonomy are primarily shaped from one's access to and interaction with the ideologies and desires of the local community. In addition, technical attributes are basically mediated by the local resources. Hence, the performance of learner autonomy is internally generated after one's multi-directional negotiations with his/her community enablement and constraints (Dang, 2010).
These are illustrated in interactions and negotiations of a person with his/her community can be one-on-one, immersion or delegation (Wenger, 1999), depending on his/her situation in each activity. The level of an individual's participation in an activity also mirrors both his/her personal characteristics, constraints, and enablement formed by that contemporary environment. In other words, moving one's position from a peripheral participant to an insider, from a passive to an active member, and from a spontaneous to a controlling learner in a community requires a lot of facilitative practices from the context. Therefore, learner autonomy is a socially-bound capacity, and its development needs to be examined in relation to other associated factors in the context (Dang, 2010). This theoretical position also properly con-forms to the mixed perspective adopted in this research. It helps decrease the probability of individualistic perspective on learner autonomy (Pemberton, et al., 2009). On the one hand, it values the significant impact of personal attributes and independent internalization. On the other hand, it acknowledges external contributions from the context. Therefore, the highest level of learner autonomy should be still described via dialogic negotiations and interactions within the immediate situation. It should not be considered as an ability to work alone solely.
Furthermore, the summary of the six aforementioned models indicates two important indexes for the construct of learner autonomy. The first is related to the areas of performance, and the second concerns the levels of performance. Each index generally consists of three categories, except Nunan's model (1997) which has five categories. It seems that there is a connection between these two indexes in relation to the four perspectives of learner autonomy. The areas of performance, namely cognitive processes, demonstrated behaviours, and situation management, serve as an overall index. Each category in this index consists of three typical progressive levels, characterized by groups of skills indicated in the other index. Table 1 represents this model.
Table 1: Adapted model employed in the current study
Identifying resources from con-texts
Modifying the resources
Creating new resources
Cognitively identifying learning styles
Cognitively modifying tasks
Cognitively creating new task
Performing selected learning styles
Creating new tasks
This model can be read from left to right. For example, learner autonomy from the psychological perspective is performed primarily in cognitive processes. It can be described by a number of attributes such as the ability to identify preferred learning styles, modify learning tasks, and design new learning activities. The reference entries for the level index are presented in a progressive order. However, it does not mean that the latter skills are higher and should be developed after the previous ones. The three levels of progression is simply a way of representing the development of this construct. In addition, the three areas of the performance index overlap with one another. Success in one area can support the improvement of the others, although it is not always necessarily the case. Thus, the level index of the model is kept open because it has limitedly been integrated with empirical research. The section which follows draws on prior research to identify the attributes valued and performed by learners in different contexts for model index enrichment.
Drawing on both theoretical and empirical studies to discuss the construct of learner autonomy, it can be concluded that as learner autonomy is socially-shaped, a combination of socio-cultural theory and community of practice is recommended for any investigation into this construct. It also suggests taking into account contributions from personal and contextual aspects, as well as the interactions between the two. In other words, perceptions of learner autonomy need to be examined in relation to the performance of this capacity. Learner autonomy fostering practice needs to be considered each local context.