Promoting learner autonomy in Cambodian EFL context

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Learner autonomy is one of the most important issues in SLA, which has been undertaken over the last two decades by multiple researchers. In spite of a number of researches in this area, the term "learner autonomy" has yet not been come to an agreement with the same definition. However, there is a common ground that students are likely to be recognized as self-directed or autonomous in their learning process, that is, they have to take charge of their own learning both cognitive and meta-cognitive, creating opportunities to optimize their knowledge, being able to be a critical reflection, and being actively to manage their learning both in and out of the class. Additionally, in the present study, there have been indicated a major shift from the teacher-centered approach to the learner-centered approach in order to offer students more possibilities to actively engage in their learning process and also to promote the so-called communicative approach in their learning environment.


Culturally, Cambodian students seem to be respectful, obedient, and passive towards their teacher; and also this happens because of the traditional classroom, which was commonly practiced and mainly focused on teacher-centered approach. However, it has been gradually changed the role of teacher and student in a modern classroom. In other words, students are likely to have more responsibilities in their learning. Still, there are some perspectives from students whom teacher tends to make them become more passive and doesn't create any opportunities for students to participate or express their views. While some perspectives from teachers, students themselves should take more responsibility in directing their learning in order to be independent learner. Moreover, concerning excessive dependence on their teachers in learning, a lot of

students still rely on them to direct their studies, which are very real concerns in achieving academic study.

Problem Statement

Learning is seen as a result of his or her own great efforts and self-initiated interaction with the world. Likewise, in order to succeed in an academic study and to achieve the desired outcomes, autonomous learning plays a significant role in assisting learners to attain those satisfactory results. However, it seems to be that there are few learners or teachers give much attention or concerns about how to promote autonomous learning in their environment. Thus, insights gained from such a study would be practical and useful for both teachers and learners to know how to foster learner autonomy in their learning context.

Research Objectives

To explore teachers' and learners' perspectives about the practice of learner autonomy.

To investigate teacher-learner relationships in fostering learner autonomy in their freshman year at IFL.

Research Questions:

What is the educator's role in students' learning process?

What are learners' beliefs about their own roles and responsibilities in the learning process?

What are their perceptions about their instructor's roles and responsibilities?

How important it is for teacher and student relationship in fostering learner autonomy?

Significance of the study

The findings of this study are expected to offer some of the following contributions:

It can increase students' awareness on how to be responsible of their own learning.

It can offer considerable insight in the teachers, what role they have to play in order to facilitate learner autonomy.

It might provide a comprehensive understanding, with a trust and cooperation between the teacher-learner relationships in promoting leaner autonomy.

Serve as a preliminary idea for any interested researcher in the area.

Literature Review

In the literature on language teaching and learning, there are many variations on the basic idea of learner autonomy. Learner autonomy has been considered the buzzword within the context of EFL teaching. In an effort to promote learner autonomy, teachers need to help learners become autonomous in ways that they can progress towards their learning more successfully. Thus, this paper aims to investigate learners' belief and teachers' role in promoting learner autonomy and also teacher and learner relationships in fostering learner autonomy.

The definition of learner autonomy seems to interpret in many different ways. Holec (1981, p.3) defines the term as "the ability to take charge of one's own direct learning". Dickinson (1995) characterizes autonomous learners as those who have the capacity for being active and independent in the learning process. While Higgs (1988:41) considers it as a process, "in which the learner works on a learning task or activity and largely independent of the teacher who acts as manager of the learning programme and as a resource person". In fact, learners attain autonomy depends on a variety of factors, including learners' ability to take responsibility, personal constructs, teacher support, peer support, availability and flexibility in learning environment (Little, 1990; McDevitt, 1997; Lee, 1998). Even though there is a slightly different interpretation of learner autonomy, those meanings may contribute to the understanding deeply of that term.

Holden and Usuki (1999) who questioned Japanese students' perceptions of learner autonomy concluded that it was not the learners who were innately passive, but it was the teachers who created an environment which discouraged learner autonomy. Moreover, a similar study by Chen et al. (2003) concluded that the vast majority of students viewed their instructor as playing a major role in the development of their language skills. However, it stresses that learner autonomy, is not something teachers do to learners, or another teaching method, which can be taught ( Little, 1990; Benson, 2003). Furthermore, Dickinson (1997) states that, "the learner is totally responsible for all the decisions concerned with his learning and the implementation of those decisions". In a full learner autonomy, there is no involvement of a teacher or an institution. And learners are also independent of specially prepared materials. For instance, the early research on language learning strategies carried out by such researchers as Rubin (1975) and Stern (1974) indicated that good learners have an active involvement with language learning, which they have clear ideas about the best ways for them to go about language learning, and they set up their own learning objectives. However, this research has no strong reason to support that autonomous learning requires teachers and institutions, does not mean that it must proceed independent of them.

Even there is a contradiction between the role of the teacher and the learner in promoting learner autonomy, McCarthy, Scharer (2000) argued that, in developing learner autonomy, "the teacher-student relationship is crucial". The trust and cooperation between the teacher and the students makes the students feel comfortable and secure in the classroom. Only then can the students have the confidence to adventure in language learning. And Benson & Vollers (1997: 63) study also found that teachers have a crucial role to play in launching learners into self-access and in helping them to stay afloat. In this investigation, it was found that there is a great change for both teachers and learners. Teachers are no longer in their dominant position as speakers in class while learners are not passive receivers any more. However, it does not necessarily mean teachers are less important. On the contrary, the teachers' job is more demanding and challenging in helping students grow up as creative and independent learners. Teachers must focus their attention on how to learn instead of how to teach. They must play a different role in class as guides, facilitators and counselors. Therefore, adjusting the teacher's and student's roles, and establishing proper relationship are the keys to the success in promoting autonomous learning (Benson and Vollers, 1997).

In conclusion, there is a large amount of literature on the teachers' roles and the learners' perspectives on teacher in fostering learner autonomy as well as their correlation between teachers and learners. In fact, the cultivation of learner autonomy is a long process. Teacher should help students develop gradually from teacher dependence to autonomy. As an old Chinese saying goes "Give a man a fish, and you feed him a day; teach him how to fish, and feed him for a life time". Thus, Learner autonomy, as a life long mode of learning, can only be achieved with the efforts of both the teacher and the learner. And it could be interesting to explore an in-depth study of teachers' and learners' perceptions of learner autonomy and the teacher-learner relationship in order to look more closely at any interpersonal dynamics that may affect learner autonomy (La Ganza 2004).

Research Method

Focus group

To conduct this study, the researcher is going to use focus group discussion as a tool to gather data. There will be two focus groups: a group of four teachers who are teaching English subject from different schools and universities, and another group of four students who are studying in their freshman year at IFL. All participants will be selected randomly, considering sex and age. Only four semi-questions will be asked and conducted in English, designing from collecting the data. The researcher will use a tape recorder to record the participants' discussion and transcribe soon afterward.

Tentative Calendar/Timelines

Third week of June: Supervisor Meeting

First week of July: Conduct Focus Group with four selected teachers

Second week of July: Conduct Focus Group with four selected students

Third week of July: Proposal Revision

1st and 2nd week of August: Transcribe the data from the participants' discussions

3rd and 4th week of August: Report the results

1st, 2nd, and 3rd week of September: Finalize the results and conclusion

Last week of September: Research Report Draft

Last week of October: Complete Research Report Submission