Response to Autonomy In and Out of Class
Autonomy is a topic that is frequently brought up and discussed among researchers, specifically in the field of second language learning as it is one of the major concerns for the instructors. A successful language acquisition is often dependent on a well-developed autonomy by the learner, and this development not only occurs inside the classroom but also beyond. The article, Autonomy In and Out of Class, by Phil Benson explores a few key issues related to this specific topic; misleading definition of terms in the research, overgeneralizations, and the vague distinction (or relationship) between in-class autonomy and out-of-class autonomy.
Benson starts his article with quotation from John Dewey, which clearly describes his major concern in the field: “…his inability to utilize the experiences he gets outside of the school in any complete and free way within the school itself; while, on the other hand, he is unable to apply in daily life what he is learning in the school”. In other words, the learner is incapable of taking full advantage of different learning methods in different settings, and rearrange them for his own benefit. A learner requires “a combination of instruction and exposure” in order to develop autonomy that could enable potential success in language acquisition.
In the article, the autonomy is described as “an internal capacity of the learner: the capacity to take charge of, responsibility for, or control over one’s own learning”. This development is not exclusive to a classroom, and there is an important aspect to its development process beyond the classroom as mentioned. Benson, however, notes that “one does not prioritize the other in terms of autonomy”. He also claims that there are three central issues about this particular distinction that need to be addressed.
“Learning Beyond the Classroom and Classroom Research”
It is stated “that research on learning beyond the classroom is concerned with the processes that take place when learners engage in language learning in settings other than the classroom”. Although it is possible to claim that classroom tends to be represented in one particular setting, the learning beyond the classroom occurs in multiple settings, which may or may not have general correlations among them. Benson believes that the singular setting of a classroom is what draws certain researcher to focus on as they conduct their analysis. Some researchers may attempt to distinguish the two fields by specific elements, but Benson makes an important note in the article that “it would be wrong to suggest the two fields can be defined by the presence and absence of teaching” as non-classroom settings may also include an instructor of sorts in a position that could serve as a guidance for the learner.
The classroom research is dependent on the setting itself. The interest of the researchers tend to lie “in the nature of classrooms and the kinds of processes they support”. Benson claims, however, that there are certain issues “in the conceptualization of classroom research”. One of them being the unclear definition of classroom. If one were to believe that classroom is simply defined by a gathering of an instructor and learners, then it would cause vagueness in applying a distinction between in-class and out-of-class fields. As it is obvious, online learning is a new but firmly established method that consists of gathering of an instructor and a learner, but it does not necessarily take place inside of a physical room. The other issue is apparently the certain traits of the classroom that are being investigated by the researchers. Benson believes that these particular traits, such as “learning styles and strategies used by different learners”, are not exclusive to the classroom setting. Instead, they could easily be investigated in and out of a class. The construction of the setting do not play a part in these aspects.
“Settings and Modes of Practice”
Here, Benson attempts to focus on two specific aspects on their own. The concept of setting has already been established but it is crucial to understand “the potential that a setting holds for different kinds of activities is a very different thing from the activities themselves”. That notion serves as a reasoning for placing emphasis on mode of practice.
Benson describes mode of practice as “a typical set of routine processes or interactions that deploy the elements of a particular type of setting and are characteristic of it”. He introduces the example of self-access centers and how they function to support that definition. Students have the opportunity to utilize the materials available in self-access centers with or without an instructor at anytime, and that routine process could be observed separately from the setting if needed. It is important to be aware “that any given setting is likely to support a number of
different modes of practice”, which makes certain terms, such as “self-access language learning or classroom learning”, unclear or misleading. Benson believes that this awareness is a key aspect “in dealing with questions about the effectiveness of learning in various settings beyond the classroom”.
“Language Learning in the Everyday World of the Learner”
It is mentioned that there appears to be a general tendency “for researchers to place the classroom at the center of the language learning endeavors of young people”. However, Benson asserts that “ethnographic and biographical investigations of out-of-school learning…show that young people are more literate, in both the traditional and new senses, than they appear to be in the classroom”. This may be due to the freedom that is available to the learner as opposed to the potential limitations of a classroom. If the learner is capable of utilizing that freedom for achieving an autonomous position, the learning possibilities could be endless.
Overall, it is clear to see that the development of autonomy is not exclusive to classroom setting. Instead, it is “the ecology of settings and modes of practices within the lives of language learners as they are lived in local contexts at particular historical moments” that is essential in acquiring it. As Benson suggests, examining the elements of both in-class and out-of-class fields in relation, as well as in contrast, with clear definitions could allow researchers to study autonomy under a better light.
Benson, P. (2008). Autonomy In and Out of Class. TESOL Symposium on Learner Autonomy: What Does the Future Hold?, 08-19.