Learner’s Autonomy The concatenation towards a learner-centered approach has resulted in the concept of learner’s autonomy. Learners are considered autonomous when they are self-directed and take responsibility of their own learning. The main proponent of learner’s autonomy, Holec (as cited in Thanasoulas, 2000) defines it as ‘the ability to take charge of one’s learning (n.p). For the learner to be proactive and self initiator of his learning, he needs to be imbibed by certain characteristics.
Autonomous learners are insightful of their individual learning preferences in terms of styles and strategies.
They are self activated participants in the learning process.
They are risk takers and resort to the use of target language in the learning process.
They incorporate intelligent guesswork in learning.
They emphasize accuracy as well as appropriacy; and therefore give simultaneous attention to form and content.
They analyze and negotiate rules to reject inapplicable hypotheses and proceed through the target language by placing it into a separate reference system.
They are extroverts and have a forward looking and tolerant approach to target language learning. (Thanasoulas, 2000)
Theoretical Underpinnings Learners’ autonomy and learner-centered approach take their foundational principles from the educational philosophy of constructivism. Constructivism advocates that learners must individually discover and transform complex information if they are to make it their own (Slavin, 2010). According to Candy (as cited in Thanasoulas, 2000) constructivism “‘leads directly to the proposition that knowledge cannot be taught but only learned” (n.p). The chief premise of constructivism is that learners learn by doing through personalizing and internalizing the subject matter. In this way, learning is seen as subjective and learners are seen as the chief architects of their learning (Lynch, 2010).
Constructivism was shaped by the works of Piaget, Vygotsky and Dewey among others. Both Piaget and Vygotsky argue that cognitive change takes place only when previous conceptions go through a process of disequilibration in light of new information. Piaget believes in giving problems to learners that encourage them to manipulate concrete objects. In such a problem based learning, learners build upon their prior assumptions and arrive at solutions to the problems (Henson, 2003).
Vygotsky’s social constructivism introduced the concept of cooperative learning whereby he concludes that knowledge can not be constructed in isolation and therefore, needs learners to cooperate among themselves to work towards knowledge construction (Henson, 2003).
Taking the idea further, Dewey’s view of learner-centered education embraced the idea that education should be both problem-based and fun. Each experience should leave the learner motivated and the solving of each problem must lead to new, related questions about the topic (Henson, 2003). Dewey advocated letting learners experience their learning first hand to enable them to value their learning as subjective and relevant to them (Lynch, 2010).
Dewey also stressed upon the idea of confluent or collateral learning, which emphasizes the involvement of learners’ emotions or affective aspect in how they learn. This marks the shift of focus from the cognitive aspect only which deals with how the mind actually functions, how it processes information or is affected by each individual’s perceptions (Reid, 1987) to the affective factor that takes into consideration the emotional filter within a learner as well. The idea comes from the acknowledgement that every learner is distinct in mental and emotional makeup, interests and goals, learning pace, learning style, talent, feeling of efficacy and frames of reference. To make the learning process independent, efficient and effective for the learner, these factors must be considered worthy of attention when designing learning activities (Henson, 2003). Similarly, the learner on his part needs to be aware of his LS based on his mental and emotional system to be able to become an autonomous learner.
This marks a departure from the uniformity of practice in institutions where learners are taken as a whole without regard for their diversity. Researchers now agree that it is futile to search for the single best way to achieve a broad educational outcome, in large part because learners do not fit a single mould (Guild, 2011).
Inclusion, Equality And Diversity in Learners
As teachers we all want our learners to reach their full potential with their studies. In order for the learners to do this its important for the tutor to be mindful of the issues of equality and diversity. These issues will be discussed here as well as ways to promote inclusive learning which help the learners to get the most out of their learning.
Each learner is different due to different previous experiences and this means we must tailor our teaching so that it is appropriate to each individual learners needs. In terms of equality and diversity the relevant factors we must be sensitive to when teaching are disability, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity/race, age, religious beliefs and economic/social needs.
The diverse backgrounds and experiences of individual learners are what make teaching so exciting and challenging. To tackle these challenges tutors need to employ a number of strategies to promote inclusive learning which means getting all the students involved in the learning.
Inclusive learning can be achieved in a number of ways such as providing grants to those on lower incomes so they can complete a course at a lower cost or for free. If there are wheelchairs users on the course the appropriate venue for the teaching must be chosen so that access is as easy as possible. A ground floor venue is likely to be the preferred option or where a particular class has to be above the ground floor it must have the option for the wheelchair user to be able to use a lift. For students that have a disability (such as being blind or deaf, etc.) it may be useful for the student to have learning support whilst attending the classes.
Carefully prepared resources can also help with inclusive learning. For example, handouts should be in a font size which is big enough (and without serifs) to help partially sighted learners with reading it. Any resources need to be in plain English (i.e. avoid unnecessary jargon). A good layout combining pictures and text is far more stimulating for learners than just blocks of text. Coloured paper may help those who are dyslexic.
When it comes to the actual teaching the tutor can use a number of techniques to encourage inclusive learning. These include using different learning styles, differentiation and varying the activities and interaction between the learners. It’s understood that different people assimilate information with different learning styles such as auditory, visual, aural and kinaesthetic methods. Differentiation is when the teaching methods match and challenge an individual’s needs and ensure their interest and enthusiasm in the subject is maintained. Understanding your students’ abilities will ensure the right balance of methods and different activities are used.
Other points of referral which are available to meet the potential needs of learners include the hardship fund, learner support fund, Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Job Centre Plus, Norfolk Deaf Association, Sensory Support, MIND, etc.
Legislation and Metropole Learning For my job role I require an understanding of all current legislation, policies and procedures. I feel we have these in place so we have a guideline and it also protects tutors and students while working in a teaching environment.
I am new to the teaching environment so I have had to learn the different aspects of the current legislative requirements. I follow the Institute for Learning (IfL) guidelines which is a professional body for teachers, trainers, tutors, student teachers and assessors in the further education and skills sector. IFL listens and supports the needs of registered members and it continues to raise the status of teaching practitioners across the sector.
My current employer (Metropole Learning) makes sure that I have up to date information on legislative requirements and codes of practices. And I am also aware where to obtain this information if needed.
The Lifelong Learning UK (LLUK)
An independent employer-led sector skills council responsible for the professional development of all those working in community learning and development, further education, higher education, libraries, archives and information services and work based learning across the UK.
I would use the knowledge that I have gained from LLUK to increase the quality of my working area (Life Skills). I would also make sure that I incorporate the six core principles:
There are many more legislations that I have to be aware of while teaching. It is important that I keep up to date with these legislations and part of my responsibility is to make sure that they are been adhered to and I know what procedure to follow if this is not the case.
Data Protection Act Each learner that I have will have their own file which holds personal and confidential information (address, contact details and medical history). These files are kept in a cabinet which is locked in the main office but I have access to these.