Publication 4814

Gremmo M. J. & Riley P. (1995) Autonomy, self-direction and self access in language teaching and learning: The history of an idea. System 23(2): 151–164. Fulltext at
The terms “autonomy” and “self-direction” are being used more and more frequently in educational discussion. This article identifies and examines the ideas and historical contingencies which form the background to these developments, including minority rights movements, shifts in educational philosophy, reactions against behaviourism, linguistic pragmatism, wider access to education, increased internationalism, the commercialization of language provision and easier availability of educational technology. A number of objections to “autonomy” (it could not work with children or adults of low educational attainment, nor for “difficult” languages, or in examination-led syllabuses) have largely been overcome. Research into a wide range of educational topics, such as learning styles and strategies, resource centres and counsellor and learner training has directly contributed to present practice. Much remains to be done, however, particularly if cultural variation in learning attitudes, roles and activities is to be taken into account and if “autonomy” and “self-direction” are to be situated and understood within the workings of the social knowledge system.


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