Many think that today’s education system is failing today’s learners. They believe that school fails to prepare young people for the contemporary job market as the 20th century learning materials and the 19th century teaching methods are still in use. ‘Student centred approach’ rather than ‘teacher centred approach’ has been the big idea for quite some time now. Moreover, teaching collaboration, knowledge construction, real-world problem solving, innovation and skilled communication rather than the three Rs (reading, writing and arithmetic) has been intensely promoted among schools worldwide.
Recently, however, the focus has shifted towards learning as such. What does it mean? According to cognitive psychology, it is about attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, creativity and thinking. In order to notice and take in new information, process and memorise it, and finally reconstruct knew knowledge, one needs to work hard and face a number of challenges. It takes purposefulness, responsibility, setting the learning goals, initiative in planning and executing learning activities, self-evaluation and self-management – all keywords for a concept they call ‘learner autonomy’.
The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics winner Daniel Kahnemann writes in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow that most people tend to use their fast, instinctive and emotional thinking more than their slower, more deliberative and logical thinking. Why? Because it is easier. Slow thinking is much harder. It requires attention and mental effort. So does effective learning.
Sometimes, however, hard work can be turned into something wonderful. So, when people focus on an activity so deeply that nothing else matters, it highly likely makes them feel happy. The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes this feeling as ‘flow’. He claims that the state of ‘flow’ feeds intrinsic motivation. And intrinsic motivation is something that learner autonomy is based on.
Professor David Little defines learner autonomy as learner responsibility. He writes that an autonomous learner a) understands the purpose of their learning programme, b) explicitly accepts responsibility for their learning, c) shares in the setting of learning skills, d) shows initiative in planning and completing learning activities, and e) regularly reviews their learning outcomes. Little suggests that autonomous learners are likely to be more efficient and effective as they are reflectively engaged with their learning. They are more focused as their learning contexts serve their wider agendas. Little concludes that an autonomous learner should not have any motivation problems as they are proactively committed to their learning already.
We strongly believe in learning as hard cognitive effort, so we fully support the ideas generated by Kahnemann, Csikszentmihalyi and Little. Moreover, we’re convinced that promoting learner autonomy is the approach that brings success in every teacher’s daily practice.
The CLICK team