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Constructing concepts of learner autonomy in language education in the Chinese context : a narrative-based inquiry into university students' conceptions of successful English language learning

By Xiaoli Jiang


The present study aims to explore Chinese learners' conceptions of learner\ud autonomy from learners' perspective since researchers in language education\ud argue that concepts of learner autonomy may bear cultural imprints and recent\ud college English language education reform in China sets learner autonomy as a\ud prime goal.\ud The study first presents general background and an introduction to the research\ud context. There follows a comprehensive literature review, tracking origins of the\ud concept of learner autonomy in the fields of philosophy, general education, and\ud language education, with distinctive 'Western' and 'Chinese' emphases. This is\ud followed by a review of relevant research on learner autonomy in language\ud education, which consists of research on learner autonomy as a concept, as a\ud means for effective learning, relationships with culture, and methodological\ud issues. To investigate Chinese learners' conceptions of learner autonomy, the\ud study adopted a mixed research approach to collect data: with a qualitative\ud method as the main research method to capture in-depth understandings of\ud learners' conceptions, and a quantitative method as a supplementary one to\ud support qualitative data findings and at the same time reveal further diversity.\ud Moreover, to avoid any imposition of learner autonomy theory pre-occupied in\ud the researcher's mind, the study does not ask directly about learner autonomy to\ud learners but instead examines whether concepts of learner autonomy are\ud embedded in students' accounts of successful English language learning.\ud The study involved 27 interviews and a questionnaire survey of 450 college\ud English language learners among three different Chinese universities. The main\ud findings of the study are as follows: 1) Both 'Western' and 'Chinese' emphases\ud and core elements of learner autonomy are found in Chinese learners'\ud conceptions of successful English language learning; 2) Chinese learners'\ud conceptions of learner autonomy are found to exist in two distinctive domains:\ud learner autonomy for academic success (LAAS) and learner autonomy for\ud communicative competence (LACC). 3) Learners' conceptions of learner\ud autonomy can be influenced by different sources: political, economical, social,\ud cultural, and individual. 4) Learners' conceptions of learner autonomy are\ud dynamic, and subject to various factors such as progress of level of education\ud and individual language learning experiences.\ud Based on the data findings, a reconsideration of concepts of learner autonomy\ud drawn out from students' conceptions of successful English language learning is\ud discussed, which combines 'Western', 'Chinese' emphases and core elements of\ud learner autonomy, associated behaviours, and sources of influences on them.\ud This reconstruction of the concept of learner autonomy in the Chinese context\ud contributes to a better understanding of learner autonomy theory. The research\ud has important implications for policy makers, teachers, parents, and students in\ud understanding learner autonomy from learners' perspectives and for research\ud into concepts of learner autonomy in different contexts

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