Pedagogy for Autonomy in Modern Language Education: The EuroPAL contribution

by Manuel Jiménez Raya, University of Granada, Spain

(Published in Learner Autonomy in Language Learning, October, 2009)

Download the PDF version here

1. Introduction

The notion of autonomy in learning has long been part of a wide range of educational philosophies and has recently been identified in educational policy as crucial to the development of Lifelong Learning in ‘the learning society”. Piaget (1965), for example, maintains that the ultimate aim of education is for the individual to develop the autonomy of thought to create new, original ideas rather than just recycle old ones. Besides, autonomy is one of the most fundamental values in modern western culture. As an educational aim, the development of autonomy is “the development of a kind of person whose thought and action in important areas of his life are to be explained by reference to his own choices, decisions, reflections, deliberations—in short, his own activity of mind” (Dearden, 1972, p. 70). There is a considerable agreement among educators that autonomy ought to be taken as a highly desirable aim of education. Within pedagogy as discipline, the goals of teacher development are then often formulated in terms that imply familiarity with the concepts of autonomy such as maturity, personal responsibility, self-esteem, self-awareness, and self-determination, among others.

In many European countries, autonomy has acquired central prominence in most official curricula for modern languages. The relevance of the notion of learner autonomy as a goal in formal education contexts has in turn produced a need for teachers to develop expertise in pedagogy for autonomy. This centrality requires new teacher education/development efforts that address ways of aligning teacher education programmes with the new demands of education systems. These attempts need to tackle the resistance to pedagogical innovations that assign a new role to them. The EuroPAL[1] project was developed as a response to the need to promote reflection about the role of learner autonomy in school practice. EuroPAL focussed on teacher education for learner autonomy in modern language pedagogy.

2. A critical look at EuroPAL’s contribution to pedagogy for autonomy

One of the starting points of the project was that learner autonomy and teacher autonomy are closely interrelated in a school context and should be defined within a vision of education as empowerment and transformation. This view has implications for the purposes and nature of teacher education, impinging and influencing all the work carried out within EuroPAL.Our major aim as a team was to develop this vision and share it with foreign language teachers and teachers-to-be, as well as teacher educators and other educational agents, so as to promote pedagogy for autonomy in modern language education. To this end, the partnership developed the following products (Jiménez Raya, forthcoming):

Publications Main contribution to a knowledge base for TELA
Pedagogy for autonomy in language education in Europe – Towards a framework for learner and teacher development. (Jiménez Raya, Lamb & Vieira, 2007)
  • Definition of learner and teacher autonomy as interrelated phenomena, within a democratic view of education.
  • Theoretical/research input on and critical vision of (language) education, pedagogy for autonomy, and teacher development.
  • Tools for critical reflection on: professional contexts, learner autonomy, teacher autonomy, and pedagogy for autonomy.
  • Pedagogical principles to promote pedagogy for autonomy in language education.
Pedagogy for Autonomy in Language Education: Theory, practice and teacher education. (Jiménez Raya & Lamb,  eds. 2008)
  • Analyses of various critical issues of current thinking on learner autonomy and teacher education, namely, personal autonomy in the Philosophy of education, pedagogical manifestations in the school curriculum, how autonomy manifests in education policies in EuroPAL countries (or not), and teacher education practice.
  • Exemplification of classroom approaches to pedagogy for autonomy from various countries.
  • Exemplification of teacher education practice for learner autonomy by various teacher educators.
  • A critical analysis of research carried out into teacher development for learner autonomy.
  • Advocacy of critical reflection, inquiry, self-regulation, dialogue, negotiation, co-operation, choice and self-direction as essential conditions for teacher development for learner autonomy.
Understanding and Exploring Pedagogy for Autonomy – a case-based approach. (Jiménez Raya & Vieira,  eds. 2009)
  • An introductory chapter, containing an adapted version of the conceptual framework for learner and teacher development (Jiménez Raya, Lamb, & Vieira, 2007);
  • teacher development material based on cases illustrating different approaches to pedagogy for autonomy in 7 European countries. Cases contain:
    • reflective tasks that help users understand and think the case teachers’ context, approach and practice, encouraging pedagogical reasoning;
    • methods and strategies of modern language teaching derived from experienced teachers’ wisdom of practice;
    • teacher education practice addressing the beliefs that guide teaching choices and actions;
    • theoretical input and practical instruments that support the cases and help expand pedagogical understanding and expertise as regards pedagogy for autonomy;
    • practical suggestions to explore pedagogy for autonomy in one’s context.
Educational Policies & Language Learner Autonomy in Schools (Miliander & Trebbi, eds. 2009).
  • This is a book presenting an analysis of educational policies in relation to learner autonomy in the countries involved in the project in order to contribute to the understanding of statements, definitions of concepts, suggestions, judgements and views that emerge from the EuroPAL products.
  • accounts of how the governing national documents and overall educational aims in each country favour or constitute obstacles for the development of pedagogy for learner autonomy in schools
  • The chapters include:
    • accounts of the governing documents in the various countries and the prominence of autonomy,
    • references to the organization of schools and classroom practice,
    • information about assessment systems.

Table 1. Summary table of EuroPAL products and their main features (Adapted from Jiménez Raya, in press)

Pedagogy for Autonomy in Language Education in Europe: Towards a framework for learner and teacher development.

This book is a comprehensible, context-sensitive and flexible framework for the development of pedagogy for autonomy in language education. The document has been conceived as a tool to promote critical reflection and purposeful, context-sensitive action towards the development of pedagogy for autonomy in secondary school language education.

Both teacher and learner autonomy are defined as “the competence to develop as a self-determined, socially responsible and critically aware participant in (and beyond) educational environments, within a vision of education as (inter)personal empowerment and social transformation.” (Jiménez Raya, Lamb & Vieira, 2007:1)

This definition shows the following features/premises:

  • It is anchored on a democratic view of education, which places emphasis on (inter)personal empowerment and social transformation as cross-disciplinary educational goals. This way autonomy becomes a collective interest and a democratic ideal, so that teacher and learner autonomy are like two sides of the same coin.
  • Both learner and teacher autonomy are viewed as a competence. The notion of competence involves attitudinal dispositions, knowledge, and abilities to develop self-determination, social responsibility and critical awareness.
  • Autonomy is not absolute concept. Autonomy is best understood as a continuum in which different degrees of self-management and self-regulation are possible at different moments and in diverse aspects of learning.
  • Autonomy denotes a proactive and interactive role.
  • Autonomy is desirable and feasible in a formal education context.

Although our main concerns related to pedagogy for autonomy in secondary school modern language education in Europe, it is important to highlight the cross-disciplinary and cross-contextual potential of the Framework, which enhances its usefulness by encouraging a broad perspective on the various autonomy-related issues. The framework metaphor was developed with a focus on three structural elements: the context, the learner, and the teacher (see figure1). From these three elements, a pedagogical proposal for is articulated in nine pedagogical principles derived from theory, research and practice.

Fig. 1 – Pedagogy for Autonomy in Language Education: Theory, practice and teacher education.

Figure 1

The book addresses a variety of theoretical perspectives connected with the notion of autonomy in modern language education as well as a kaleidoscope of classroom exemplifications, and teacher education practice for learner autonomy. The aim of the book is threefold: to examine various critical issues of current thinking on learner autonomy and teacher education, to exemplify a number of classroom approaches to the development of learner autonomy in the EuroPAL countries, and to present the work of various teacher educators and research carried out into teacher development for learner autonomy. It includes 15 chapters from different authors and is organised in three sections. Each section includes a critical comment by an expert.

Understanding and exploring pedagogy for autonomy in language education – A case-based approach.

Several aspects impinge upon the way teachers see the world of teaching and learning, as well as on the way we shape our lives and the lives of our students in schools. To understand and explore the pedagogy for autonomy puzzle, teachers will need to uncover those forces, look at their ideas and action from new perspectives, and discover unconventional routes to follow (Jiménez Raya & Vieira, 2009). Accordingly, teacher education for pedagogy for autonomy needs to embark teachers on a journey of self-discovery and self-reconstruction.

Taking as a starting point the view of pedagogy for autonomy as a flexible approach where teachers play a decisive role in creating learning opportunities that promote learners’ responsibility and self-regulation, the EuroPAL team has developed an interactive, multimedia DVD-ROM for teacher development for learner autonomy that highlights the interconnectedness of teaching, learning, and contexts of practice (Jiménez Raya & Vieira, 2009). The innovative aspects of this teacher development package are:

a) the use of pedagogical cases as a basis for teacher development,

b) its focus on formal education contexts, and

c) the link between reflective teacher education for learner autonomy and the use of multimedia technology. Each case is conceived so as to encourage and support context-sensitive innovation.

Cases promote a sort of experiential learning by allowing teachers to make links to their own classroom practice and experience taking as a point of departure the observation of others’ experience. “A case resides in the territory between theory and practice, between idea and experience, between the normative ideal and achievable real. Cases capture pieces of experience that initially exist solely within the life of a single individual, and they transform that solitary experience into text.” (Shulman, 2004: 543)

Each case is built around a “theme” that matches the focus of the teacher’s approach to autonomy (e.g., “Self-regulation”)[2]. By focusing cases on a theme we could integrate knowledge derived from relevant academic research into a form that is relevant and useful for teachers and a combination of abstract knowledge and idiosyncratic technique. All cases are divided into “episodes”:

  • Understanding the Background,
  • Looking at Practice, and
  • Exploring Possibilities.

Episodes are further subdivided into “scenes” which are labeled according to the methodological focus of each theme.

Figure 2

Cases, therefore, focus on a teacher’s experience, exemplifying his/her particular approach to pedagogy for autonomy, simultaneously encouraging exploration, action and development towards learner autonomy-oriented education.

Concluding remarks

EuroPAL took as its starting point the prominence of the notion of autonomy in foreign language teaching curricula and in EU educational policy, as well as the need to consider its relation to teacher education, which has also become a priority in the EU (cf. Lisbon process). An important feature is that the EuroPAL products mirror the cultural differences that each member of the EuroPAL team brought forward regarding the why and how of learner autonomy, thus accounting for the plurality of perspective acknowledged in the field of learner autonomy. With this in mind the EuroPAL products will hopefully meet educational needs within a large range of culturally diverse contexts.

One of our specific interests was teacher education practices that engage teachers in pedagogy for autonomy and encourage reflection on the complex set of conditions that make up their teaching context, so that they can identify those that will contribute to the implementation of pedagogy for autonomy and those aspects that will constrain its development. This in turn will help them find spaces for manoeuvre. In this project, an important teacher education premise was that effective teacher education that seeks to foster pedagogy for autonomy should concentrate on developing willingness and capacity for self-directed learning in the teacher and the learners. One of the difficulties that we faced was related to the fact that there is not much research on how teacher education practice can best promote both teacher and learner autonomy in a formal education context.


Dearden, R. F. (1972) ‘Autonomy and Education.  In R. Dearden, P. Hirst & R. Peters (eds), Education and the Development of Reason. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul pp. 58–75.

Jiménez Raya, M. (in press). Teacher education for learner autonomy: An analysis of the EuroPAL contribution to a knowledge base. In R. Smith and F. Vieira (eds) Teacher education for learner autonomy: Building a knowledge base (special issue of Innovation in Language Learning and Teaching).

Jiménez Raya, M., Lamb, T. & Vieira, F. (2007). Pedagogy for Autonomy in Language Education in Europe – Towards a framework for learner and teacher development. Dublin: Authentik.

Jiménez Raya, M. & Lamb, T.  (eds) (2008). Pedagogy for Autonomy in Modern Languages Education in Europe: Theory, practice and teacher education. Dublin: Authentik.

Jiménez Raya, M. & Vieira, F. (2008). Teacher development for learner autonomy: images and issues from five projects. In M. Jiménez Raya and T. Lamb (eds), Pedagogy for Autonomy in Language Education: Theory, practice and teacher education. Dublin: Authentik.

Jiménez Raya, M., & Vieira, F. (eds) (2009). Understanding and Exploring Pedagogy for Autonomy in Language Education: A case-based approach. Dublin: Authentik.

Miliander, J. & Trebbi, T. (eds) (2008). Educational policies and language learner autonomy in schools: A new direction in language education? Dublin: Authentik.

Piaget, J. (1965). The Moral Judgment of the Child. New York: Free Press.

Shulman, L. (2004). Theory, practice, and the education of professionals. In S. Wilson (ed.). The Wisdom of Practice – Essays on Teaching, Learning, and Learning to Teach (collection of papers by L. Shulman). San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

[1] A European Pedagogy for Autonomous Learning – Educating Modern Language Teachers Through ICT–, was a project funded by the SOCRATES programme, action Comenius 2.1, from October 2004 to October 2007.

[2] See figure 2 for a graphical representation of the structure of cases

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. mahtab  |  January 13, 2011 at 8:50 am

    It was just what I wanted. The article was very helpful. Thank you!


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