Details of the thesis of Dang, T. T.
Dang, T. T. (2011). Learner autonomy perception and performance: A study on Vietnamese students in online and offline learning environments. PhD thesis, La Trobe University.
Part of the dilemma facing educational reforms in Vietnam as in other Asian contexts is how to encourage more independence in students’ learning approaches. With the objective of fostering learner autonomy in the higher education sector in Vietnam, this study was designed to understand the perception and performance of learner autonomy from the perspective of undergraduate students majoring in English as a Foreign Language (EFL). Personal and socio-cultural factors are acknowledged as mediating students’ learning approaches.
Using a mixed methods design, the research consisted of two sequential studies. To understand students’ perceptions of learner autonomy Study One relied on a 62-item questionnaire. Valid responses were received from 562 EFL undergraduate students in four universities. The analyses identified four dimensions of learner autonomy, namely Monitoring learning processes, Goal-setting and evaluating learning, Using ICTs in learning, and Initiating learning opportunities. These dimensions appeared to be interrelated but perceived at different levels. The gender difference was only found in Goal-setting and evaluating learning. Females tended to perceive this dimension at a higher level than males.
Study Two used the four-dimension model of learner autonomy observed in Study One to investigate the relationship between perception and performance of learner autonomy. It was conducted with a cohort of 247 EFL first-year students in one university in Vietnam. A revised version of the questionnaire from Study One was used to measure the participants’ perception and performance of learner autonomy at the beginning and end of the course. The online learning management system associated with the course provided additional information on students’ engagement. Finally, semi-structured interviews were conducted with eleven students at the end of the course to gain more insights into the mediating factors on their autonomous learning behaviours.
Statistical analyses showed that students’ perception and performance of learner autonomy in each dimension were positively correlated with each other at the beginning of the course. However, this relationship was not confirmed at the end of the course, probably due to examination constraints. Other theme analyses suggested that preference, motivation, and attitude prominently contributed to the shaping of students’ autonomous learning behaviours in the offline learning environment. Students’ performance of learner autonomy in the online space was likely mediated by technological competency and goal orientations.
These findings call for a holistic approach in educational reforms to foster learner autonomy, particularly in such an examination-oriented context as Vietnam.