One of the major nonmaterialistic challenges of distance learning is the engagement of the learner within the learning process. We, as educators, being physically far from our students, are giving them more freedom to decide either to be active learners, just listeners, or even not to listen at all.
Professional teachers are striving to capture students’ attention during online classes through planning relevant and engaging instruction, asking students questions, and activating the chat box so everyone has the chance to answer. However, by checking the answers in the chatbox and the names of the students who replied to the teacher’s questions, we find that we still have a significant number of students who are not engaged in the learning process.
Caring parents are doing their best to motivate their kids to get involved in online classes. They feel relaxed when they see their kids looking into their devices and the voice of the teacher is heard. However, they feel disappointed when they steal a glance at the screen of their kid’s device as they see the presentation of the teacher is at the bottom edge of the screen while the whole screen is occupied by chatting applications or games. Some parents feel happy when the teacher addresses their kid with a question, however, they discover that their kid is asking his/her friends on the chat application about the answer before he/she replies or they notice that he/she pretends to have internet connection problems and can’t hear the teacher in order to avoid answering the question.
And here comes our question: How can we direct our students to decide to be engaged in the learning process?
We know any decision that should be taken should be the result of combined knowledge, skills, and attitudes. The students’ perception of this combination would affect the students’ motivation and would lead them to become autonomous learners, to have control over their learning process (Benson, 2010) whatever the situations are.
According to Benson, Learning autonomy, or having control over one’s learning process, has three main dimensions: 1) technical, 2) psychological, and 3) political.
- The technical dimension concerns the skills that help students own their learning process (Benson, 1997). These skills involve the executive function (EF) skills (Zimmerman 2008) that are categorized into three main components: a) working memory, b) cognitive flexibility, and c) inhibitory control (Meuwissen and Zelazo, 2014 ).
- The psychological dimension involves the development of traits of responsibility, critical thinking, and metacognition over their learning process. Learners are expected to construct knowledge starting from their social interaction and continue their self-evaluation to reach self-awareness.
- The political dimension involves learners’ ability to deal with power issues within the teaching-learning process. Learners should always have the power of having a choice in the learning process.
After studying the dimensions of learning autonomy, we can start thinking about the content and strategies that would help us train our students to be in charge of their own learning process. When we achieve this target, we will succeed, in less effort, in transforming proper education for all learners whatever the context is.
Benson, P. (2010). Measuring autonomy: Should we put our ability to the test? In A.Paran & L. Sercu (Eds.), Testing the untestable in language education (pp.77–97). Bristol: Multilingual Matters
Meuwissen, A.S., and Zelazo, P.D. (2014). Hot and Cool Executive Function: Foundations for Learning and Healthy Development. Zero to Three, 35(2):18–23.
Zelazo, P.D., Blair, C.B., and Willoughby, M.T. (2016). Executive Function: Implications for Education (NCER 2017–2000) Washington, DC: NationalCenter for Education Research, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S.Department of Education. This report is available on the Institute website at http://ies.ed.gov/.
Zimmerman, B.J. (2008). Investigating Self-Regulation and Motivation: Historical Background, Methodological Developments, and Future Prospects. American Educational Research Journal, 45(1): 166–183.