The idea of learner autonomy is not new, but it has been widely referred to in the field of ELT only over the last decade. Previously, terms referring more directly to practical interventions or situations of learning were more favored within ELT: ‘individualization’, then ‘learner independence’ for example. One sign of the shift to ‘learner autonomy’ as a preferred term has been the recent name change of the IATEFL ‘Learner Independence’ Special Interest Group (SIG) to ‘Learner Autonomy’ SIG.
Imported originally from the fields of politics and moral philosophy, ‘autonomy’ is a multifaceted concept whose meaning has been discussed in the specialist language learning literature from many perspectives and in an increasingly academic fashion (see Benson 2001, 2007 for overviews). Here I take a few relatively standard definitions at face value and highlight their practical provenance and significance both as a ‘way in’ to the specialist literature and as a kind of antidote to its developing ‘theology’.

Richard Smith

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