Teaching and Researching Autonomy (second edition)

| September 8, 2013

Phil Benson. Pearson: Pearson Education Limited, 2011. Pp. xi + 283

Reviewed by
Matthew Rooks

Kobe University
Kobe, Japan

Phil Benson’s Teaching and Researching Autonomy (Second Edition) is a fully revised and updated follow-up to his widely read 2001 first edition, which proved to be an invaluable tool to introducing language teachers and learners to the concept of autonomous learning. The new edition, released in late 2011, boasts several new topic and research additions, as well as hundreds of new references. Although the first edition has been available for more than 10 years, this review will treat the book as a whole, covering all aspects and sections. This will ensure that both new and old readers alike can determine if this book is something that is interesting and relevant to them. Autonomous learning has seen a steady increase in exposure, research, and overall interest since the first edition was released, and so it has become necessary for an updated review of a book that serves as an introductory exploration into the past, present, and future directions of teaching and researching autonomy.

Teaching and Researching Autonomy is broken up into four major sections, which are in turn further divided into subsections and chapters that explore the various covered topics in a logical, comprehensive order. The four major sections are: a historical introduction to autonomy in both language and interdisciplinary educational fields, a summary of pragmatic approaches to autonomous language learning, an overview of learner autonomy research, and an extensive list of up-to-date references concerning autonomous learning in language education.

Section 1, “What is autonomy?” outlines the origins and history of autonomy in language learning, discusses various definitions of autonomy, explains why it is an increasingly important issue in language education, and explores notions of control and its implications as a natural aspect of autonomous learning. This section, which takes up nearly half of the book, does a thorough job of detailing the origin and evolution of autonomous learning, and helps the reader to understand how characteristics of autonomy can be identified and defined in a language learning context. The function of the first section is to guide the reader through the historical evolution of autonomy, and provide numerous opportunities for curious researchers to branch out into various directions for more in-depth discussions of topics that interest them.

Section 2 deals with “Autonomy in practice,” leading the reader through various examples of current research theory and practical application. Many different sub-fields are explored in detail: resource-based, technology-based, learner-based, classroom-based, curriculum-based, and teacher-based approaches are all given ample coverage. Benson offers brief accounts of a wide variety of research that informs the reader of learning materials, technologies, behavioral and psychological aspects of learners, classroom planning and evaluation techniques, and ways for implementing an autonomous atmosphere via curriculum development.

The different research angles and pragmatic approaches detailed in the second section will help language professionals find ways to integrate autonomous theory into practical applications that will mesh with his or her current situation. Each specific chapter includes examples that offer evidence for the effectiveness of various strategies aimed at providing students with more control concerning their language learning. Benson objectively demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of each type of practical approach, leaving the reader to decide which techniques will work best for their desired goals and aims.

The final section of the book, “Researching autonomy,” describes potential future directions for action research in autonomous learning, detailing six specific case studies in the hopes of demonstrating how language teachers can help to increase understanding and add to the growing wealth of information on learner autonomy. This section stresses the necessity for more practical studies that can generate data to help provide more positive evidence for the effects of autonomy on effective language learning.

Teaching and Researching Autonomy is an excellent guide for educators and researchers looking to learn more about autonomous theories and methods for practically applying them. It could be said that the book itself is more intent on covering a wide breadth of research at the expense of in-depth analysis of specific studies, but that would be missing the main point of the text. Benson’s 2nd edition of Teaching and Researching Autonomy is aimed at providing researchers and educators with access to a wide variety of entry points that can be followed at leisure into more exhaustive explorations of autonomy-related topics. The 27 pages of over 500 autonomy-related references in the book’s index alone is worth the price of the book, and of course the discussions of the various studies mentioned in each section are valuable resources for teachers who are looking to either design their own studies or think about ways to introduce autonomous theory into their own classrooms or programs.

Benson’s book is a well-organized, comprehensible collection of theories, ideas, and research related to autonomous learning. The second edition of this book does a fine job of grouping such a wide-ranging array of research into a single, accessible collection. The form and function of the book complement each other via a streamlined design that allows readers to quickly identify and access existing research in a field that is growing in size and recognition by the year. Considering its goal as a tool to be used to help introduce readers to the theories and practical applications of autonomous learning, Teaching and Researching Autonomy is successful. Benson’s book has become a valuable text that will continue to help researchers and teachers alike in their endeavors to create educational environments and design research studies that foster autonomous learning.

This book review has not been previously published, and is not being considered for publication elsewhere.

Bio Data
Matthew Rooks has taught in Japan for over 10 years, and is currently an Associate Professor and head of English education in the School of Maritime Sciences at Kobe University. His research interests include autonomous learning, vocabulary acquisition, intercultural communication, and computer-assisted language learning.


Category: Book Reviews