EFL teachers’ perceptions and practices regarding learner autonomy at Dong Thap University, Vietnam

Learner autonomy is currently one of the central themes in language education. Autonomous

learning plays an important role not only in university life but also throughout the life of learners. Exploring teachers’ perceptions and practices regarding learner autonomy (LA) is necessary, especially in the

local contexts, to provide more insights intothe field. The present study was conducted with 20 English-asa-foreign-language (EFL) teachers at Dong Thap University, Vietnam through interviews. The findings

showed that the teachers had positive understandingsof the related aspects and levels of learner autonomy. In practice, they made significant attempts to cultivate students’ autonomy. However, they faced certain common problems as shared by EFL teachers at other universities in Vietnam. On the basis of the findings a number of implications have been made.

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EFL teachers’ perceptions and practices regarding learner autonomy at Dong Thap University, Vietnam
implest activity 
was a reading passage to read at home, and a short quiz in class to check which students read it 
Jos.hueuni.edu.vn Vol. 123, No. 09, 2016
13 
and which ones did not. At the next level, she gave them one to three passages and they de-
signed the questions at home. At level three, the students chose their favorite passages and 
wrote questions. She mingled the reading passages among groups and the students worked 
again on them in class. When they finished, the authors checked their friends’ answers. At level 
four, each student chose their favorite passage, and wrote a five-minute report, and then pre-
sented it in class. Atthe most difficult level, they did the reading tests in TOEFL books or ones 
of the Vietnamese Standardized Test of English Proficiency tests. They did one reading test in 
class and one at home every week. She gave marks for all their activities. 
How do teachers report the effects of the LA activities on their students? 
Assessing the EFLstudents’ LA capacity, T2 found that generally, the EFL students’ LA abil-
ity was very good because they invested their time to learn autonomously. Additionally, T1, T5, 
T17, and T20 thought that their students’ LA ability was good. Next, T4, T6, T8, T9, T12, and 
T19 claimed that their EFL students’ LA ability was average. T4 explained that students carried 
out LA activities following teacher’s requirements, while true LA was more than that. Accord-
ing to T8, his students’ LA ability was average because their beginning background in English 
was low. T16 said that from 60% to 70% of students had low LA ability. And for T3, only a few 
EFL students owned their true LA ability. Meanwhile, T14 did not know which LA level EFL 
students gained. She just said they were still controlled by teachers. Also, T11 said that it was 
hard to assess his students’ LA exactly as their consciousness of LA was not good. 
When asked to assesstheir LA-oriented activities, all 20 teachers shared their interesting 
ideas. T4 said his LA activities were very good. However, he said that he did not have enough 
time to check the students’ LA carefully. In addition, T13 thought her LA activities were good 
or very good and effective because sometimes after she finished a lesson in class, the students 
reminded her of website links for further learning. This indicated that the students concerned 
their LA. However, she was not sure about whether they read them at home. Furthermore, T16 
held that her LA activities were effective because she worked hard on them. Additionally, T1, 
T3, T5, T6, T9, T11, T17, T18, T19, and T20 considered their LA instructions good. However, T2 
said that although he found many ways to help the students practice LA and reminded them to 
learn autonomously, the results were not so satified as was expected. 
T8’s and T15’s teaching practices towards LA activities were self-assessed just over average 
because it was hard to observe all students’ LA in three or four classes. Also, T15 thought she 
did not spend much time on them. Similarly, T12 felt that her instructions and holding students’ 
LA activities were not appropriate. Meanwhile, T10 said that she always took responsibility for 
teaching. Also, in whatever class she taught, right at the first meeting and throughout the 
course, she always told, reminded, and instructed students about LA. She found that it was 
hard for her to self-assess because she tried her best to do what she thought was good for them. 
For those who learned autonomously she thought they were good and the rest were not. 
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14 
The findings above confirmed that the interviewed teachers had clear conceptualisations of 
LA as capability, responsibility, self-consciousness, and activeness in language learning. More specif-
ically, the teachers believed that autonomous students should know what they do and what 
they learn at university; they are supposed to set up their own learning objectives, and their 
learning plans; they should actively look for materials and learn by themselves without waiting 
for teachers’ instructions or requests; they autonomously practice the four skills of English and 
learn new words and grammar structures as well; they create a network to learn in a close col-
laboration with each other. Furthermore, all of them agreed on the vital role of LA for students 
in higher education and after they graduate from university (i.e. lifelong learning). These find-
ings echo those in the previous studies (Borg & Al-Busaidi, 2012; Tapinta, 2016; and Dogan 
&Mirici, 2017). Thus, without any doubt EFL teachers, including those from Dong Thap Univer-
sity, now had positive views on the LA values and knew well how students should demonstrate 
it in practice. Thereby, the present study also reflected the EFL teachers’ current vision of the 
necessity to develop LA one way or another and they themselves should take on the task and 
get students on board. As mentioned above, although none of them had attended any exclusive 
training on LA approaches, they were all aware of its crucial role and are trying their best to 
make it present in teaching classes. 
5. Conclusion and implications 
To that end, all the teachers interviewed in the present study managed to administer LA ac-
tivities, especially out of the classroom, such as assigning homework of grammar, speaking, 
writing, listening tapes, portfolios, and projects to present in class, providing some learning 
materials, and websites. As seen above, groupwork/pairwork or collaborative learning was op-
timised by most teachers interviewed. This is the classroom feature commonly found in Viet-
nam setting and particularly at Dong Thap University. Groupwork involves students in taking 
responsibilities, making plans and choosing means/tools to fulfill shared assignments/goals. 
Therefore, in the case of commonly large-size classes and limited classroom duration, it is a 
good idea for teachers to frequently manipulate groupwork of various formats, especially out-
side classroom and through the Internet. 
However, when instructing LA activities, many teachers admitted that they did not have 
sufficient measures to check their students’ LA activities outside classes like T3’s and T6’s 
thought. In class, they only checked whether or not students completed assignments or home-
work and then gave general corrections due to limited classroom time. Although most teachers 
gave good comments on their LA-oriented activities and students’ LA ability, they could not 
provide valid criteria for their assessments. This is perhaps the problem shared by many EFL 
teachers elsewhere. And as a result, it is urgent to organize more conferences and training 
workshops among EFL teachers and researchers to deal with not only a relevant continuum of 
Jos.hueuni.edu.vn Vol. 123, No. 09, 2016
15 
LA-oriented activities (i.e., how to build up LA in students step by step), but also a shared 
framework of LA ability (i.e., at which level a student’s LA ability is, and what they should do 
next with reference to language proficiency levels). This LA framework should be easily used 
by both teachers and students for assessment and self-assessment. In other words, it should 
function as a working tool of LA, leading and adjusting them into the right tracks. 
Other problems in conductingLA activities include: 
Students being unprepared for LA development. They mainly went to class, listening, taking 
notes and waiting for exams. Teachers complained that when they asked students to learn au-
tonomously they said they were very busy with frequent classes and extra-activities. Besides, in 
the evening they had to study second foreign languages such as Chinese or French, and Infor-
matics at the Foreign Language Center of the university. Also, they were more attracted by 
many other things, especially Facebook, social websites, going out, playing games online, and 
so on. This indicates that students should be trained more with time management skills and it is 
the teachers who should give them useful guidelines of how to schedule work appropriately 
apart from regular class assignments. It also reveals that despite teachers’ significant efforts 
there is a gap between what teachers expect/desire from students and what they actually ob-
serve in them. This problem has been reported in previous studies (e.g. Tapinta, 2016; Nguyen, 
2016; Dogan & Mirici, 2017). Understandably, there is much for teachers to do for LA develop-
ment, basically because LA is multi-dimensional and not all the students acquire it is a limited 
time. 
Large-size classes of mixed learning styles. Most teachers taught many large-sized classes each 
semester; thus, it is really hard for them to assess students’ LA activities outside as well as to 
give feedback about their homework or assignments inside classroom. Additionally, students 
have different learning styles, so teachers have to recommend/test out learning methods and 
ways to suit each student group of specific-learning styles. Large-sized classes are common 
throughout our country and this shortcoming cannot be solved in the near future. Thus, teach-
ers should be aware of this and get prepared to design different activities for diverse learning 
styles, especially at beginning stages. Once students are on the right tracks, things will definite-
ly become unproblematic. 
The present study has provided evidence about EFL teachers’ perceptions of LA principles 
in the Mekong Delta context. It strongly emphasizes teachers’ positive views towards the LA 
role for students’ college success and later life. Thus, within their ken, teachers are making sig-
nificant attempts for its development in their teaching classes through regular course assign-
ments, especially groupwork outside classroom. Due to large-sized classes of dissimilar learn-
ing styles, class-time limitation, students’ passiveness, lack of motivation and involvement, they 
mostly fail to reap what they expect from their students. 
Le Thanh Nguyet Anh Vol. 127, No. 6B, 2018
16 
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Appendix 
Interviewing questions (for teachers) 
I. Teachers’ perceptions of definition, role, and demonstration of learner autonomy 
1. How do you understand the term “learner autonomy” in case of EFL students? 
2. What do you think about the role of learner autonomy to English majored students at Dong Thap 
University in the integrated time today and when they are employed to be teachers of English or officers 
in the future? 
II. Teachers’ teaching practices regarding learner autonomy 
3. How long have you taught English? Which majors subjects do you often teach? Have you ever im-
plemented autonomously learning activities for your EFL students? If yes, what LA activities have you 
ever organized in each English subject in details? Inside or outside classroom? How often? 
4. How can you check or evaluate whether your students have carried out those or not? 
5. Which advantages and disadvantages do you meet when organizing autonomously learning activi-
ties for your EFL students? 
III. Teachers’ assessment of their LA activities 
6. You evaluate which level of LA ability EFL students at Dong Thap University get: poor, average, 
good, or excellent? Why? 
7. How do you self-assess your instruction of LA activities for EFL students? 

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