Exploring the learner autonomy of undergraduate EFL students in the Vietnamese university setting

  • Vinh Nguyen

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This study was conducted in the context of large-scale reform in language teaching and learning in Vietnam. In 2008, Vietnam launched its National Foreign Languages Project 2020 with an aim to dramatically improve the quality of language training in Vietnam by 2020. This national project has been tackling many aspects of language teaching and learning in Vietnam, such as curriculum development, improvement of teaching facilities, application of ICT/CALL in language teaching, teacher training and retraining, renovation in teaching methods, promotion of learner-centred approaches, standardisation of teacher quality, standardisation of training outcome, and enhancement of learner autonomy. Regarding the aspect of learner autonomy development, giving more power to students in the learning process and integrating ICT/CALL into the traditional language classroom have been among the main proposed solutions. These solutions are based on the views that students learn better when they have a say in what to learn and how to learn, and that a technology-enhanced environment can promote and facilitate active learning. This research is motivated by the desire to examine whether Vietnamese EFL learners are ready to take over more responsibility for their learning, and to explore how they have been learning with the support of ICT/CALL facilities. Focusing on a group of undergraduate English-major students, the research specifically investigated: (1) learner perception of their own responsibility and teacher responsibility in the learning process, (2) learner readiness for autonomous learning, (3) learner experience with autonomous learning, (4) how students took responsibility for their learning within the classroom, and (5) how students took responsibility for their learning beyond the classroom. Results from the research should be helpful to educational practitioners as they provide new insights into learner beliefs about and practices of autonomy in a technology-enhanced environment.
Using a mixed methods explanatory sequential design, the research was conducted in two phases with two different groups of participants from the same population. In Phase One, quantitative data were collected from 1,258 participants in nine universities nationwide via a questionnaire on SurveyMonkey. With the support of SPSS, descriptive and inferential analysis procedures were employed to investigate student beliefs about different aspects of learner autonomy. The cross-sectional case study in Phase Two with four students from one of the participating universities explored how these learners took responsibility for their English learning in a technology-enhanced learning environment. Qualitative data were collected over two months through a series of student learning journals, classroom observations and semi-structured interviews. A thematic analysis procedure was employed to explore how learners took responsibility within and beyond the classroom.
Regarding learner beliefs about autonomy, the results showed students‘ desire to share responsibility equally with their teacher. However, they expressed a preference for their teacher playing a greater role in some activities, such as choosing resources or selecting assessment options. Overall, students were ready for and familiar with autonomous learning at a moderate level. ICT and CALL were perceived as crucial components in a blended environment of classroom learning and out-of-class learning. The use of ICT and CALL also correlated with several signals of learner autonomy such as beliefs about student responsibility, readiness to take charge, and practice of autonomous learning. In terms of how learners took responsibility for their learning, the results showed a notable difference between in-class learning and out-of-class learning. On the one hand, the students were not inclined to challenge the teacher‘s authority inside the classroom. They reacted cautiously to their teacher‘s encouragement to be more autonomous. The autonomous behaviours within the classroom were of reactive nature. On the other hand, these students tended to be more autonomous and proactive in learning outside the classroom. They actively created an environment and opportunities to learn English outside the classroom through part-time jobs, social activities, and hobbies.
The findings provide learners and educational practitioners with some deep insight into how the Vietnamese EFL learners perceive and practise autonomous learning. Results from the research also demonstrate that learner autonomy can be promoted in the Vietnamese EFL context. The research is theoretically significant in the sense that it contributes to knowledge about learner autonomy and blended language learning in an East Asian context like Vietnam. It is also practically significant to language teachers, curriculum developers, policy-makers and educational managers who wish to use blended learning in fostering learner autonomy.
Date of Award2019
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorElke Stracke (Supervisor) & Jeremy Jones (Supervisor)

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