1 INTRODUCTION Due to the wide acceptance of learner-centered methods and approaches to teaching foreign languages, more weight is currently put on the role of the learner in the learning process. No more are learners viewed as passive recipients of information, but as active interpreters and processers of knowledge, which they seek based on their own interests and needs. This interest in the learner’s role in the learning process has given rise to the concept of learner autonomy, which means the learner’s ability to control and take responsibility of his or her own learning.
Learner autonomy has received much attention in research and education lately. In addition to the emergence of learner-centered approaches to teaching, the importance of learner autonomy is justified for various reasons. Firstly, it is argued that autonomous learners are more efficient learners. This argument is often justified on the grounds that being able to take responsibility of one’s own learning implies the presence of such attributes as intrinsic motivation, metacognitive skills and awareness of the subject in question and of learning as a process, all of which have been related to efficient learning. Secondly, being able to control one’s own learning implies life-long learning, which is a necessity in today’s world in which globalization and the development of information technology have led to a fast exchange of vast amounts of information.
As formal teaching simply cannot keep up with the continuous changes, learners need to be able to process some of that information on their own, i.e. autonomously. Thirdly, as autonomous learning is characterized by critical evaluation of and reflection on information, learner autonomy also implies active and critical participation in the community, which is a prerequisite of development on a larger scale. This active, critical citizenship is related to the concept of personal autonomy, which is said to develop from learner autonomy. As personal autonomy is related to such important issues as freedom of choice and individuals’ mutual appreciation of one another, the importance of learner autonomy on a larger scale becomes evident.