CCK11 Characteristics of an autonomous learner

The principles of connectivism are autonomy, diversity, connectedness and openness. Stephen has written and presented about this on a number of occasions. My experience of connectivism in MOOCs or even OOCs is that these principles are not straightforward to apply to course design or learning.

My current interest is in autonomy, as I believe that when thinking about the principles of connectivism – autonomy rules, i.e. it is not possible to experience diversity, connectedness or openness without autonomy, i.e. being an autonomous learner.

Being an autonomous learner seems to be a pre-requisite for successful participation in a MOOC/OOC – but what is an autonomous learner? Are you an autonomous learner? Am I an autonomous learner? Are our students/colleagues/children/friends autonomous learners? How do we know? What are the characteristics of an autonomous learner?

I have spent a bit of time trawling the web and journals with this question in mind and there has been loads written about autonomous learning, much of it in relation to language teaching (haven’t quite got to the bottom of why language teaching yet).  I have been wondering whether learners who participate in MOOCs/OOCs have unique characterstics in relation to autonomous learning – and I invite anyone who ventures here to read this blog post to join me in thinking about this – if you are interested. For me the design of a course based on connectivism principles will have to take account of the characteristics of autonomous learning – hence my desire to get my head round this.

So far I have come up with the following characteristics – the problem is that few of them could be said to be specific to MOOCs/OOCs.

Autonomous learners….

  • show responsibility for their own learning
  • show initiative
  • are able to monitor and evaluate their own learning
  • are reflective and show ‘high’ (in inverted comments because I’m not sure how high is high) levels of metacognition
  • are self-aware in relation to their own learning (need unpicking)
  • are intrinsically motivated
  • are life-long learners (not sure about this one)
  • can manage and regulate their own learning (OK but what does this involve?)
  • are adept at taking/making decisions (how adept is adept?)
  • are meaning makers
  • are risk takers (not sure about this one)
  • have specific skills and strategies for managing their learning online (OK but what skills and strategies?)
  • are adaptable and flexible in their approach to learning (how adaptable is adaptable and how flexible is flexible? How would these characteristics manifest themselves?)
  • are pro-active (i.e. they don’t wait for things/people to come to them)
  • are critical and analytical thinkers (this might be too much of a supposition)
  • know how to ask questions (and ideally good questions – but what is a good question?)
  • are good at filtering and selecting the information they need
  • can take constructive criticism
  • can navigate the web
  • are technically adept (not sure about this)

I am aware that each one of these characteristics could be questioned. After all how autonomous is autonomous?

If you think autonomy is important to learning in MOOCs/OOCs, then I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

10 thoughts on “CCK11 Characteristics of an autonomous learner

  1. Aaron January 25, 2011 / 8:40 pm

    Hi – this is really interesting and focuses part of the CCK11 conversation nicely. What occurs to me is that so many of these qualities have to do with leadership… perhaps people who tend to lead, do so in any situation they enter into bringing with them their own vision of what they want to achieve and a sense of milestones that they judge their own progress against. My best learning situations are always ones where there’s an element of co-creation – I am loving the connectivism course (my first MOOC) because of this, but in many other situations I’ve been more interested in what I wanted to get out of the interaction than what needed to happen for the instructor, or for the grade.

    These are qualities of adult learners, but often adult curricula aren’t designed to focus on such freedom of interaction and goal-setting. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  2. suifaijohnmak February 2, 2011 / 1:27 am

    Hi Jenny,
    Great list of the characteristics of an autonomous learner. I may have to dig deeper into our research findings to reflect some of those listed. Would some of them be interwoven with each others? Being proactive would also be showing initiative, and that may be related to intrinsic motivation (plus extrinsic motivation) etc. So, would a concept map linking of these attributes (with some cause and effect) help? Autonomy could also be based on personal taste, which could be translated and interpreted differently when one takes up a particular role. For a learner who is also an educator, being autonomous in learning could be in conflict with the autonomy in teaching, as wearing a teaching hat does assume certain responsibility that is beyond a typical learner would embrace.

    Thanks for your insights. Have to think about this more from a learner’s perspective.

  3. ruthdemitroff February 2, 2011 / 4:38 am

    There’s autonomous learners by choice and autonomous learners with few choices.

    MOOCs include people with access to academic institutions, continuing education funds, conference grants, book allowances, academic journals and specialized libraries, etc.

    MOOCs also include people with access to none of those things. It’s the rain that enables a desert to bloom. It’s the switching on of a light where there was only a candle.

  4. Ana Cristina Pratas March 7, 2011 / 2:52 pm

    Hi Jenny,

    I’ve really appreciated your reflexions on autonomous learners. My question is up to which point learners are actually willing to be autonomous in their learning processes. In my experience, individuals who tend to be intrinsically motivated and pro-active, tend to be learners who blossom within connectivism.

  5. Grzegorz Rogala April 27, 2011 / 2:59 pm

    This is a really good summary that outlines the characteristics of autonomous learners. I found it very useful. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Alexander Ordoñez June 3, 2020 / 2:10 pm

    I think that autonomous learning is too important by nature. In addition to acquiring the characteristics that are described, it serves in a great way not only to acquire knowledge independently, but also, it is of great importance to share with others. Now, in moments like those that the world lives today, this learning about goes out and becomes a strategic ally that is represented by the discipline and organization.

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