Anyone who’s taken an online course can tell you that nontraditional learning can be challenging. Conventional classrooms offer resources, discussion, and collaboration that can be difficult to replicate in a virtual setting. Because of this, it’s easy to focus on the pitfalls of individual self-study when learning a new language: the lack of easy interaction with other students, the potential to feel isolated, and, often, the dearth of external motivators. However, it’s important to remember that this kind of learning environment also has benefits over the traditional classroom. Online and other types of self-directed learning provide the opportunity for personalized instruction and, more importantly, autonomous learning. In this article, we’ll explain why autonomous learning can be so advantageous and how you can become a more autonomous learner of Spanish.
What is Autonomous Learning?
Essentially, students with autonomy have control over when and how they learn. That might include being able to choose your learning environment, deciding how much time to focus on a particular topic, and having the ability to self-correct. Common ways for learners to exercise autonomy include: deciding which learning strategies to use, determining what goals to set, deciding the frequency and importance of assessment, and more.
A broad example of autonomous learning that you can probably already relate to is choosing which foreign language to learn and what resources to employ!
Why is Autonomous Learning Beneficial?
The effectiveness of learner-controlled instruction has been shown from a variety of angles. For example, students who have more agency in the learning process tend to have a higher level of intrinsic motivation. Autonomous learning also allows you to be an active participant (as opposed to a passive one), remembering your instruction better specifically because you are helping shape it and taking part in the process. Finally, autonomous behaviors like self-correction are shown to improve grammatical accuracy, since they require a higher level of syntactical analysis than comprehension alone. All this should make sense intuitively— you’re more likely to engage when you have a choice in what and how you’re learning.
How Can I Be A More Autonomous Learner?
To purposefully give yourself more autonomy as a Spanish learner, you need to be self-aware during your learning process. Rather than flying through each new lesson or concept and moving on to the next one as quickly as possible, give yourself time to absorb and reflect after your study sessions. What concepts in the lesson were difficult for you to understand? What kinds of instructional methods work well for you, and what kinds don’t stick so well? Practicing this intentional observation will help you to understand yourself better as a learner, and, in turn, to modify your approach to learning, so that you’re studying in the ways that work the best for you.
Here are a few ways to take charge of your learning:
1. Pace Yourself.
Set specific goals and objectives for your study. You get to decide how much or how long to study, or what conversational milestones you’d like to achieve.
2. Spend Additional Time with Concepts You Find Challenging.
If you’re using our online curriculum or Fluencia, remember that you can repeat a lesson as many times as you like, or try supplementing your learning with grammar resources. Check out SpanishDictionary.com’s Language Guide and forums as a place to start. You’ll likely find that using additional resources to find the answers to tricky grammatical questions will help you understand the concept more fully.
3. Take Your Time.
If you’re taking a test in class and get a question wrong, or you’re not sure why the right answer is right, take a few minutes right then and there to try to figure it out. Likewise, when talking to other Spanish speakers, resist the urge to get your words out as fast as possible. Speed isn’t necessarily the most important factor in language learning. Most likely, you’ll feel like you’re speaking more fluently if you slow down and take your time speaking.
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