Autonomous learning

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I had never heard of this concept before, but apparently it is a hot topic, especially among government circles.

On Wednesday, I spoke at this workshop:

Application of the Autonomous Learning Environment in Foreign Language Education LEARN Workshop

Date: Tuesday, July 28th and Wednesday, July 29th
Loyola Columbia Graduate Center
Columbia, MD

The workshop was sponsored by the Federal Business Council in collaboration with several offices of the federal government that are involved with foreign language study and application.

There seemed to be about eighty people in the room.  The participants were instructors and course developers of a wide range of foreign languages from various USG-affiliated institutions.

The title of my talk was "Language Log as Scholarship and Pedagogy".  The organizers had specifically asked me to talk about Language Log, because they realized that it is a tremendous resource for autonomous learning.

The first slide I showed was this one, which I happened upon purely serendipitously just the day before:

"Learning Chinese with Victor Mair at Language Log"

Naturally, that pleased me no end, because I consider what I do on Language Log to be an extension of what I do at Penn as a professor of Chinese language and literature.

My talk was followed by lively discussion with the audience, focusing on specific strategies for efficient learning of reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

After the talk, a number of participants told me that I had gained many new followers for Language Log!


  1. Mara K said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 1:35 pm


  2. Rubrick said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 5:20 pm

    Wonderful! Although I must say that while I learn a great deal about Chinese languages (and culture and history) through your posts, I don't know any more "Chinese" than I did when I started, which is, sadly, none. (This is in no way a knock on you! No doubt if I knew a little Mandarin or Cantonese to start with, I'd have picked up quite a bit more through your posts.)

  3. Jeff W said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 6:23 pm

    Congratulations, Victor!

    A Chinese friend of mine in China, an instructor in English, was doing his master's thesis several years back in foreign language (English) education. His topic? Autonomy in foreign language learning. (When I think of “autonomy in learning” China is not the first place that springs to mind.)

    There is a Wikipedia page for the topic which credits Henri Holec as the “father of learner autonomy.” I think Holec could not have been unaware of Ed Deci’s work on self-determination, autonomy and intrinsic/extrinsic motivation, which, generally, provides a framework for understanding learner autonomy, if it is not, in fact, its theoretical basis. Deci’s book, Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, is a fairly non-technical explanation of self-determination theory and its implications—and I think it’s a pretty profound book. (I’ve actually given it to people as gifts, which might say more about me than about the book.) A YouTube video about it and some chapters (fair use, I guess) are available online.

  4. leoboiko said,

    July 31, 2015 @ 10:46 pm

    I am currently doing academic research on Japanese writing. I've learned a lot from Dr Mair's LanguageLog posts, and I'm citing a number of them (as well as traditional articles on JSTOR, and books I've been introduced to on this blog). The blog has also been a constant source of inspiration; and Dr Mair’s kind, insightful comments meant a lot to me. Thanks!

    I wonder what will happen to knowledge as research keeps moving to Internet-space. These are good times.

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