Autonomous learner, freedom and boundaries

Jenny Mackness has some questions on the principle of autonomy in connectivism.  She writes “Learners are increasingly exercising autonomy regarding where, when, how, what and with whom to learn.”. In the conclusion of this paper: ” The key features of a complex, open course, rich in emergence, are that it is not defined by what must happen, but rather by what must not happen – the boundaries of openness”

living in your own house

Autonomy is a difficult philosophical concept and question. Some say humans are never autonomous, because they are social in nature and need each other.  I think it great of Jenny Mackness to make a list in her blog  “Characteristics of an autonomous learner” of what people mean to say when they use the word autonomous. The list is a description of an ideal image of a very good university student, the dream of every teacher.

In psychology autonomy is regarded as a quality, characteristic of a grown up adult. It can be confused with total independence and self-sufficiency, but it is about making your own choices and about freedom.  An autonomous person can make a choice how to deal with dependence. A prerequisite to be autonomous is to recognize that personal capabilities are limited and that the environment provides limits. Who owns the quality within those boundaries to shape one’s life can be described as autonomous.

The Dutch has a word for autonomy “zelfstandigheid” it literally means one can stand on his own feet.

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Autonomous learner, freedom and boundaries

  1. ‘One can stand on his own feet’. I like that. It suggests to me that there might be a continuum between standing on your own feet – as a starting point – to an end point of the fully autonomous dream of every teacher , i.e. people can be more or less autonomous – which would then also mean that teachers can have some influence?

    ‘Some say humans are never autonomous, because they are social in nature and need each other.’ This is a thought provoking sentence. It suggests that autonomy could be different according to the context?

    Thanks – I am still thinking 🙂

    Jenny

  2. Teachers (and parents and friends) do have influence. I have been a teacher, so maybe I have a bias. 😉 Education, my teacher said, is helping someone to become an autonomous adult.
    Autonomy differs according to context. Autonomy is a quality, so it does not exist without a context. One could be a more or less autonomous student, taking responsibility for the study, and this same student could be not autonomous in choosing the way she dresses.

  3. Hi Jaap,

    I wandered over here following the link from Jenny’s blog, as this is also a topic of interest for me. I think you are suggesting that much of the discussion of learning might relate to psychological autonomy? This is interesting, as this can be scary in an existential kind of way, and I wonder if restrictions to autonomy in other spheres of life ultimately hinder this.

    I’m also a bit bemused by the current discussions in education (and this might be a US-centric observation) which suggests that we can or should “create” autonomous learners. I like Jenny’s list because it is more descriptive in nature, and she talks about fostering (existing?) autonomy… but I have to wonder if autonomy will become, perhaps ironically, also prescriptive in some way.

    The difference between autonomy and independence (the latter is how I’ve always translated the German “Selbständigkeit:)) might bear further thought… Autonomy is the inner state, independence relates to the externalized action? I suspect there’s a lot of philosophical dialogue already written on this!

    Also still thinking:)
    Carmen

  4. Great to see Carmen’s comments here.

    ‘The difference between autonomy and independence (the latter is how I’ve always translated the German “Selbständigkeit:)) might bear further thought… Autonomy is the inner state, independence relates to the externalized action? I suspect there’s a lot of philosophical dialogue already written on this!’

    Yes – there is – and I am following this up as we speak!

    Thanks to you both for emphasising autonomy as an internal quality.

    Jenny

  5. independence (Unabhangigkeit) : you do not need anybody.
    zelfstandigheid (Selbstandigkei) : you make your decisions

    one can be ‘zelfstandig’ (autonomous??) and yet be dependent on people for food and help.

  6. Thanks for the interesting discussion. I am still confused if Selbständigkeit is better translated by independence or by autonomy. You prefer autonomy for zelfstandigheid ? I tried to draw a map contains dictionary translations, definitions and synonyms. For me it was helpful to visualize the terms using the conceptual layer of connectivism; the concept of Selbständigkeit I am looking for is contained in the brown connections, and those concepts that are confusing and distracting are contained in the pink connections. (Here it becomes obvious that it is not sufficient to look at the nodes, because they are ambiguous!)

  7. Matthias, I like your concept map on autonomy and zelfstandigheid. Translating is difficult because words do not have a 1-1 translation. These words all have a cloud of meanings and these clouds do overlap. These words about autonomy are philosophical terms and ideological terms and because of that they do have more different meanings than common words. It helps me to remember these words with their opposite. dependent – independent autonomous – bound zelfstandig – ondergeschikt onafhankelijk – afhankelijk

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s