This study has yielded a rich set of data that has provided valuable insights into the perception and practices of fostering learner autonomy. The integrated results basically manifested that the satisfaction of learners’ innate needs facilitated them to move along the “learner autonomy continuum” gradually.
Results of the surveys
To analyze and probe the results fully, data collected from both the pre-survey and the post-survey via the questionnaire were processed using SPSS to perform preliminary analysis and multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA).
Two sets of data collected from the questionnaire were listed and compared between Class A and Class B as follows (Table 3).
Table 3 shows the mean, standard deviation (SD), and Cohen’s d of each subscale of the surveys for both Class A and Class B, indicating change in the students’ perceived need satisfaction, learning motivation, and EFL learner autonomy before and after the implementation of the APLA in Class A. Obviously, the pre-survey’s mean of both classes was medium and quite similar, but there was quite a large gap between the mean of two classes in the post-survey. Cohen’s d suggested that Class A had much stronger effect than Class B. Moreover, the post-measure SD of Class A decreased more than that of Class B, signifying that the implementation of the APLA facilitated an overall progress in learner autonomy along with need satisfaction and motivation in Class A. However, Cohen’s d of Class A in Table 3 also revealed a weak effect of controlled motivation (d = −0.7) and self-monitoring (d = 0.84).
To confirm the working concept of “learner autonomy continuum,” concerning the positive link between need satisfaction, learning motivation, and learner autonomy, three composite variables (satisfaction of three needs, two types of learning motivation, and five subscales of learner autonomy) were submitted to MANOVA for homogeneity tests and main effects tests.
Homogeneity tests Data collected from the pre-survey were used for homogeneity tests between Class A and Class B. The between-subject MANOVA was performed on three dependent factors (three composite variables): need satisfaction, learning motivation, and learner autonomy. Using an alpha level of 0.05 to evaluate homogeneity assumptions, neither Box’s M test of homogeneity of covariance (P > 0.05) nor Levene’s homogeneity of variance test (P > 0.05) was significant (see Table 4). The results indicated that Class A and Class B were homogeneous before the implementation of APLA.
Tests of between-subject effects To examine if the three composite variables were positively linked to each other and to determine how effective the APLA was, the data collected from both the pre-survey and the post-survey were submitted to MANOVA, with Group (Class A and Class B) as the fixed factor and the three composite variables and their scores as the dependent factors. Tests of between-subject effects were conducted on variables of each dependent factor one by one to examine significant differences between Class A and Class B before and after the intervention. Results of main effect tests were presented below (Table 5).
It can be seen from Table 5 that there were no significant effects of the pre-survey between Class A and Class B (ps > 0.05), confirming that the two classes were homogeneous with respect to self-assessed need satisfaction, learning motivation, and self-directed learning. However, the main effects of the post-survey between Class A and Class B were significant (ps = 0.000 < 0.05) in self-perceived need satisfaction, academic motivation, and autonomous learning. The results were in accordance with those of the preliminary analysis. That is, satisfying learners’ innate needs in EFL education contributed to the developed learner autonomy.
Results of the interviews
Ten open-ended questions were designed concerning the ten subscales of the questionnaire. The answers to the questions and data gathered from the follow-up interviews in both the pre-survey and the post-survey were summarized in three parts as follows (Table 6).
Data collected from the open-ended questions and the interviews (Table 6) were almost in line with the results of the questionnaires. Most students from Class A confirmed that their psychological needs were better satisfied while implementing the APLA, which motivated them to learn actively. They emphasized that skills and strategies for EFL autonomous learning empowered them to learn effectively. They enjoyed collaborative learning that made tedious work interesting and productive. On the other hand, the students in Class B (the comparison group) were happy to tell that they gained knowledge of academic English and mastered some cognitive strategies for academic English learning, but they felt bored and depressed when talking about autonomous learning. Noteworthily, quite a few students from both classes admitted that EFL learning was both an academic need and somewhat a burden for them, and that they did it for an instrumental purpose. Moreover, they neither attached much importance to self-monitoring nor bothered to do it due to the reactive educational culture they had been used to.
Results of proficiency tests
The results of the pre-test were used to perform independent-samples T test, with the mean values of 53.8750 and 53.0606 for Class A and Class B, respectively, F = 0.278, t = 0.521, p = 0.604 > 0.05, ES = 0.128, justifying that the difference between the two classes was not significant, which indicated that the two groups were homogeneous with similar English proficiency.
The results of the pre-test and post-test for the two groups were listed and compared below (Table 7). Comparing the mean values of the pre-test and post-test, we can see that Class A made greater progress than Class B after one academic year’s study. It was also worth noting that SD of the two classes moved in opposite ways, indicating that individual difference in English proficiency reduced in Class A, but increased in Class B.
Congruously, independent-samples T test of the post-test of two groups also proved that the difference in progress between the two groups was significant, F = 1.324, t = 3.306, p = 0.002 < 0.05, ES = 0.892. Moreover, ANOVA was conducted on the results of the pre-test and post-test between the two groups, respectively. Results of ANOVA suggested that the progress of Class A was significant, F (1, 62) = 44.037, p = 0.000 < 0.05, and that Class B also made significant progress, F(1, 64) = 10.274, p = 0.004 < 0.05, but not as much as that of Class A. The results suggested that the level of EFL learner autonomy was positively correlated with the level of EFL proficiency.
Evidences from the journals
A simple journal format was set to guide the participants what to write in the journal. It was also convenient for the author to transcribe them. A journal contains five components: date, topic and content, positive effect, problems or weaknesses, and solution (Table 8). Data collected from the journals were transcribed into three parts. They were evidences verifying the effect of the APLA and the students’ progress in learner autonomy. The following three kinds of journal provided evidences to prove the hypotheses that basic need satisfaction motivated self-regulated learning and that strategy training improved learning effectiveness and efficiency dramatically.
Evidences from peer observation
The observation journal recorded the strengths and weaknesses of teaching methods, learning activities, learners’ attitudes, learning performance, and learning climate in class. The observation log showed that in the first couple of months there was not much difference between the two classes. Then gradually Class A became more and more active and enthusiastic in presenting collaborative learning outcomes, providing comments and assessment for classmates, while Class B was somewhat passive. The results demonstrated “significant peer effects among college students”(Lu 2014; Ha 2016). Some typical comments on Group A are quoted as follows.
Quite a few students somewhat feel bored in strategy training, but they tend to use some strategies to do exercises effectively.
It seems that the students are more proactive in learning what they are interested in. Obviously, the students bring their potential into full play to learn EFL when they are allowed to make their own decision and to choose what they like.
It is amazing to watch students’ well-prepared and creatively-presented group work. The innovative elements and their special way of presenting often arouse laughter, and attract the fellows’ attention. It seems that collaborative learning motivates students to challenge difficult learning tasks together and to do better jobs.
Recently, Class A give me a big surprise from time to time. They perform very well in cosplay, English movie dubbing, English story-telling, international sports news broadcasting, English learning skill and strategy introduction and so on. Most of the classmates and the teachers are fascinated and interact enthusiastically.
Evidences from the teaching log
What stood out from the teaching log were the students’ enjoyment in collaborative learning and their progress in peer monitoring and peer assessment. At the beginning, the teacher felt quite frustrated trying to involve the students in metacognitive strategy training. The students prioritized EFL cognitive strategies, not realizing the importance of metacognitive strategies. With the help of peer teachers’ observation and advice, the teacher adapted learner training methods: providing the students with choices instead of full autonomy, training learning strategies according to their weaknesses, and slipping the metacognitive strategy training into academic English course education skillfully. Gradually, Class A enjoyed making their own choices, gained confidence due to skill and strategy training, and became more active and creative due to collaborative learning. To the teacher’s surprise, the students did very well in offering reasonable, wise, and informative comments on peers’ work. Nonetheless, they were still relatively weak in self-monitoring and self-assessment.
Evidences from the learning log
The students’ learning logs revealed that they valued cognitive strategy training, hoping that they could learn academic English efficiently. Another outstanding point that most students mentioned was collaborative learning. They realized that teamwork provided opportunities for them to learn from each other and to tackle challenging tasks together, which yielded enthusiasm to learn. Some students claimed that independent and individual learning could be more effective, but they never enjoyed it. Moreover, the students appreciated comments and feedback from the teacher and peers, which gave them a motive to move on. Lastly and interestingly, most students cared much about examination, but they felt bored when doing exercises related to examination. Unfortunately, quite a few students felt tired of keeping the learning log, just jotting down a few words or even writing nothing.