Students’ and teachers’ readiness for autonomy: beliefs and practices in developing autonomy in the Chinese context


In 2004, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued the College English Curriculum Requirements in an effort to revitalise English language teaching in China. This official document underpins “College English”, a compulsory course for non-English majors in the first 2 years of university study. In a break with the past, the policy document placed considerable emphasis on the development of learner autonomy. Despite these aspirations, in practice it has been observed that many teachers struggle to implement their content (Lin, Chen, Journal of PLA University of Foreign Languages 32(2):45–50, 2009; Luo, Journal of the Foreign Language World 183(6):29–36, 2017; Xu, Language and Education 7(4):2–7, 2014). To better document this mismatch and identify its causes, this research investigated 668 students and 182 teachers’ beliefs, practices and readiness for autonomy in the context of the College English course. Through a triangulated approach, this article found that both the students and teachers appeared psychologically, but not technically or behaviourally, ready for autonomy. The challenges to the promotion of autonomy in Chinese universities, therefore, seem to be more about pedagogical than cultural impediments. We conclude the paper with a number of implications to enable classroom practitioners to better integrate the development of autonomy into the curriculum.

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  1. 1.

    The invalid responses refer to those with incomplete responses. If a teacher participant failed to answer all the questions in the two sections, his or her questionnaire was considered invalid.

  2. 2.

    f: frequency.

  3. 3.

    All the quotes have been translated by the authors.


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Correspondence to Lilan Lin.


Appendix 1


We would like to ask you to help us by participating in a survey. This questionnaire is not a test so there are no “right” or “wrong” answers. We are interested in your personal opinions. The results of this survey will be used for curriculum development in this school. Thank you very much for your help!

Section 1

In this section, circle your response for each item: 1: strongly disagree, 2: disagree, 3: neither disagree nor agree, 4: agree, 5: strongly agree

No Item 1 2 3 4 5
1 Students are responsible for deciding their learning goals      
2 Students are responsible for selecting learning materials that suit them      
3 Apart from the teachers, students are responsible for evaluating learning outcomes      
4 I believe I can overcome difficulties in my learning process.      
5 I am able to use effective learning strategies that suit me.      
6 I will learn more when I am interested in a topic      
7 I will encourage myself when I meet setbacks in the learning process      
8 Every time when I begin a learning task, I know my aims      
9 I can use different strategies for different learning tasks      
10 I have my objectives for English learning      
11 I have my own learning plans apart from the teachers’ assignments      
12 I have a clear idea how I should improve my English      
13 I give a process evaluation to make sure the tasks finished      
14 I can finish the learning tasks according to my plan      
15 I will monitor how I implement my learning plan after a period of time      
16 I will reflect how I have learnt      
17 I will evaluate my learning outcomes by finding out problems and solutions      
18 When I finish a task, I evaluate if I have attained the goal      
19 I know how to improve my English based on my weak points      
20 I can evaluate my progress and make a plan accordingly      

Section 2

In this section, please circle your response for each item: 1: never, 2: seldom, 3: sometimes, 4: often, 5: always

No Item 1 2 3 4 5
21 I preview the learning materials for classroom teaching      
22 Apart from the textbooks, I select learning materials that suit me      
23 I review what I have learnt recently      
24 I use the library and the internet to increase English knowledge      
25 I try to improve my listening by using the internet      
26 I have the habit of reading in English      
27 I have the habit of writing in English      
28 I use all the possible means to improve my oral English      
29 I select the suitable pace to finish the self-access listening tasks      
30 After learning one or two units, I will test my learning outcomes      
31 I learn the cultures of English-speaking countries to supplement my English learning      
32 I consult my teachers or classmates when I don’t understand      

Appendix 2

Survey of teachers’ perceptions of learner autonomy

How do you evaluate your students’ degree of autonomy? What is your general impression of the level of autonomy of the students in your classes?

What roles do you think a teacher should play in fostering students’ autonomy?

How would you implement these roles in your teaching practice?

Please specify approaches you think are helpful in promoting learner autonomy.

Have you ever tried any approaches to promote learner autonomy? If yes, how? What about the effects of the approach(es)? What might be the reasons for the success or the failure of your approach(es)?

What do you think is the biggest challenge in the promotion of learner autonomy?

Have you ever felt frustrated about how to foster learner autonomy? If yes, what might be the cause(s)?

Appendix 3

Student questionnaire

Do you think you are an autonomous learner? Please evaluate your level of autonomy in learning English.

Do you like the blended learning mode? Do you think that you are adapted to blended learning? If not, why?

What do you think is the biggest obstacle in this learning process?

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Lin, L., Reinders, H. Students’ and teachers’ readiness for autonomy: beliefs and practices in developing autonomy in the Chinese context. Asia Pacific Educ. Rev. 20, 69–89 (2019).

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  • Learner autonomy
  • Teacher autonomy
  • Readiness for autonomy
  • Teacher beliefs
  • Classroom practice