Exploring Student Perceptions of Self-Access Learning for Active Learning: A Case Study

Stuart D. Warrington, Department of English Studies, Nagoya University of Commerce and Business, Nagoya, Japan

Warrington, S. D. (2022). Exploring student perceptions of self-access learning for active learning: A case study. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 13(1), 108–128. https://doi.org/10.37237/130106

Abstract

Despite much being written about self-access learning and active learning, both still remain definitionally evasive concepts. How both are conceptualised is very often dependent upon how they are interpreted within the context they are implemented in. Hence, making sense of the relationship between self-access learning and active learning poses a problem, especially considering the dearth of literature available. With these points in mind, this study explored unknown, unexpressed, and unascertained student understandings of self-access learning to gauge what these suggest for enacting active learning at one private Japanese university. This was done via a qualitative case study using an open-ended survey with 53 Japanese university students majoring in English. The findings showed that learners have a vague conception of self-access learning, seeing it as an environmentally-situated behaviour where they are free to do what they want despite often being unclear about how to use their time and having no clear learning plans. These behaviours, taken together, suggest active learning is unlikely to emerge without initial learner comprehension and acceptance of self-access learning. Moreover, it is likely these cannot be enacted if the right kind of administrative support is not provided.

Keywords: self-access learning, active learning, self-access centre, perceptions

Since the start of the millennium, self-access learning has become more prevalent in Japan (Løfsgaard, 2015; Mynard, 2016). Indeed, an ever-increasing number of self-access learning centres (SALCs) are being established throughout the country with the goal of trying to help students become more autonomous vis-a-vis their learning. However, in spite of this development, self-access learning itself still remains “by far one of the most disputed” concepts with varying definitions (McMurry et al., 2010, p. 100) as it is something very much determined by context and particular perceptions on learning (Sturtridge, 1992).

Likewise, active learning (AL) has become a major educational priority in Japan (MEXT, 2014). Indeed, since 2014, The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) in Japan has proposed that AL should be implemented by teachers nationwide starting at the primary school level as a way of improving learning and promoting critical thinking (MEXT, 2014). Nevertheless, as MEXT has failed to clarify what AL is other than “mere use of instructional methods” (Ito, 2017, p. 6) and what and how learner abilities are to be specifically developed (Asanuma, 2015; Hashimoto, 2017; Nakasono & Tanigawa, 2018), it appears academic institutions have been left to make sense of AL for themselves (Fukuda et al., 2016). Hence, like self-access learning, AL appears as something to be independently interpreted within a given context and open to varying factors which influence how it is conceptualised. This makes understanding the relationship between self-access learning and active learning problematic, especially considering the scarcity of literature on this.

With these points in mind, this paper presents a case exemplifying and examining these circumstances. Initially, theoretical and research literature on how self-access learning is framed and how it relates to AL is reviewed. Thereafter, attention is turned to how self-access learning and AL have been conceptualised at one private Japanese university. Finally, a case study is presented exploring unknown, unexpressed, and unascertained student understandings of self-access learning and their implications for enacting AL within this institution.

Literature Review

How is Self-Access Learning Framed?

Although not an inevitable outcome, self-access learning can be described as the “ability to take charge of one’s own learning” (Holec, 1981, p. 3) and grants learners a chance to foster the habit of autonomous learning outside the classroom (Gardner & Miller, 2011). Such learners are thus free to choose what and where they would like to learn from a variety of sources and materials (van Lier, 1996). However, this ‘freedom’ can challenge their learning assumptions by asking them to accept that such “learning can occur outside the classroom and beyond the teacher’s gaze, and that it can be a collaborative, self-directed endeavour” (Croker & Ashurova, 2012, p. 237).

To manifest learner autonomy, individual learners must be encouraged to develop and find strategies they find useful for learning, as a means to setting goals for themselves (Gardner & Miller, 1999; Løfsgaard, 2015). Moreover, they need to develop a sense of responsibility for attaining these goals and must be encouraged to take an active part in making decisions about their learning since “it is only in this way that real learning can occur and be retained” (Scharle & Szabo as cited in Mayeda et al., 2008, p. 60).

But if this is going to occur, learners must first have the opportunity to take control of their own learning. That is, they must initially be able to decide what aspects of their learning to focus upon and choose whenthey want to work towards achieving them (van Lier, 1996). What is more, they must be able to conceive, construct, undertake and assess a learning initiative of their own volition while selecting and navigating individualised and/or social learning networks (Brookfield, 2009).

Yet, this can often prove difficult for many especially if they are “not used to learning on their own” and lack “the skills and experience to be successful in learning independently” (Reinders, 2014, p. 14). Indeed,the concept of self-access learning is alien to many. This appears especially true in Japan where education has traditionally been teacher-centred and learners commonly have little to no knowledge of self-access learning as a concept (Løfsgaard, 2015). However, Dínçer et al. (2010) would argue this is hardly surprising given self-access learning is predominantly grounded in the Western notions of individualism and independence as characteristics. Hence, it is likely to be perceived, at least initially, as something strange and of little benefit and use because of the absence of these concepts in education in Asian contexts like Japan (Dínçer et al., 2010). This too is not necessarily unexpected considering Japanese learners are introduced to and expected to quickly become accustomed to preparing for the entrance exams at middle and high school, where English as foreign language, for example, is little more than a subject requiring the memorization of grammatical rules (Løfsgaard, 2015).

To this end, it appears difficult for learners like those in Japan to accept more responsibility for their learning and many are likely to resist thinking about and deciding upon which learning strategies are best suited for them (Løfsgaard, 2015). Likewise, it is easy to mistakenly assume that what such learners want is to be permitted to independently decide how and what to study and to responsibly manage their own learning process (Chamot, 2014). To resolve this lack of self-awareness and autonomous learning habits, learners need to be presented with spaces and opportunities where “the principle of self-access or autonomous learning comes into play” (Løfsgaard, 2015, p. 31).  However, discovering such ways to enact this and extend student learning beyond the classroom can prove challenging as most learners often require help in setting and reaching their goals and are lost without proper guidance and continuous support on these (Reinders, 2014).

A further challenge is found in establishing and running a successful SALC that can intrinsically “attract the students to it and make them use it” (Løfsgaard, 2015, p. 34). As Croker and Ashurova (2012) state, “for many first-year Japanese university students, attending a self-access learning centre (SALC) can be daunting” (p. 237) even if an ideal environment is in place. Moreover, self-access learning itself is undoubtedly challenging for students without such experience (Croker & Ashurova, 2012; Jones, 1995), because when we ask them to “engage in a more complex, self-directed, self-regulated approach that requires interpretation and analysis, we are going against their very belief about what constitutes learning” (Svinicki, 2006, p. 3). This thus suggests that rather than expecting learners to readily accept full autonomy immediately, it is better and more effective to scaffold self-access learning into something they can gradually take more control of over the course of time (Croker & Ashurova, 2012; Gillies, 2010).

Self-Access Learning for Active Learning (AL)

Self-access learning is often associated with one teaching oneself or being guided by others on how to learn and measure one’s language input and output (Herder, 2006). But such learning should not be mistakenly interpreted as simply a solitary act where learners study alone (Benson, 1996; Dam, 1995; Harris & Noyau, 1990; Kenny, 1993; Lee, 1998; Littlewood, 1996; Macaro, 1997; Pemberton, 1996; van Lier, 1996). Indeed, if learning, as Little and Brammerts (1996) argue, is supposedly “an interactive process, then the development of learner autonomy is a collaborative matter” (p. 28). That is, the help and assistance learners provide each other when amongst themselves is pivotal in prompting them to “make the transition from dependence on the teachers to wholly independent task performance” (Little & Brammerts, 1996, p. 28). With respect to AL, most teachers want learners to assume their learning responsibilities themselves in order to “have positive interdependence” or the ability “to see themselves as sharing a common goal or goals” with others (Jacobs et al., 2002, p. 36). This is supported by Geary (1998) who states that learners can come to move “from dependence toward independence via interdependence” (p. 1) where being autonomous includes “an understanding of how and when collaboration may be beneficial and the right to choose it” (Murphey & Jacobs, 2000, p. 6). To this end, interdependence in no way suggests students are incapable of directing their learning behaviour autonomously (Kimura, 2014). They can certainly be independent while encouraging the development of a system of group work and support in and beyond their self-access centres (Jacobs & Kimura, 2013).

In essence then, the skill-set required by AL, at least as it appears in Japan, seemingly emphasises the enhancement of active and direct learner engagement in the learning process via individual creation and respective sharing of knowledge as a means to collaboratively solve a problem or complete group-oriented project work, before reporting on it in some unspecified way (Kimura & Tatsuno, 2017; Mizokami, 2014). Hence, AL intrinsically requires learners to be able to learn autonomously coupled with the ability to take initiative within group-related work. There is strong empirical evidence that active involvement in the learning process via interaction with others is vitally important for the mastery of skills, such as critical thinking and problem-solving (Braxton et al., 2008; Prince, 2004). Moreover, if self-awareness is to be fostered, active involvement in group work is requisite. Indeed, as Mayeda et al. (2008) state, “autonomy and responsibility both require active involvement and this step allows for dynamic and active learning to take place in combination with self-awareness” (p. 58).

Hence, this would seem to suggest that, at least in theory, self-access learning is important for enacting AL. Yet, to my knowledge, there remains a significant dearth of research to support this notion especially within the context of Japan. In fact, other than Serag’s (2013) case study and another undertaken by Ota (2014), I could find no other research which specifically examined Japanese learners’ perceptions of self-access learning with direct or indirect implications for AL. With this in mind, I next describe a case study I undertook accounting for this gap in the literature. 

Methodology

This section outlines a qualitative case study directed at understanding students’ self-access learning for AL. The study was undertaken at the self-access centre (SAC) at Nagoya University of Commerce and Business (NUCB). Initially, an overview of the SAC, self-access learning and active learning at NUCB is provided. Thereafter, information on the participants, the method used to collect data and the subsequent analysis of the latter is discussed.

The SAC and Self-Access Learning at NUCB

The SAC at NUCB is one of the first self-access centres in Japan and has been in operation since 1998 (Monk & Ozawa, 2002). It is located on the first floor of the library and functions to provide a service to extend student learning beyond the classroom (Monk & Ozawa, 2005).  Since the university enacted a coercive ‘push’-oriented (i.e., administratively directed) attendance policy in 2004, it has been compulsory for all 1st year and 2nd and 3rd year students majoring in English to attend a minimum of one 100-minute weekly session in the SAC over 12 weeks or 20 hours a semester (Monk & Ozawa, 2005; Warrington, 2018). Failure to comply with this policy results in ineligibility to take final exams and a loss of credit (Monk & Ozawa, 2005). However, it is not mandatory for students from other faculties to attend the SAC unless they have enrolled in a SAC-required course (i.e., an English language course requiring weekly SAC attendance).

With respect to practice, the SAC was originally framed as a place for students to do assignments and study for exams (Monk & Ozawa, 2002, 2005). However, since 2014, a concerted effort has been made to dismantle this perception by reframing the SAC through pre-semester orientations and practice as a place where students are free to study alone, in pairs or groups, and can learn and do what they want as long as they each set a personalised learning goal for themselves every week and strive to achieve it. Students are supported by the SAC manager, the assistant SAC manager, the SAC committee, and faculty volunteers from the Department of English Studies who all provide onsite advising for them whenever they want and/or need it. To maintain a record of their work and prove their SAC attendance, each student is initially required to fill out a weekly online pre-task (preparation) form describing one’s self-access goal for the day and the space and resource(s) to be used. Subsequently, after completing one’s chosen task, a student needs to fill out an online post-task (reflection) form where one is prompted to think deeply about and respond to a series of questions on the particular task completed. These forms are then submitted online and thereafter organised by the SAC manager and sent to teacher volunteers who provide weekly online feedback to encourage further dialogue, reflection and learner development.

Active Learning (AL) at NUCB

Because NUCB is one of a number of private universities receiving support from MEXT in the form of tax incentives, subsidies and loans (MEXT, 2017), it has been highly passionate about implementing AL in the classroom. In fact, it has gone to great lengths to show its adherence to MEXT guidelines by adopting AL as its new motto of teaching throughout the university and even renaming a building after it (i.e. The Active Learning Center). However, the university’s administration has unfortunately never formally defined AL for its teaching faculty other than stating they do not want passive students in classes. Thus, AL has been left wide open to various interpretations. This predicament only became more apparent when, during a series of faculty development meetings on AL between 2019 -2021, various interpretations of it were demonstrated, which only fostered confusion and raised a number of questions. This lack of clarification on the terminology and the fact that this has still not been resolved has inevitably come to suggest that AL is perhaps no more than a buzzword the university is using to either appease MEXT and meet its agenda, promote itself, or both. Whatever the case may be, if the teaching faculty at NUCB are not collectively clear on AL despite being expected to practice it, then one is left to speculate what kind of adverse impact this is having on student understanding, acceptance and practice of it.

Participants

The participants in this case study were purposively selected from a population of 150 students surveyed as a result of being required to attend the university’s SAC. This population featured 1st to 4th year bachelor degree students from the Faculties of International Studies, Business, Management and Commerce. Based on SAC attendance records, the language background of most of the students is predominantly Japanese but there are L1 speakers from South America, The Middle East and other Asian nations, who speak Portuguese, Spanish, Arabic, Korean and Chinese. However, since these students were invited to participate anonymously, it is not known which of the 150 students took part other than indicating their gender, year, and faculty. Therefore, there was likely a high variation in English language proficiency. The total number of participants that elected to partake in the study was 53 and each provided their informed consent. These were all English language majors in the Faculty of International Studies. The gender ratio of the participants was 16 male to 37 female students.

Method

This case study aimed to explore Japanese university students’ perceptions of self-access via an open-ended online survey created using Google Forms. This method was thought to be less intrusive and a more democratic way for students to voice their unknown, unexpressed, and unascertained understandings of self-access learning without making any kinds of assumptions or presumptions about them in advance. It was also used to encourage them to respond while accounting for the power asymmetry that commonly exists between researchers and participants that can affect the latter’s responses (O’Cathain & Thomas, 2004; Wenemark, 2010). Moreover, it was utilised in light of technological improvements which now allow for the easier and more convenient capturing of typed responses and their subsequent analysis as useful data (Singer & Couper, 2017).

The research questions for this inquiry were:

Research Q1. How do the student’s construe self-access learning?

Research Q2. What do these perceptions suggest for enacting AL?

Based on these research questions, three open-ended survey questions were designed to investigate learners’ construal of self-access learning. The students were asked to respond in English or Japanese to the following questions:

Survey Q1. What does ‘self-access learning’ mean to you?

Survey Q2. What is the purpose of the SAC for students?

Survey Q3. How is studying in the SAC different from regular classes?

These questions were written in English and in Japanese because of the limited English abilities of many of the participants and the potential for them to be misinterpreted. In addition, to provide anonymity, protect their privacy, and encourage responses, participants were not required to provide their name or any identifying details other than that previously stated (i.e., gender, year and faculty).

Data Collection and Analysis

During the data collection period, student responses in Japanese were translated into English by the SAC manager who is has an advanced level of Japanese (JLPT 1 NI) with the help of the assistant SAC manager who is a native speaker of Japanese. These were then analysed. The survey was administered online through Google Forms which students could access via a link between December 1st and 31st 2021. Students had 4 weeks to anonymously respond, and responses were automatically recorded and saved on the online survey.

The data were analysed separately at first and compared thereafter. These interpretations were then sent to a colleague acting as a ‘critical friend’ (Norris, 1997) to provide an objective lens on them. Content analysis was used to make sense of the data (Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Richards, 2003). First, themes which emerged from the participants’ responses were identified. Each theme was accompanied by selected quotations from the data supporting it. Then, cross-comparisons were made for a consensus of themes. Thereafter, these were again sent to the same critical friend for scrutiny from an objective standpoint. Based on this feedback, main themes were finally identified and specific quotations selected which espoused each of them. These themes as findings are subsequently described under each survey question in the next section.

Findings

What Does ‘Self-Access Learning’ Mean to You? 

The first major theme to emerge from the survey was the notion of compulsory study. This refers to the fact that students are required by the university to attend the SAC without any supervision or learning requirement (See Table 1 for all responses). This theme was broken into two sub-themes: concept of study and compulsory regulations. In relation to the former, many students appeared to have a superficial understanding of ‘self-access learning’ as understood through particular words they used to describe it (e.g., “study”, “development”, and “improve”). Moreover, their answers appeared vague because they did not specify the actual tasks, objectives, or the rationale behind and driving their self-access learning.

Another subtheme to surface was the view of self-access learning as something they have to do as part of their SAC attendance requirement which they primarily use to do assigned work. This came to light via comments made by a number of participants. For instance, one student stated that a person “feel(s) forced go. If you miss, you won’t get the credits.” Likewise, another mentioned how it is “a meaningless time which you have to stay 100 minutes for to get the credits.”  This again demonstrates student understanding and disdain for the SAC attendance policy.

Table 1

The Meaning of ‘Self-Access Learning’ for Students

What is the Purpose of the SAC for Students?

For this question, environmentallysituated self-study was identified as a second major theme.  This relates to the problem of students not viewing self-access learning as a self-motivating and self-directed process but rather self-study for assigned work that has to physically take place in the SAC (See Table 2 for all responses). This theme was separated into two sub-themes: unspecified self-work and environmentallysituated learning. The first sub-theme related to learners’ perceptual ambiguity on the learning contents. For example, two respondents connected ‘self-access learning’ to the action of individual study. One student wrote, “To study by yourself”, and the other actually mentioned “independent study” albeit without further explanation. However, none of the participants in the study acknowledged or showed an understanding that self-access learning can also be collaborative in nature. Moreover, the content of their self-study was always left unspecified, hinting at their perhaps limited understanding of the purpose of self-access learning.

A second subtheme to emerge was that students felt inclined to physically limit their self-access learning to the SAC. This undoubtedly relates to SAC attendance policy and was clearly interpreted as needing to be physically present in the SAC to receive extrinsic rewards (i.e. credits). This was only made more apparent given that no one indicated an intrinsic motivation for studying and learning in the SAC, and appeared to confine such activity to the SAC alone. For instance, one participant felt the need to “forcibly switch to study” when in the SAC, while contrastively another felt the SAC was a supportive environment for individual study and learning as there are few distractions (e.g. “I can concentrate better here”). In conceding the benefit of the SAC being a good place for students to study and learn, these findings still suggest it adversely determines what many of them do. That is, the SAC is the physical manifestation of the SAC attendance policy where coercion to study and learn takes precedence over the freedom to choose and do both.

Table 2

The Purpose of the SAC

How is Studying in the SAC Different From Regular Classes?

As for this question, a third and final major theme identified was unspecified self-paced study. This concerns student decisions in regards to how they use their time in the SAC (See Table 3 for all responses). This theme was divided into two sub-themes: autonomous choice of pace and individuality. The first sub-theme was identified as a result of many students mentioning the idea of pace in their answers (e.g., “…study your own way”; “…at your own pace”). These expressions imply a degree of understanding about self-access learning by recognizing their autonomy, but there was no clear indication of students using such autonomy for learning purposes.

Such ambiguity was only further compounded by the emergence of a second sub-theme, individuality. This construal of “self-pace” was also not specified for learning purposes. Some participants referred to the SAC as a venue where “we can do anything we want”,or  “we are free”, implying they appreciate the autonomy they have despite not indicating an understanding of what to do with such freedom. However, some students suggested feeling uneasy with having such autonomy as evidenced by statements like “we have to get on with things by ourselves because there are no teachers”. To this end, it seems this individuality coupled with not necessarily knowing what to do when presented with freedom compels some students to find something to do in the SAC.

Table 3

How Students Perceive Studying in the SAC

Discussion and Conclusion

Interpretations of Findings

From this inquiry, it was found that students prefer to see themselves as free to do what they want in the SAC. This suggests that the sustained reframing of the SAC since 2014 is helping to dismantle Monk and Ozawa’s (2005) original purpose for it. However, at the same time, this learner viewpoint juxtaposed with the uncertainty of knowing what to do with this freedom, is leading many, as Reinders (2000) asserts, to choose to do what is assigned instead. This strongly suggests the student mentality toward the function and purpose of the SAC has largely remained unchanged since the SAC attendance policy was initiated. Besides this dilemma, the findings show that the purpose and function of self-access learning is seemingly not grasped thus giving credence to Ota’s (2014) and Serag’s (2013) findings. Moreover, self-access learning appears to not be seen as conceptually ubiquitous. Instead, it is viewed as something individually enacted in a designated place – the SAC. This environmentally situated-behaviour (Table 2) may be a result of SAC personnel failing to provide clarity on what self-access learning is. Yet, it may also be symptomatic of the power of the SAC attendance policy in how it prevents student from understanding the concept of self-access learning by ‘pushing’ them to focus on attending the SAC to avert the threat of loss of credit while continuing to do predominantly assigned homework as an extension to the classroom.

As for those who do not have assignments to complete, there emerges a clear sense of freedom to engage in something but it is very unclear if this includes learning something autonomously in the SAC. Moreover, as the SAC attendance policy has and currently continues to negate any possibility of fostering intrinsic motivation among students, many appear to see self-access learning as just an easy but tedious source of credit achieved through compulsory attendance in a designated place. In other words, attending the SAC has seemingly come to be an environmentally-situated behaviour that does not appear to encourage the creation and pursuit of any specific intrinsicallydriven learning goals.

Hence, taken together, these findings raise a number of concerns. One is that the SAC continues to lack its own identity (see Warrington, 2018), refuting Monk and Ozawa’s (2002) claim. Given the SAC is situated in the library, significant environmental and architectural changes are needed to help learners physically distinguish it from the library so they can learn and know they should act differently in and beyond it. However, this is a far from simple considering the sustained difficulties in procuring administrative and financial support to make such changes. Thus, it appears that the only current course of action for SAC personnel is to help students to psychologically distinguish it from the library. With this in mind, it is requisite that learners receive sustained training in the SAC with a focus on the purpose and function of self-access learning through specifically designed workshops throughout the year. However, this will have to be undertaken differently in light of past attempts that failed to get students to participate in them (Monk & Ozawa, 2005). What is more, in view of the findings, the principles of autonomous learning currently in place and designed to guide student behaviour in and beyond the SAC will need to be revisited. In other words, it is necessary that they be critically reflected upon and re-envisaged prior to such training to ensure they are grounded in a strong pedagogical rationale (Benson, 2001). These, it is hoped, will help learners to identify the SAC differently from the library and, in turn, come see self-access learning as something that transpires both autonomously and ubiquitously but not without the creation of plans to achieve specific self- or socially-driven learning goals. But, this is unlikely to come to fruition if the current attendance policy does not change. To this end, a revamping of the current attendance policy is necessary if it is to encourage intrinsic motivation for autonomous learning. But just how to successfully do this remains a very difficult endeavour.

Implications for AL

In terms of enacting AL, the findings suggest there are some real challenges to be faced. In view of the Japanese educational system and its passive learning culture imposed on students from a very young age, learning autonomously continues to remain problematic which, in turn, has a negative impact on student learning outcomes at the university level (Løfsgaard, 2015; Kingston, 2004). Hence, the cultural dispositions these learners hold towards learning suggest they will only hinder acceptance of AL (Bonwell & Eison, 1991; Doyle, 2008; Ginsberg, 2006; Tickle, 2014). Indeed, research has shown that it has often proved very difficult to convince many learners to revise their learning roles (Modell, 1996; Tickle, 2014). Moreover, there are some learners who may openly disapprove of AL, complaining that its purpose and function directly involves them in the learning process, which they see as strange, irreconcilable and even a waste of time (Mazur as cited by Lambert, 2012; Paul, 2016). Certainly there are some who might understandably struggle to accept it as a result of being shy or awkward or because of a lack of familiarity and trust with new people they may come to encounter (Baepler et al., 2016; Ishikawa et al., 2015).  However, there may also be those who openly resent it because they want to remain unseen, unheard and disengaged and see the use of group work for learning as excessive, tedious and even a form of surveillance indirectly employed to counter their passivity (Baepler et al., 2016).

Yet, there may be learners at NUCB who embrace AL, albeit by mistake. That is, by misinterpreting its social approach to learning as merely an opportunity to be social, some learners might focus on building rapport with other group members rather than the value of learning through and with them (Baepler et al., 2016). This appears to be occurring in the SAC as SAC personnel have had to deal with disruptive behaviour requiring disciplinary action despite the conversion of individual study rooms into group study rooms to promote AL. This socialising as a learning distraction may only be made more problematic by the lack of requisite leadership, autonomy and self-awareness that can often manifest in groups of learners where no one makes a valuable social contribution to anything (Baepler et al., 2016; Higano, 2014). Moreover, it may be further complicated by a lack of balance in group members’ academic abilities which not surprisingly contributes to the dysfunction of the group (Baepler et al., 2016). However, even if students do successfully form a group to complete a project or task, they may just engage in what Mayeda et al. (2008) refer to as ‘subtractive independence’ (p. 57) where they do required work for a group but independent of one’s group members with little to no interaction and collaboration with them. Hence, in light of this and the aforementioned points, the prospect of reifying and enacting AL at NUCB continues to look bleak in the absence of student understanding and acceptance of and administrative support for self-access learning.

Limitations and Future Directions

Despite attempting to be as robust as possible, there are some study limitations to acknowledge. First, this case study was small in scale and limited to number of particular students studying at one private higher education institution. Therefore, the findings are not perceived as transferrable to other contexts and left to the reader to decide what to take from them (Kennedy, 1979). Nevertheless, this inquiry has, at the very least, helped to reveal representative insights on a relatively complete student body within a given context.

Another limitation recognised relates to the possible misinterpretation of survey questions. As these were translated from English into Japanese, this may have resulted in student misunderstandings of the intended meanings of my questions. Likewise, the English translation of the Japanese responses to my questions may not have necessarily reflected the true meaning of the latter.

Finally, due to time restrictions and concerns with ethical issues regarding student anonymity, no follow up questions could be asked. Hence, there were likely some significant things participants left unsaid. More questions are currently being considered for a future-related inquiry.               

Notes on the Contributor

Stuart Warrington, Ed.D., is a professor and the head of the SAC committee in the Department of English Studies at Nagoya University of Commerce and Business. His research interests include professionalism and professional development in ELT and self-access and learner and learning advisor autonomy.

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