25 June 2021 LAb

6th LAb session. Friday 25th June, 2021. Landmarks in SALC Contexts. Thinking Back, Moving Forward.

Schedule overview (with links to recordings)

Full schedule, abstracts and recordings

Featured sessions:

  • Presentation by Katherine Thornton
  • Interview with Phil Benson about his new book ‘Language Learning Environments: Spatial Perspectives on SLA‘ (Multilingual Matters)
  • Reflections and Q&A with David Gardner and Lindsay Miller

The theme of this event and the upcoming issue of Relay Journal was inspired by several anniversaries. Firstly, it is the 20th anniversary of the Self-Access Learning Center (SALC) at Kanda University of International Studies, so this theme gives us the opportunity to look back at the field of self-access in general and reflect on the journey and the landmarks so far. This will naturally bring us to conversations about the future of self-access. 

In addition to our own anniversary, we can also celebrate significant landmarks in the wider field. For example, Henri Holec’s classic book ‘Autonomy on foreign language learning’ was published 40 years ago in 1981. David Little published his well-referenced book ‘Learner autonomy 1: Definitions, issues and problems’ 30 years ago in 1991. In the same year, Anita Wenden also published her book ‘Learner strategies for learner autonomy.’ Clearly 1991 was a significant year for learner autonomy as Benson published the first edition of his famous ‘sheep book’ or ‘Teaching and researching autonomy in language learning’ (this was updated and republished ten years after that in 2011). Turning more specifically to self-access, in 1999 David Gardner and Lindsay Miller published the milestone volume ‘Establishing self-access,’ and exactly thirty years ago, Susan Sheerin published a ‘state of the art’ paper on self-access in Language Learning. The (initially) rather niche field of self-access was later incorporated into the broader and more mainstream concept of ‘learning beyond the classroom’ with the publication of ‘Beyond the language classroom’ edited by Phil Benson and Hayo Reinders in 2011. Also ten years ago, Kanda University published a special issue of SiSAL Journal on ‘Self-access success stories’ (Navarro & Mynard, 2011). In this special issue there were four papers exploring different ways of examining self-access success and three ‘stories.’ 

The LAb session also drew on some recent publications. For example, in 2020, a new edited book on learner autonomy by Manuel Jiménez Raya and Flávia Vieira was published which contains several relevant chapters which take stock of the field of learner autonomy including two chapters specifically on self access. Katherine Thornton’s chapter explores the ‘changing role of self-access’ using a narrative approach to comment on the “ideological shifts and practical considerations” (p. 157) which have motivated changes in the relationship between self-access and learner autonomy. Maria Giovanna Tassinari and José Javier Martos Ramos (2020) also note how the field of self-access has evolved thanks to trends in research from other disciplines. In their chapter, they explore changes in roles (of teachers, managers and learners), conceptualizations of ‘places,’ approaches to evaluation, and some ideas for future developments. Jo Mynard (2021) has tracked the phases of self-access through the decades from personalized learning in the 1970s to computer-assisted learning in the 2000s, to the current phase which incorporates a focus on emotions, basic psychological needs and wellbeing in language learning. Benson (2017) has suggested that it is no longer useful to think in terms of language learning as only occurring either within or outside the classroom, but we can take a more holistic and ecological perspective on learning. Garold Murray and Terry Lamb (2017) helped us understand the underlying conceptualizations of space and place in relation to autonomy in language learning in their edited volume.

Presenters at the 6th LAb session were asked to consider some of the following questions: 

  • How was self-access in your context originally conceptualized? What changes has it experienced over time? 
  • What are some key features of your SALC? How and why were these initiated? How do these work in practice?
  • Through your practice, what have you noticed about the ways in which the field of self-access has developed or shifted?
  • What are some ways you or your colleagues have conducted research in self-access which have illustrated some kind of development of the field?
  • What effects do shifts have on language learning?
  • What does the future hold for the field? What are your predictions for the next phase of self-access? What are some challenges and opportunities for the future of self-access?

We particularly encouraged narratives which illustrate particular eras or landmarks. Presentations took one of the following formats:

  • Short narratives or reflections on the field 
  • Descriptions of practice (e.g., advising, social support systems, resource development, staff development, self-directed learning support) 
  • Theoretical conceptualizations 
  • Interviews
  • Reviews 


Benson, P. (2001). Teaching and researching autonomy in language learning. Longman

Benson, P. (2011). Teaching and researching: Autonomy in language learning. Longman

Benson, P. (2017). Language learning beyond the classroom: Access all areas. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 8(2), 135-146. https://doi.org/10.37237/080206

Benson, P., & Reinders, H. (Eds.) (2011). Beyond the language classroom. Palgrave Macmillan.

Gardner, D. & Miller, L. (1999). Establishing self-access: From theory to practice. Cambridge University Press.

Holec, H. (1981). Autonomy and foreign language learning. Pergamon.

Little, D. (1991). Learner autonomy 1: Definitions, issues and problems. Authentik.

Murray, G., & Lamb, T. (Eds.) (2017). Space, place and autonomy in language learning. Routledge.

Mynard, J. (2021). Supporting learners outside the language classroom: Theory and practice. Presentation at the webinar for the Center for Education Research, Queen’s University Belfast, April 20, 2021. https://tinyurl.com/xt9ufabs 

Navarro, D., & Mynard. J. (Eds.) (2011). Special issue on self-access success stories. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 2(1), 238-316. https://sisaljournal.org/archives/dec11/ 

Sheerin, S. (1991). Self-access. Language Teaching24(3)143 – 157. http://www.doi.org/10.1017/S0261444800006315

Tassinari, M. G., & Martos Ramos, J. J. (2020). Self-access language centres. In & M. Jiménez Raya & F. Vieira (Eds.), Autonomy in language education: Theory research and practice. (pp. 175-190). Routledge.

Thornton, K. (2020). The changing role of self-access in fostering learner autonomy. In & M. Jiménez Raya & F. Vieira (Eds.), Autonomy in language education: Theory research and practice. (pp. 157-174). Routledge.

Wenden, A. (1991). Learner strategies for learner autonomy. Prentice Hall.