A conceptual framework for Emergent Language Learner Autonomy - a complexity perspective for action research

Thomas Stringer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper addresses inconsistencies in how language learner autonomy has been understood. A novel conceptual framework of Emergent Language Learner Autonomy (ELLA) is proposed, reconceiving it within Complex Dynamic Systems Theory. ELLA aims at a comprehensive conceptual understanding of language learner autonomy, an explanatory foundation for enhancing empowerment of educational stakeholders.

The paper offers a review of the conceptual literature on language learner autonomy and explores intersections with operationalisation and measurement with Action Research.

The paper identifies areas in which reductionist theoretical models are unsuited to describing language learner autonomy. Complex Dynamic Systems Theory is found to be a better fit. The proposed conceptual framework is modelled on Hopfield networks: series of dynamic, transitional relations between temporary and final states through which multilateral changes propagate. Language learner autonomy arises under conducive conditions at inflection points as an epiphenomenon, underscoring the need for holistic epistemological reorientation in research and practice.

This paper puts forward an innovative conceptual framework for understanding language learner autonomy as an emergent phenomenon. It contributes to the wider literature by addressing the need to resolve conceptual inconsistencies that undermine much research and practice. The novel framework informs compelling arguments for Action Research by practitioners from a complexity perspective – embracing adaptive, dynamic, non-linear research designs. The framework also emphasises the need for practitioners to adopt exploratory approaches to fostering language learner autonomy in their context.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalInnovation in Language Learning and Teaching
VolumeLatest Articles
Early online date3 Jul 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Jul 2024


  • Learner autonomy
  • Complex dynamic systems
  • Emergence theory
  • Action research
  • Conceptual models


Dive into the research topics of 'A conceptual framework for Emergent Language Learner Autonomy - a complexity perspective for action research'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this