Hassan M. Kassem


Saudi EFL learners have been traditionally described as non-autonomous. During the coronavirus pandemic, Saudi universities shifted to online education. Scholars maintain that online education by its very nature enhances learner autonomy. The current study, that was conducted after students received three semesters of online education, aimed to explore the effect of the shift to online education on Saudi college EFL learners’ autonomy. It also investigated gender differences in learner autonomy. Both quantitative data by means of a self-report questionnaire (N=306) and qualitative data by means of a semi-structured online interview (N=20) were collected and analyzed. Quantitative data revealed that Saudi college EFL learners are autonomous (with a total mean of 4.02 out of 5). This mean is much higher than the means obtained in studies conducted before the shift to online education. Females outperformed males in just one dimension of learner autonomy, autonomous learning enjoyment. No gender differences were found in the other dimensions of learner autonomy or total learner autonomy. Qualitative data analysis indicated that students attributed to online education improvement in five important aspects of their learner autonomy, namely, goal setting and organization of study time, the use of the Internet and social media as learning resources, the use of performance feedback, self-assessment and computer skills. An aspect that witnessed some improvement but still has room for much improvement is reflection on learning.


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the COVID-19 pandemic, online education, learner autonomy; gender differences, Saudi college EFL learners

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