Editor’s note: In this piece, Allyson Niitani, a full-time student at the University of Puget Sound majoring in International Political Economics and Comparative Government, shares information about RILAE. Allyson is currently studying abroad at the Kanda University of International Studies in Japan and is an intern at the university’s Self-Access Learning Center.

The Research Institute for Learner Autonomy Education (RILAE) was established by the Self-Access Learning Center (SALC) at Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS), Chiba, Japan in 2017 by Dr. Jo Mynard (Director), Satoko Kato (Senior Education Coordinator), and Dr. Hayo Reinders (Senior Research Advisor). RILAE is a resource for teachers and researchers around the world interested in learner and teacher autonomy. The aim of RILAE is to promote research, professional development, and best practice in developing lifelong autonomous learning.

RILAE supports research and practice in a number of ways, firstly, through its journals. Relay Journal was established in 2018 and is an open-access and post-publication publicly peer-reviewed publication. The aim of this journal is to disseminate research and best practice in the broad areas of learner and teacher autonomy by reporting exploratory practice, action research, evaluations, and development work in the field. A second publication RILAE produces is the Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal (SiSAL Journal) is a quarterly, peer-reviewed, and open-access publication, which has been running since 2010.

Secondly, RILAE organizes online webinars called ‘LAb sessions’ that aim to facilitate the global exchange of research and best practice in language-learning autonomy by providing an open platform for researchers to meet and collaborate. Recent LAb sessions have been held on evaluating learner autonomy, learner autonomy and affect, and identity and learner autonomy.

Thirdly, RILAE maintains a repository of research instruments for investigating learner and teacher autonomy and is currently working on establishing a corpus of autonomy-related research data that researchers from around the world have generously made available for others to peruse. An important role for RILAE is to disseminate best practices in language advising and autonomy education through online and face-to-face courses, both at its campuses in Japan as well as at partner institutions globally.

Standing left to right: Rob Stevenson, Scott Shelton-Strong, Neil Curry, Huw Davies, and Isra Wongsarnpigoon.
Sitting left to right: Amelia Yarwood, Curtis Edlin, Satoko Watkins, Jo Mynard (Director), Kie Yamamoto, and Yuri Imamura

Finally, RILAE coordinates research projects in eight clusters: the psychology of autonomous learning, learning communities and spaces, autonomy and academic development, 360 learning (lifewide and lifelong), autonomous learning analytics, reflective dialogue, teacher autonomy and teacher development, and technology for autonomy. These research clusters hope to better understand the psychological effects of autonomous learning while developing methods to encourage students and teachers to become lifelong autonomous language learners.

Several current projects under the cluster dedicated to learning communities and spaces investigate students’ perceptions of the SALC and its facilities. The SALC has dedicated spaces for English learning; RILAE hopes to discover how to motivate students to utilize the current spaces for language study and use. RILAE research is incorporated into the Center, which is a large learning community promoting English language use. The SALC promotes collaborative learning between KUIS students and English-speaking international students.

With the advent of a digital age, RILAE hopes to discover methods to utilize technology in self-directed learning. Technological advancements have created opportunities for teachers and students to capitalize on apps, AR (automated response), and VR (virtual reality) to create a better learning environment. Research projects under the cluster of technology for autonomy focus on the creation of apps to manage self-directed learning through motivational tracking, provide recommendations for study materials, and develop AR/VR tours of learning spaces and communities to attract interest.

Through these activities, RILAE aims to create a platform for researchers and practitioners worldwide to share and learn and, in so doing, foster learner and teacher autonomy. Please click here to visit the RILAE website for more information on current projects and areas for collaboration or contact rilae@kuis.ac.jp.