Autonomy in learning is a crucial component of education if they both, learning and education, intend to be successful. The formal education, however, does not give much space and support to learner´ autonomy. It is limited by large numbers of learners (pupils or students) and by extensive knowledge that has to be covered within the curriculum regardless of the level in education system. In foreign language learning, the students are usually taught in groups of approximately fifteen, which is a low number compared to other subjects. However, as language learning aims at communication in the particular language, it requires lots of time with individual students. The time schedule and other subjects then reduce the possibilities within the school and both teaching and learning becomes even more challenging.
Autonomous learning attempts to address the problems with lack of time and individual approach limitations. Furthermore, it develops metacognitive skills that enable students see the learning from a different perspective and to get involved in the learning process more actively. Consequently, they are rewarded with full recognition and better results. The positive feelings about autonomous learning then anticipate a will to learn further; and the prospects for lifelong learning are plausible.
Autonomous learning is not a new phenomenon, even though this term only appeared in 1970s. When we look at the history of tertiary education and focus on the first European universities (Bologna, Sorbonne, Oxford, Cambridge etc.), autonomous learning played an important part in the students´ lives. When we explore further in ancient times, we encounter Socrates and his questioning method that provokes students´ critical thinking and subsequently their autonomy. Undeniably, the number of students then, in Middle Ages or in Ancient Greece, was a fraction of the numbers of people studying at universities today, however the need to support the autonomy remains.