ERG SES C 01, ICT and Education
Autonomous language learning (ALL), which is defined as taking control over one’s language learning (Benson, 2011), has recently seen a growing interest both from the researchers and practitioners. It is suggested that ALL is more effective than learning non-autonomously since it is generally related to ‘greater perceived meaningfulness, personal relevance, emotional investment and a greater likelihood of internalization (Lai, 2017, p. 3). Vazquez (2016, p. 97) also suggests that autonomous language learning is particularly important when “the increased need for plurilinguistic competence” has become one of the “constant changes the world is undergoing”. Therefore, there have been educational interventions with several technologies in order to promote ALL. It was observed that technology can be supportive of ALL in many ways (Lee, 2011). Suvorov and Cabello (2017), for example, found out that adaptive learning systems can provide language learners extended practice and review, adaptive learning, instant scores and feedback. However, most existing studies generally focused on the effect of one specific technology and without a clear theory about the technology itself (Garcia, O'Connor, & Cappellini, 2017). While preventing the learners from choosing the technologies freely for ALL occurs to be incongruence with one of the most important elements of ALL, which is the freedom to make choices (Huang & Benson, 2013), a lack of theory about the technology itself is suggested to be ‘holding back progress in understanding how technology can be utilised to enhance learning’ (Oliver, 2013, p. 1). Therefore, in order to address both these issues and shed a fresh light on the relationship between technology and ALL, and different from the previous studies, this study firstly conceptualizes technology as a digital environment rather than a device or tools system. The reason for rejecting technology-as-a-tool understanding relies on the assertion that considering technology as tools provides a limited perspective of what can be done with them (Osborne, 2014). Secondly, this research aims to explore this relationship through the lens of technologies which the students have already been using, thereby without limiting them into one specific technology. On this basis, this present study aims to find out how digital technologies can be supportive of autonomous language learning by seeking an answer to the following research question within the tenets of theory of affordances (Gibson, 1979; Osbourne, 2013):
- What are the affordances of digital technologies for autonomous language learning?
This research used Q methodology pursuant to the aim of providing a systematic analysis of the affordances of digital technologies for autonomous language learning. Q-methodology is a mixed method research methodology, and it provides “a foundation for the systematic study of subjectivity” (Brown, 1993, p. 93). Within this methodology, data were collected at four stages from students at an upper-secondary school in Norway. At first stage, a survey of what digital technologies were being used by the students at the time of the research was conducted with 141 students. As a result of this survey, a total of 72 digital technologies were sampled. Within Q-methodology’s bespoke data collection structure, 20 students were first interviewed with semi-structured interviews at the second stage of data collection. In the third stage of data collection, data were collected from a different group of 24 participants with nominal group technique. After the analysis of data from second and thirds stages, a set of 45 single statements were generated to be used in the forth and last tier of the data collection. By online means, 42 students were asked to sort and rank these statements (Q-sort) concerning the aim of research (i.e., the affordances of digital technologies for autonomous language learning).
It was found that digital technologies can be support autonomous language learning by providing opportunities to learners to control their learning. First of all, the learners can take control over their learning with digital technologies by finding their own learning resources which related to their own interests, such as movies in English, news in English and culture and history of other English-speaking countries. As well as material resources, it was also interesting to find that the learners made use of human resources, for example, fellow learners on Google Docs, as the digital technologies created an informational and collegial digital learning environment. The second main affordance of digital technologies was conceptualised as affordances for learning in a more natural way. Digital technologies enabled learners to control their learning by providing a mode of learning which, according to the learners, represents an alternative to learning in a classroom environment. Particularly, learners felt less stressed and appreciated the flexibility of learning in a place and at a time of their choice. This opportunity to learn at their own learning pace afforded learners the ability to take control over their learning by finding an alternative but natural mode of learning. Finally, this research showed that digital technologies can enable learners to control their learning by offering a more systematic way of learning. Digital technologies can provide learners to take control over their learning by becoming critical in several ways. Firstly, they thought critically about themselves as learners by reflecting on their own strengths and weaknesses. In addition, they created learning strategies according to their needs by evaluating their learning resources, organising their learning, and becoming more self-disciplined. A final affordance of digital technologies was that they enabled learners to be less dependent on their teachers in terms of encouragement and support for learning.
Benson, P. (2011). Teaching and researching autonomy. London: Pearson. Brown, S. (1993). A primer on Q methodology. Operant Subjectivity, 16(3/4), 91-138. Garcia, D. N. d. M., O'Connor, K., & Cappellini, M. (2017). A typology of metacognition: examining autonomy in a collective blog compiled in a teletandem environment. In M. Cappelini, T. Lewis, & A. R. Mompean (Eds.), Learner Autonomy and Web 2.0. Sheffield; Bristol: Equinox Publishing. Gibson, J. J. (1979). The ecological approach to visual perception. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. Huang, J., & Benson, P. (2013). Autonomy, agency and identity in foreign and second language education. Chinese Journal of Applied Linguistics, 36(1), 7. doi:10.1515/cjal-2013-0002 Lai, C. (2017). Autonomous language learning with technology beyond the classroom. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic. Lee, L. (2011). Blogging: promoting learner autonomy and intercultural competence through study abroad. Language Learning & Technology, 15(3), 87-109. Oliver, M. (2013). Learning technology: theorising the tools we study. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(1), 31--43. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2011.01283.x Osbourne, R. (2013). An ecological approach to educational technology: affordance as a design tool for aligning pedagogy and technology. (Unpublished PhD thesis), University of Exeter. Suvorov, R., & Cabello, A. C. (2017). Development of language learner autonomy in adaptive learning systems. In M. Cappellini, T. Lewis, & A. R. Mompean (Eds.), Learner autonomy and Web 2.0 (pp. 36-66). Sheffield; Bristol: Equinox Publishing. Vázquez, B. M. (2016). Learner autonomy as a defensible educational goal in modern language education. Journal of English and Spanish Studies, 2(1), 90-106.
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