Author(s): Neva Čebron, Lara Sorgo
Subject(s): Social Sciences, Language and Literature Studies, Education, Foreign languages learning, Distance learning / e-learning
Published by: Filološki fakultet, Nikšić
Keywords: e-learning; m-learning; teaching approaches; LanGuide project; language learning

Summary/Abstract: The pervasive presence of ICT (information and communication technology) in everyday life and the appeal these technologies have for our students, forces teachers of foreign languages to consider how language teaching might be adapted to include these new tools in teaching practice. During the various stages of the Covid pandemic, the surge in the development of ICT supported language-learning devices, especially language learning mobile apps, and a wealth of research focusing on the exploration of the new means of eLearning, indicate new options for the delivery and acquisition of foreign languages as a life-long learning practice, which the LanGuide project seeks to exploit and advance. The paper reports on a survey carried out among respondents (students, academic and administrative staff) at 6 institutions of higher education in Slovenia, Romania, Croatia, Spain and Sweden. The purpose of the research was to examine the views, practices and attitudes of the respondents with regard to using ICT for foreign language acquisition, in order to help the international partnership to establish clear goals and objectives for developing learning materials in the languages of the partnership of the LanGuide project (KA2-HE/19), co-funded by the European Commission. Drawing on the insights provided by preliminary research and earlier studies, this paper aims to answer the following questions: 1) How familiar are our respondents with ICT and mobile apps as self-learning tools for language acquisition? 2) What are their expected needs and motivations? 3) What methodological adaptations should be considered in eLearning syllabi and materials? A number of researchers have pointed to the disconnect between the world of education and the mobile technology that learners interact with most beyond the classrooms and lecture halls (e.g. Walsh, 2010; Kukulska-Hulme et al., 2015; Jie et al., 2020), while also identifying a lack of new pedagogical frameworks that could guide educational endeavours for the integration of mobile learning (henceforth mLearning) into the curricula (e. g. Sharples, 2006; Bernacki et al.; 2020). From recent research into mobile pedagogy, it has also become clear that education in the mobile age cannot replace formal education; rather it can offer a way to extend, support and scaffold learning outside the classroom (Mutiaraningrum & Nugroh, 2021). Research had demonstrated an important paradigm shift between the two educational systems. This is that the primary goal of the traditional educational system was an effective transmission of the canons of scholarship in a formal educational setting, while the construction of knowledge in a mobile era occurs as information processing in the interaction through and with personal and mobile technology in a range of environments (Sharples 2006). In terms of language acquisition, the traditional, well-paced acquisition process requires persistence and stamina, since a “drip-feed approach […] often leads to frustration as learners feel they have been studying for years without making much progress” (Lightbown and Spada, 2006, 186). On the other hand, mobile assisted language learning (henceforth MALL) and mLearning give students the opportunity to engage with language during lessons and between lessons through personalised, self-paced and learner-centred activities (Viberg and Grönlund, 2012), thus allowing a more agile, focused and needs-centred development of communicative skills in a foreign language. Such a shift in objectives and goals calls for a thorough rethinking of teaching and learning approaches, as well as the development of effective methods and teaching materials for MALL and mLearning. Technology itself has played a role in reshaping people’s preferences, perceptions, and attitudes, leading to the idea of a methodology co-constructed in a sociotechnical system (Viberg and Grönlund, 2012) and drawing on lessons learned from practices developed within distance learning and computer assisted language learning (henceforth CALL), while adjusting to new demands such as flexibility, portability and spontaneity (Mutiaraningrum & Nugroh, 2021). Narrowing the view to the main objective of the research, that is, proposing a clear pedagogical framework for the delivery of teaching materials for language acquisition perusable on a mobile app, it needs to be observed that “there are apps for all aspects of language learning, but very little consideration has been given to the pedagogical premises that underpin the design of mobile apps” (Brick and Cervi-Wilson, 2015: 24). These apps provide a multifaceted capability that offers time and space flexibility and adaptability that facilitate learning in the changeable environment, favoured by a variety of self-learning practices, ranging from students to professionals (Ibacache, 2019). At the same time, the convenience of virtual learning and “the ubiquity of mLearning options affect the manner in which one learns as language learning intertwines with users’ daily life activity and work” (Kukulska-Hulme, 2012, 10). Enhancing the motivation of self-regulated learners still seems to require a well-organized design, relevant content and clear scope (Broadbent, 2017), as well as a learner-centred approach conducive to expanding language knowledge and communicative competences. The successful mLearning of a foreign language should build on the skills and knowledge of students, enabling them to reason from their own experience, while also providing a structured syllabus of validated knowledge, taught efficiently and with inventive use of concepts and methods (Sharples, Taylor & Vavoula, 2005; Elbabour & Head, 2020). Consequently, the new medium also demands a shift in the roles and responsibilities of teachers, with Conole and Alevizou (2010) highlighting that “the boundaries between traditional roles (teacher and learner) and functions (teaching and learning) are blurring. ‘Teachers’ need to be learners in order to make sense of and take account of new technologies in their practices” (p. 44). Teachers and materials writers need to be aware of the specific ways in which digital devices can conveniently be used inside and outside the classroom by their end-users, as well as of the specific sites and apps they frequently access and the ways they plan to use their digital devices (Brick and Cervi-Wilson, 2015). In order to gather data for our research, an e-questionnaire of 21 questions was developed and opened on-line for 3 weeks between April and May 2021. It received 1028 responses from 6 institutions of higher education (the University of Primorska - UP, the University of Rijeka – UNIRI; the University of Zadar – UNZD; the University of Castilla-La Mancha – UCLM; Mälardalen University – MDH; and the Transilvania University of Brasov – UTBV). The data collected was mainly quantitative in nature, seeking to capture respondents’ use of and attitudes to mLearning. The first part of the questionnaire recorded core respondents’ data, such as age, gender, institutional affiliation, status (student, administrative staff or teacher), and previous experience with learning English. The participants were also asked to assess their level of ICT skills (basic, intermediate or advanced) and to list the type of electronic device they normally use (PC, tablet, mobile phone and so on), state the level of accessibility of the Internet, as well as to report how, when and where they generally used their devices. The main goal of the questionnaire was, however, to gain an understanding of whether the participants had used mobile apps for foreign language acquisition and the type and frequency of linguistic information they had looked for on the Internet. In the last part of the survey, the respondents had to agree or disagree with a series of statements (on a five-point Likert scale) regarding their use of new technologies in language acquisition and assess the likelihood of their engaging in language learning via mobile apps in the future. From the informants’ answers, we were able to deduce that the vast majority of our respondents regularly (or even daily) engaged in some sort of expansion and refinement of English in their free time or at work/university using an electronic device. While only about a third considered such an activity as language learning and even fewer used mobile apps to study in language courses or do language exercises in English,, they did, however, strongly agree that mobile apps can enhance further development of their language skills. They, therefore, expected language teachers to encourage their further engagement with languages via mobile apps; this was especially true in view of the fact that these resources were available everywhere and most respondents felt confident in their IT skills. Hence, their enthusiasm and plans to learn new languages can also be understood. In order to satisfy the ambitions of our students and cater to their new learning needs, new insights should be gathered from more experimental testing of new methodologies, as planned within the future activities of the LanGuide project. Mobile language learning has altered the approach to language acquisition and our respondents proved well aware of the options available to them. The mobility, portability, and ubiquity of mobile apps seem to motivate them to make plans for more language learning. This manner of language acquisition, one that provides a sense of freedom and self-management, seems to suit and motivate self-learners. However, in the future, particular attention should be devoted to the further investigation of learning strategies and learning styles compatible with the use of mobile technology. Such knowledge could have a crucial impact on both language instructors and learners of foreign languages, as well as help materials writers and software developers. We can conclude that mobile language learning has changed the approach to language acquisition, while a number of issues still need to be addressed and analysed in order to provide a meaningful, productive user experience on language learning apps.

  • Issue Year: 2023
  • Issue No: 44
  • Page Range: 69-88
  • Page Count: 20
  • Language: Italian