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T14 Murphy and Hurd

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Advising in open and distance settings: learner contributions and the learning context (Talk T14) …

Advising in open and distance settings: learner contributions and the learning context (Talk T14)

The significance of the learner’s individual contribution to the learning process has been explored by many researchers (Breen, 2001; Larsen-Freeman, 2001; Robinson, 2002; Dörnyei and Ushioda, 2009). Their focus has been largely on the classroom setting, but these days providers are increasingly offering open, distance or blended learning. This indicates the importance of considering the role of learner contributions in such settings where greater demands are placed on the learner to manage their learning (Hurd, 2003, 2007; White, 2003). White (1999, 2003, 2005) refers to an essential process of learner adjustment to the specific characteristics of open and distance learning as the ‘learner-context interface’. Drawing on the experience of distance learners of languages at The Open University (UK), this paper will examine the nature and influence of learner contributions in this setting and the skills required of teacher advisers supporting learners in reconciling their individual contributions and the learning context.

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  • 1. Advising in Open and Distance Settings: Learner Contributions and the Learning Context Linda Murphy and Stella Hurd Department of Languages, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, The Open University, UK. [email_address] [email_address]
  • 2. Outline
    • The nature of learner contributions in an open
    • and distance language learning setting
    • The nature of learning context and characteristics
    • of distance language learning settings
    • The learner-context interface
    • Examples in practice
    • The role of the language adviser
  • 3. Individual Difference and Learner Contributions
    • Individual learner difference:
    • - aptitude, intelligence, motivation, personality,
    • and cognitive style (Skehan,1989)
    • Learner contributions (Larsen-Freeman, 2001):
    • - attributes: age, gender, personality and social
    • identity
    • - ‘learner conceptualisations’: motivation,
    • attitudes, cognitive styles and beliefs
  • 4. Individual Difference and Learner Contributions
    • Learner factors may be:
    • Fixed, innate: e.g. age and aptitude
    • Amenable to change: e.g. motivation, anxiety
    • and emotional states
    • Largely stable but may be amenable to change
    • in certain circumstances: e.g. learning strategies,
    • beliefs and attitudes, goals and approaches
  • 5. Learning Context
    • The context of learning, but also the ‘personal
    • context’ of individual learners
    • Classrooms and materials have a ‘direct effect on
    • learning’ (Skehan, 1989: 119)
    • ‘ To what extent individual difference factors are
    • altered by contextual factors is, of course, an
    • enormously important, yet vexing question’
    • (Larsen-Freeman, 2001: 23)
    • Overlapping distinctions between (1) biologically-
    • determined and socially-constructed, and (2)
    • context-free and context-sensitive (Benson & Gao, 2008: 27)
  • 6. Person and Context: a Dynamic Relationship
    • ‘ capture the mutually constitutive relationship
    • between persons and the contexts in which they
    • act – a relationship that is dynamic, complex and
    • non-linear’ (Ushioda, 2009: 218)
    • Individual Difference research ‘may be able to tell
    • us about certain types of learner in an abstract
    • collective sense’ but it ‘can tell us very little about
    • particular students sitting in our classroom, at
    • home, or in the self-access centre …’ (Ushioda, 2009: 216)
  • 7. The Affective Dimension
    • Language learners as ‘thinking, feeling and acting
    • persons in a context of language use grounded in social
    • relationships with other people’ (Breen, 2001: 1)
    • ‘ Further demands on the affective resources of both
    • learners and teachers arise from the more isolated
    • study context, separation from peers and the teacher,
    • and reduced or altered forms of social contact and
    • interaction” (White, 2003: 114)
    • Affect: one area that ‘can clearly often be changed and
    • shaped through teacher intervention in learning’ (Robinson,
    • 2002: 8)
  • 8. White’s ‘Learner-Context Interface’ Model
    • Independent learners as ‘active agents … constructing
    • and assuming control of a personally meaningful and
    • effective interface between themselves, their attributes
    • and needs, and the features of the learning context’
    • (White,1999:7)
    • Learners in independent contexts ‘develop this ability
    • largely by constructing a personally meaningful
    • interface with the learning context’ (White, 2008:3)
  • 9. Features of the Distance Learning Context
    • Physical separation of learner/teacher, learner/learner,
    • learner/teacher/institution (transactional distance,
    • Moore, 1993)
    • Learner responsibility to schedule their own time and
    • manage their studies
    • Provision of structured teaching materials in a variety
    • of formats through which learner creates own learning
    • pathway
    • Contact with teachers and learners via variety of media
  • 10. The Open University (UK) Support Model
    • Cognitive support and development through mediation of the course materials and learning resources for individual students
    • Affective support in developing a positive learning environment fostering commitment and self-esteem
    • Systemic support through administrative procedures and information management systems which are effective, transparent and user-friendly (Tait, 2000: 289).
    • Aims to reduce ‘transactional distance’; provide ‘scaffolded’ support
    • Increased opportunities for interaction, tutor and peer support through developments in ICT
  • 11. Learner Responsibility
    • Set own learning goals and determine a route through the
    • materials which best addresses their language learning needs
    • Acquire skills in self-assessment and self-evaluation in order to
    • determine these needs, select appropriate course resources or
    • activities for their purposes and monitor their own progress
    • Other aspects of self-management: self-motivation,
    • organisation and ability to prioritise; capacity to work in relative
    • isolation supported by virtual communication
    • Take decisions and control their own learning as exemplified in
    • the ‘learner-context interface’ model (White, 2005)
  • 12. The Learner-Context Interface
    • Intersection of:
    • characteristics of a distance learning environment;
    • individual differences and individual life contexts.
    • Fosters or inhibits learning or opportunity for metacognitive growth….
    • Area where support and guidance from tutors/advisors can be crucial
  • 13. The Interface in Action (1) Data gathered in a study of distance learners of languages at Beginner level Studying for 30 credit points, average 5-6 hours study per week, November-October Print and audio materials; optional tuition at face-to-face or synchronous online tutorials; on-going support from tutor; asynchronous and synchronous conferencing facility; regular assessment
  • 14. The Interface in Action (2)
    • Monthly guided logs Feb-Sept
    • Reporting on:
    • highs and lows of study each month;
    • how they got over difficulties and what kept them
    • going;
    • support they got from other people.
    • Insight into choices/decisions made
  • 15. The Interface in Action (3) Students aged 22-75, male and female New to distance learning New to language learning Learning another language 101 completed the first log 32 completed logs regularly from Feb to Sept 2 students of French selected for detailed examination
  • 16. Learner Contributions - A
      • Male
      • Full-time job involving a lot of travel
      • Member of local twinning association, regular contact with French friends
      • Wife studying same course
      • Strong motivation
      • Serious shortage of time for study
      • Problems with audio materials
  • 17. Log Entries- A
      • Trouble fitting in time for study, but nothing a 36 hour day
      • won’t solve!
      • Motivation is not a problem, just lack of time results in
      • fragmented study…can be difficult requiring time to review
      • last work before progressing
      • Work demands still interfering with study! Beginning to catch
      • up now. Can’t do much about the work demands, so the only
      • option is to fit in study whenever possible!
      • Can study compete with gardening requirements?
      • No intention of giving up…
      • Don’t panic – ask for repetition from my French friends. Try
      • and maintain vocab targets
  • 18. Learner-Context Interface A
      • Separation – not a problem
      • Responsibility for self-management – unproblematic:
      • valued flexibility;
      • strategies to overcome difficulties;
      • strong motivation and sense of proportion.
      • Learning pathway – no evidence of strategic choices
      • Contact with others – maintained with friends rather than tutor/students
  • 19. Language Advising Role
      • Cognitive function: Advice and support in relation to:
      • self-assessment/evaluation to identify needs in order to
      • select an appropriate learning pathway/material
      • raising awareness of other strategies for developing listening
      • skills, both listening for specific information and for gist
      • encouragement to relax and not expect to understand every
      • word.
  • 20. Learner Contributions - B
      • Female
      • Full-time job
      • Moved house mid-year
      • Primary goal to improve her spoken French – a language she liked very much
      • Strong determination to complete the course
      • Keen to meet with other learners
      • Booked a one-week residential course as well
      • Serious shortage of time for study
      • Problems understanding course work and tutorials
      • Concerned that her spoken French wasn’t improving
  • 21. Log Entries- B
      • We don’t get enough practice speaking and the tutorials
      • seem disjointed from the course work
      • I’m struggling with the speaking
      • Definitely need more practice at speaking which would
      • improve the sounds and confidence
      • I’m getting behind with the work in the book as I find it
      • difficult and sometimes the tutorials are beyond the level I
      • am studying
      • My spoken French is appalling
      • In desperate need to speak French more and go over areas I
      • don’t understand
      • I really like French, but find the studying difficult due to lack
      • of spoken skills…
  • 22. Learner-Context Interface B
      • Separation – kept in regular contact with tutor and other students, but did not adjust to lack of frequent interaction
      • Responsibility for self-management:
      • constantly behind the work schedule;
      • valued flexibility when it came to moving house;
      • expressed determination to keep going and catch up.
      • Learning pathway – no evidence of strategic choices
      • Contact with others:
      • regular meeting with a study-buddy helped motivation;
      • contact with other learners to resolve difficulties and increase
      • understanding;
      • approached tutor for help.
  • 23. Language Advising Role
      • Cognitive function: Advice and support in relation to:
      • self-assessment/evaluation to identify needs in order to select an
      • appropriate learning pathway/material and what could be left out;
      • raising awareness of other strategies for developing speaking
      • skills and where to find materials/opportunities for this;
      • realistic assessment of progress in speaking in relation to the
      • course and her own goals.
      • Affective function:
      • support to increase confidence and maintain motivation based on
      • her love of French.
  • 24. Teacher as Learning Adviser
      • Proactive approach to understanding learners context as far as possible, depending on what learners are willing to share
      • Within this context, provide explicit guidance, awareness raising and support to:
      • overcome the sense of separation;
      • develop skills for self-management;
      • make choices about learning pathways, materials and
      • strategies based on needs and context.
      • Recognise the ‘person-in-context’ rather than seeing only the ‘person-as-language learner’ (Ushioda, 2009: 215)