What works in blended mobile English?

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Learning English can have significant impact on an individual’s life. These benefits include increased employment opportunities and higher income potential. Learning English (or, more generally, a second language) also creates cognitive benefits for the learner. Individuals who are bilingual or multilingual have protection against dementia and the long-term consequences of brain injury, for example. Given that learning English grants such important benefits and given the abundance of mobile devices owned by learners around the world, it makes sense to use mobile technology in a blended fashion to enhance and support teacher-driven English instruction, so that learners all over the world can access high-quality content anytime and anywhere.

Technology provides an ideal solution for breaking learning barriers related to time and place. Learners can access material whenever it fits into their schedule. They can also connect with other learners and instructors in other parts of the world, giving them access to people and experiences they would not otherwise have. Learning activities can be designed to take advantage of the variety of locations learners inhabit to make the learning relevant, immersive and engaging.

Mobile technology also provides opportunities for quality instruction in ways that specifically support the development of language skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing.

Speaking

Videoconferencing apps such as Peer, for example, allow learners to create, narrate and exchange videos with other learners, which provides authentic speaking (and listening) practice. Instructors can use these technologies to increase the types of assessments they employ. Speech recognition technology personalises the learning experience in that it can be used to focus students on the specific areas of their speech that need the most support. Apps can engage students in personalised tasks including practising particular sounds, words or phrases. Apps such as Sounds: The Pronunciation app allow students to hear how words should be pronounced and record their own voice to see how closely their pronunciation matches the ideal.

Listening

Mobile technology also provides opportunities to develop listening skills. For example, listening comprehension and vocabulary can be improved by following a transcript while listening to someone speak. Programmes and apps on mobile devices can provide captions or transcripts that learners can access alongside a video or recording of someone speaking in English or even in real time as someone is speaking to the learner (TranscribeMe, Mobile-Transcript). For example, instructors can provide transcripts of their video lectures and interactions with students as well. Other apps, including VoiceOver, which comes preinstalled on iOS phones, provide learners with speed control for slowing the speech rate of the content they are listening to. This allows learners to personalise and adjust the rate as their listening skills improve.

Reading

Reading is another foundational language skill to which mobile technology is particularly well suited. There are many opportunities for students to practise reading English on the internet and through mobile apps, including blogs, messages boards, social media apps and others that offer authentic and engaging contexts for practising English reading skills. Instructors can use technology to personalise assigned readings to students according to each student’s reading level.

Writing

Writing may be one of the more challenging skills to develop via mobile device – largely due to limitations related to screen size and keyboarding. However, students still have many opportunities to practise writing in English by participating in digital discussions on social media apps. Collaborative writing opportunities are plentiful and include discussion forums, blogs, wikis and shared documents. The advantage of using mobile technology is that students have access to these tools whenever and wherever they are. The learning opportunities can become embedded in their everyday lives. Instructors are better able to hold their students accountable because the technology tracks students’ interactions with the material.

Overcoming the challenges of blended mobile English

Despite its advantages, mobile technology also faces challenges for English instruction including connectivity, screen size, battery life, memory limitations and complicated text input systems. Developing an effective offering requires taking these considerations into account. An analysis of 30 research studies in 17 countries reported 13 critical factors that have a significant impact on the success of mobile learning experiences from learners’ perspectives:

  • The technical competence of students and teachers
  • Degree of personalisation
  • Learners’ level of autonomy
  • User perception of the offering
  • User-friendliness of the application design
  • The stability of the application
  • Whether the learning is made interesting
  • How closely content is tied to the curriculum
  • Increased productivity from mobile
  • The development of a learning community
  • The accessibility of the platform
  • Access to the internet
  • Opportunities for blended learning (Alrasheedi et al, 2015).

Barriers to learner success in mobile learning courses include weak time-management skills, low motivation, isolation and lack of technical skills (Song & Keller, 2001). Instructors can mitigate many of these barriers including ensuring that content is tied to the curriculum, remediating issues of access and technical competence, supporting the development of a community of learners, supporting students’ autonomy, and using technology to personalise content and situate it in interesting, context-relevant ways.

Mobile technology is more powerful and abundant than ever. Pearson is working towards harnessing mobile technology in innovative ways to provide instructors with tools to support learners in effective and engaging ways as they learn English anywhere and anytime.

References:

Alrasheedi, M., & Capretz, L. F. (2015). Determination of critical success factors affecting mobile learning: A meta-analysis approach. TOJET: The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 14(2)

Song, S. H., & Keller, J. M. (2001). Effectiveness of motivationally adaptive computer-assisted instruction on the dynamic aspects of motivation. Educational technology research and development, 49(2), 5-22


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