Learner support system in online language learning

Yoko Hirata
Hokkai-Gakuen University

Recent academic interest in the idea of autonomous self-directed language learning and new technology has promoted the development of a variety of Web-based or computer-assisted language learning systems (Lewandowska-Tomaszcshy et al., 2001; Lynch, 2002). Many of these programs help students choose and use a variety of materials in their own time and at their own space, either on campus or at home. While a number of potential benefits of these approaches in technology-enhanced language learning have been reported, it is increasingly recognized that the culture-specific styles of language learning have resulted in some limitations on implementing such online learning. In many traditional teacher-directed educational contexts, for example, it can be difficult for students to understand that there are many different pathways to success in learning a language (Galloway & O'Brien, 1998). However, many off-the-shelf computer programs tend to have been developed without taking into account the support systems that are suitable to students' learning culture. As a result, students may feel disoriented by the maze of huge resources in online learning (Smith, 2003). In addition, little research has been conducted so far to determine how to provide students with a variety of language materials and resources electronically in order to promote their independence in language learning. In order to incorporate online self-access learning effectively into the traditional classroom, more focus should be placed on the importance of the culturally-determined nature of support systems.

This paper investigates how Japanese university students, who lack independent learning experience both online and in the traditional classroom, perceive various computer support systems in online independent language learning. It also determines how effective the system is for students to observe the process of reflection indirectly. The paper first outlines a computer system that has been designed to assist students in organizing their learning, using appropriate resources, and evaluating their own work. Students have a considerable amount of freedom in selecting and doing the tasks repeatedly with the support system. The project, which this system was incorporated into, was implemented in a half-term English reading course that students were required to take as one of their compulsory classes. The paper concludes that different levels of support for students, who are not culturally predisposed to being independent language learners, are fundamental to the success or failure in the implementation of online learning.