Learner characteristics and learning outcomes on a distance Spanish course for beginners

Coleman, James A. and Furnborough, Concha (2010). Learner characteristics and learning outcomes on a distance Spanish course for beginners. System, 38(1) pp. 14–29.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2009.12.002


Much Second Language Acquisition research focuses on young learners in the conventional classroom. Instructed adult learners, and in particular those who are learning at a distance, have attracted less attention. This group is substantial and growing: the Open University, the largest higher education language provider in the UK, alone recruits some 8000 language students a year. The present large-scale study was undertaken to explore the learner characteristics and learning experience of adult distance language learners at beginner level, the relationship of these factors with successful language learning, and the outcomes of face-to-face or online tuition.

A longitudinal, quantitative design was adopted, involving pre-course and post-course questionnaires, and incorporating data on student profiles and learning outcomes. The questionnaire covered biographical variables, self-assessed initial proficiency, enjoyment and perceived achievement. This article profiles the learners and identifies factors related to successful distance language learning. Success is shown to relate to enjoyment and a sense of achieving goals. A comparison of results following online and face-to-face tuition demonstrates for the first time at scale that different modes of tuition do not necessarily lead to different learning outcomes: online language learning can be as effective as face-to-face teaching.

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