Informal Language Learning: The Perspective of Higher Education Students in Brussels. A Case Study

Van Marsenille, Anne Therese Marie Aimee (2015). Informal Language Learning: The Perspective of Higher Education Students in Brussels. A Case Study. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000af17

Abstract

This research explores informal language learning by Higher Education (HE) students in Brussels. Informal language learning is defined in this thesis as learning that takes place outside formal HE institutions. Informal language learning has been studied less than its counterpart, formal learning, because it is more difficult to observe, to quantify and to evaluate. It depends more on the learner, which makes it more difficult to grasp. Informal learning is less structured because it does not occur within a formal learning context; the learning objectives are not defined by the teacher and can vary, according to the learner’s situation.
The literature review examines the difference between learning and acquisition; this study draws on Krashen’s (1976) monitor theory where learning comes from formal instruction and is a conscious process, while acquisition involves meaningful interaction in the target language and is a subconscious process. This study explores the different types of motivation to study informally and examines how reflection can be used to monitor and improve the language that has been acquired by the learner outside class.
This project is situated within an experiential approach in qualitative inquiry. The students’ experience of learning outside class as it is lived by them has been studied. This is naturalistic rather than experimental research as normal learning situations are examined from the learners’ point of view.
Mixed methods were used to collect the data: questionnaires, interviews and self-reports to analyse the informal learning process in more detail. The self-report was an adaptation of the ‘European Language Portfolio’ (ELP) (Council of Europe 2009), which is a tool that links informal to formal learning.
Recommendations based on the findings of this study suggest new methods and strategies for language learning to students and that teachers should be aware of what students do, what motivates them and how learners reflect upon the language learning process, in order to help them learn in class and beyond.

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