On the Scope of Digital Vocabulary Trainers for Learning in Distance Education

Winchester, Susanne (2015). On the Scope of Digital Vocabulary Trainers for Learning in Distance Education. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000b0fa


This study explores the use of digital vocabulary trainers (DVTs) for L1 (first/native language) - L2 (second/foreign language) paired associate vocabulary learning in the context of distance learning and where students are mature adult learners.

The literature review approaches the topic from three different angles: firstly, what is involved in vocabulary learning in terms of memory processes, learning strategies and motivation to learn. Secondly, it was investigated how computer-assisted language learning (CALL) and in particular, use of DVTs, can support the learning of vocabulary and lastly, the role the specific learning context of distance education plays where vocabulary learning is concerned.

To set the context, the study outlines the capabilities of different DVTs and how these are linked to theoretical frameworks, how distance learners engage with DVTs, to what extent vocabulary learning with and without DVTs differs and what students’ preferences for particular features of DVTs are.

The research is based on a quasi-experimental study to explore the scope and limitations of DVTs used by adult distance learners at the Open University in the UK. A mix of methods was utilised, generating both quantitative and qualitative data. After participating in a trial use of DVT for beginners’ German, Open University language learners participated in a number of surveys investigating the way in which they engage with DVTs, whether there is any indication that the use of these tools improves performance and how students perceive DVTs as learning tools.

Additional surveys investigated the general attitude of distance language students to DVTs, and focus groups were formed from students using DVTs for study. Data from these focus groups show that mechanisms typically employed in game playing (e.g. points, badges, leader boards) can have a positive effect on motivation for learning. It is therefore concluded that a review of current pedagogy may be useful and that new approaches to more integrated vocabulary training could have positive effects on language learners.

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