Reflection And The Distance Language Learner

Murphy, Linda Mary (2002). Reflection And The Distance Language Learner. EdD thesis The Open University.



This research examines the role of critical reflection in learning theories and the relationship between Kolb's learning cycle and notions of the 'good' language learner, the deep approach to learning and autonomous learning in the context of adult, part-time, distance language learning. This group of learners is under-represented in the research literature. The research takes an exploratory-interpretative approach. Open University Language students had been invited by their tutors to use materials based on Kolb's learning cycle, designed to encourage critical reflection in order to enhance learning. In-depth interviews explored the experience of users and non-users. Course materials were examined for evidence of encouragement and support for critical reflection and autonomy. The research aimed to establish what OU language learners do to develop productive and receptive language skills and the extent to which they demonstrate capacities of critical reflection and autonomy. It examined the extent to which these capacities were developed via course materials and assignments and the impact of the style and pace of study. It considered whether these capacities could be enhanced by the project materials, as well as the influence of tutors' expectations and approaches. The majority of interviewees exhibited considerable functional activity except in writing skills. They demonstrated characteristics of the 'good' language learner, elements of a deep approach and features of autonomous learning. This contrasted with a surface approach to coursework and assignments, brought about by excessive workload and the controlled, anxiety-provoking nature of assessment. Analysis of assignments also suggested they were likely to evoke a surface approach. Course materials advocated reflection, self-assessment and self-evaluation, but did not support this via teaching or practice and offered few decision-making opportunities.Students exercised the capacity for critical reflection and autonomy to varying degrees. Those who had used the proj ect materials appeared more likely to make decisions about their learning, and set specific goals. The project materials were judged a straightforward framework for reflection. Tutors were positive about the materials but appeared to give little attention to critical reflection. Their concerns about time constraints and student workload may have confirmed student perceptions and discouraged use of the project materials. The research suggests broadening the notion of the 'good' language learner. It proposes more explicit development of learning strategies and the capacity for critical reflection within course materials and tutorials, and giving more attention to the nature and impact of assessment in order to foster 'active', deep, autonomous learning.

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