Learning Through Vicarious Participation in Online Language Tutorials

Pleines, Christine (2020). Learning Through Vicarious Participation in Online Language Tutorials. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.000114ea


Online environments offer opportunities for interaction and collaboration, which are especially pertinent to distance language learners who have little face-to-face contact with their tutors or peers (Felix, 2005; Levy and Stockwell, 2006; Hampel, 2006, 2014; Balaman and Sert, 2017; Sun, 2018). Although a distinction is usually made between synchronous and asynchronous tools, all online communication can be recorded and subsequently accessed by learners in their own time.

Drawing on the concept of vicarious learning (Bandura, 1965, 1971a, 1971b, 1986; Ohta, 2001; Lee, 2005; Mayes, 2015) and taking account of the roles of input and interaction for language development (Long, 1996; Gass, 1997, 2003; Lantolf and Thorne, 2006; Ellis, 2015), the present enquiry examines how distance students work with recordings of live online language tutorials and explores perceived benefits for language learning and motivation.

The research is based on a sociocognitive perspective (Batstone, 2010) and an embedded mixed methods research design (Ivankova and Cresswell, 2009). User statistics of live attendance and recording views were analysed in relation to demographic data and assessment results of students on four Open University modules across different languages and levels (n=977). Differences in the use of recordings were identified in relation to learner age, country of residence and live attendance. A thematic analysis of 13 semi-structured interviews revealed that recordings of interactive group tutorials gave learners access to more voices and wider perspectives and allowed them to process input in their own time. Instead of seeing indirect participation as a substitute for live attendance, participants in this enquiry used recordings because they found tutorials central to their learning.

The study gives prominence to the discussion of learning opportunities afforded through vicarious participation, which is relevant to educational practice in online learning settings within and outside higher education.

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