What happens when a large motivated group of adult learners starts using Computer Assisted Language Learning (Call) for self-study in the workplace? They stop using it after a short while, reveals a study by the University of Maryland Center for Advanced Study of Languages (CASL). Self-study with language learning software in the workplace: What happens involved 326 US government employees in two groups – beginners who chose a target language and mixed-level students learning Spanish. Two popular self-study technology-mediated programs were accessed via the internet. Participants in both groups agreed to keep a weekly learner log and complete periodic assessments.
The most striking result was that, despite initial involvement, participant attrition was so high that outcomes data were very sparse. Only half of the beginners who chose a language actually accessed the account, and fewer than a quarter spent more than ten hours self-studying on the software. The only participant completing the full 200 study hours was a career linguist who spoke five languages already – clearly not your average language learner. None of the learners of Spanish took the exit test, and only twelve out of the 94 who were above beginner level self-studied for ten hours or more.
The most common complaint was about lack of support – beginners in Arabic or Chinese in particular experienced difficulty without explicit instruction. Other negative comments centred on the irrelevance of the content. Technological problems appeared another important obstacle to course completion.
The research suggests self-study with Call might not be appropriate for adult learners in the workplace as the programs cannot be easily personalised to cater for specific language needs. Programs that avoid grammatical explanations might not be the best fit for beginners either, as they need explicit support and guidance.
Previous research also indicates that support, guidance and interaction are critical for online learning, so stand-alone Call programs might not work without an adequate support system and they need to compensate for the lack of interpersonal interaction.