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FACTORS INFLUENCING TAIWAN'S ENGLISH E-LEARNER
The present paper was concerned about the factors associated with Taiwan's English E-Learner Satisfaction. Four factors were identified to characterize satisfied English e-learners, including computer anxiety, computer-mediated communication apprehension, metacognitive self-regulation, and goal orientation. The present researcher proposed that since English e-learning environments need the use of different computer technology in an extended amount of time, so the individual with highly computer anxious would tend to be at a significant learning disadvantage comparing to his or her classmates with lower levels of computer anxiety. Then the researcher assumed that learners with high levels of computer-mediated communication (CMC) apprehension will have low levels of English learner satisfaction in the context of e-learning. Next the researcher argued that students with higher levels of metacognitve self-regulation use are more likely to get higher levels of English e-learner satisfaction than students using less metacognitive self-regulation. Finally, the researcher pointed out that students with higher levels of mastery goal orientation are more likely to have higher levels of English e-learner satisfaction than students with lower levels of mastery goal orientation.
For the past thirty years, English teachers as well English learners in Taiwan have experienced the integration of the computer technology into English teaching and learning. Computer-assisted language learning (CALL) has gradually been introduced into the language classrooms. Its powerful presence has fostered self-learning and a wide range of opportunities for authentic interaction in the target language (English) in computer-based conditions. Web-based learning is becoming an even more powerful interactive source that increases learners' knowledge and that guarantees quantity and quality of language input and output (Parcheco, 2005). Influenced by the fast evolution of computer technology, most of the universities in Taiwan have fully developed internet-friendly learning environment. With the help of internet and web technology, web-based English courses have been offered at some of the universities in Taiwan to fit the growing needs of market demands and lifelong learning. These English courses attempt to remove the constraints of time and place, which have long time been the major barriers hindering non-traditional students from coming back to school for further English studying.
Among the web-based English courses, the courses with asynchronous nature have been embraced by most of the adult learners. In an asynchronous learning environment, at any time and any place, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, students with the help of an internet connection, can receive instruction, compose and submit assignment, and ask questions of the instructor and fellow students (Sher, 2008). The emergence of online language learning has resulted in a major shift in paradigm. This new paradigm, based on the concepts of constructivism, focuses more on students who actively process the information they receive, and construct the new knowledge through their own previous experiences. The role of educational institutions and educators in this constructivist student-centered model is to provide students with a learning environment that encourages critical reflection and knowledge construction through social interaction with other students in a learning community (Palloff & Pratt, 1999).
In the facet of student-centered learning, web-based course learners are perceived to have more responsibility for their own learning. Learners are no longer viewed as passively being “instilled” with information and knowledge. Instead, they are actively involved in reorganizing and reconstructing their existing knowledge with new knowledge ( Perkins, 1992). Besides, students have the flexibility and convenience to decide when they will study, where they will study, and what and how they will study. Although online English learning has drawn special attention from adult learners in Taiwan, for its geographical and temporal convenience, course-on-demand designing, and individualized and self-paced learning, not all English learners are satisfied with online learning environments and continue to take another new web-based English course. Therefore, this paper attempted to identify the individual characteristics of satisfied e-learners in terms of learning English through web. In other words, what kinds of e-learner characteristics will help learners benefit more from English e-learning environment is the main focus of this paper.
To identify the individual characteristics of satisfied e-learners in the context of English learning environment, we should first consider that a distance context for English learning present learners with new demands such as computer mediated communication (CMC) efficacy, learner independence, learner autonomy, and motivation. Online English learning always happens through learners' interactions with instructors and peers by employing CMC skills. CMC skills that learners need include communication through chat, e-mail, posting, and discussion lists, and also being able to send and receive attachments. Thus the first characteristic of satisfied English e-learners is their good CMC skills. These CMC skills might be a great challenge for some English e-learners. Fuller (2006) mentioned an example about an individual who is not comfortable with, or is anxious about using computers, but wants to take advantage of course offered entirely over the web. Thus we can imagine that if English e-learners have computer anxiety, they may experience learning difficulties result mainly from his/her psychologically negative reactions to the computer, but not from his/her comprehension or understanding of the subject itself. Similarly, an individual who is an apprehensive communicator may become handicapped in an e-learning course that requires regular interaction with the instructor or other classmates. In other words, these individuals would feel tense and nervous when communicating using e-mail, chat room, and internet-messaging program. Therefore, they might become afraid to communicate or interact with their instructors or classmates through using computers if they have learning problems. Research has also offered some interesting findings: 1. females are more anxious about computer than males (Broos, 2005); 2. women in general had stronger negative attitudes toward computers (Whitely, 1997); and 3. adults were more fearful about using computers than children and teenagers (Cambre & Cook, 1987). From these findings, we can infer that females and adults might experience more anxiety than males and teenagers while employing computer to learn English.
In addition to CMC efficacy, I think learners' “skill” and “will” might play the roles of equal importance in fostering online English learning which demands highly independent study. In English e-learning environment, why do some students know more about how to plan, control, and direct their mental process toward the achievement of personal goals? Why do some students use less time and learn more materials? To answer these questions, we have to be familiar with learners' metacognitive or self-regulated learning strategies (ability). Self-regulated learning strategies refer to learners' planning, monitoring, and regulating their own cognitive actions and actual behaviors. According to Pintrich (as cited in Susimetsa, 2006), planning refers to the learners' ability to set a clear goal for their own learning. Monitoring refers to learners' ability to track their own attention, to self-check for understanding and comprehension and to keep track of the available time for studying. Regulation is closely tied with monitoring and takes place, for example, when the learners realize that they have failed to understand something. Regulation is the learners' own activity to correct this failure by, for example, rereading the passage of text that was unclear or asking for clarification. Some research has revealed that high achievers reported more use of self-regulated learning than lower achieving students (Chen, 2002). Similarly, because online English learning demands highly independent study, I expected that English e-learners employing more metacognitive self-regulation learning strategies might be more likely to receive more satisfaction in web-based courses. That is, if English e-learners can set goals for themselves in order to direct their activities in each study period, can determine which concepts they don't understand well, and can change the way they study in order to fit the course requirements and the instructor's teaching style, then they will be satisfactory English learners in e-learning context.
Another feature existing in an English e-learning environment is that some students are actively involved in the learning activities offered on line, but others just passively wait for the instructors to assign them homework. Why do some students visit the English course web sites more often than others? Why do some students spend more time interacting with their instructors than others? To answer these questions, we have to understand the students' motivation (will) behind their behaviors. Pintrich and Schrunk (as cited in Mattern, 2005) pointed out that one of the most applicable and predominant theories used to understand students' instrumental or academic motivation is achievement goal theory. Achievement goal theory posits that individuals engage in academic activities to fulfill different goals (Mattern, 2005). Some students are motivated to do well because they want to earn an “A” in the course, thus demonstrating to themselves, their peers, professors, and even parents that they are smart (performance-approach goal). Others are less concerned with demonstrating their ability and more concerned with understanding the course material and developing their ability in a given domain (mastery goal). Previous research has shown that those who pursue mastery goals tend to seek more challenges, have higher reported use of effective learning strategies, including metacognitive strategies, report more positive attitudes towards school, and have a higher level of self-efficacy than those individuals who pursue performance goals (Mattern, 2005). Because English e-learning context is characterized as student-centered learning, web-based course learners are perceived to have more responsibility for their own learning, the present paper proposed that learners with a mastery orientation would be more willing to accept the challenging e-learning tasks, have positive feelings towards the e-learning situation, and have a long-term and high-quality involvement in learning. Performance goals, in contrast, would be associated with negative outcomes of English e-learning. In other words, if English e-learners can prefer course material that arouses their curiosity even if it is difficult to learn, can get complete satisfaction from understanding the content as thoroughly as possible but not from getting good grades to show their abilities to their family and friends, then they might get most satisfaction from learning English in e-learning context.
Like any new pedagogical approaches that have not been carefully tried and tested, I think the effectiveness of learning English via web is in question. Because of the inherent nature of e-learning, highly autonomous learning environment, and its using computer mediated communication as a means for learning, the present paper assumed that the learners' individual characteristics such as computer anxiety, communication apprehension, self-regulated learning strategy use, and achievement goal orientation might play important roles for determining if an English e-learning experience is rewarding or frustrating in terms of students' satisfaction. The present researcher also assumes that a satisfied English e-learner might be the learner who has low levels of computer anxiety and computer-mediated communication comprehension, uses a lot of self-regulated learning strategies, and holds high level of mastery goal orientation but low level of performance goal orientation.
If all these assumptions can be supported by the future empirical studies, then three implications for instructions deserve consideration. First, to reduce CMC apprehension, educators can encourage the students to familiarize themselves with the use of e-mail, chat room, and MSN as earlier as possible. Second, web teachers need to develop the ability to teach and shape students' self-regulatory behaviors. Once the students are familiar with the metacognitive self-regulation strategies, web teachers should encourage students to use them when necessary. Although e-learning environment may prove beneficial for some learners, it is simply not effective for all learners. Before pushing students into the e-learning context demanding high self-control, the web teachers must make sure that their students possess the necessary metacognitive self-regulation strategies to cope with the challenges of unfamiliar e-learning environment. Finally, web instructors should find some ways to encourage their students to approve mastery goal orientation rather than performance-approach goal.
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