This literature review study explores 43 empirical research studies that report on the integration of Web 2.0 tools into language learning and evaluate the actual impact of their use. In particular, this review aims to identify the specific Web 2.0 tools integrated in the educational settings, theoretical underpinnings that are commonly used to frame the research, methodologies and data analysis techniques that scholars employ to analyze their research data, the benefits and challenges scholars spotted in their research findings, the pedagogical implications in using Web 2.0 for language learning and future research directions that scholars offer from their research.
Since 2004, a variety of Web 2.0 technologies have been rushing into people’s daily lives. The concept, Web 2.0, comprises a multitude of different connotations resulting in an increased emphasis on user-generated content, information sharing, collaborative and cooperative effort, learner-to-learner and learner-to-instructor interactivity, and informal and formal learning, which altogether potentially formulate a newly-emerging paradigm of Web 2.0-based online learning compared to traditional Web-based or e-learning paradigms (Brown, 2010; Craig, 2007; Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009; Olaniran, 2009; Selwyn, 2008). In the language learning domain, the practice of using Web 2.0 tools has been widespread. Web 2.0 tools, interchangeably named social media or social technologies, are penetrating all aspects of language classroom activities. Although there exists continued awe and apprehension about their effects, it is inevitable to find that more and more language educators are using Web 2.0 tools in their teaching (Thomas, 2009).
The wedlock between Web 2.0 and language education does not exist in a vacuum. As Thomas (2009) posits, the underpinnings reside in the fact that only through the medium of language can the web make all the acquaintances we have and all the communities we build possible. In other words, the practices of learning a language can be carried out on the web, which builds a natural connection between language learning and Web 2.0 integration.
The innate characteristics of Web 2.0 also echo the essence of language learning. As a social tool that provides numerous opportunities for language learners, the web fundamentally “decentralizes the role of the language classroom” (Thomas, 2009, p. 21). Specifically, the process of learning that conventionally takes place in-classroom has been replaced by the web, a student-owned territory that operates as a much larger, more engaging and more inclusive provider of power than a traditional classroom setting. This is evident in language learning as it is essentially a process in which a target language is often practiced and acquired within communities and group settings that are commonplace on the web.
It is only in recent years that researchers have started to conduct empirical and exploratory research studies to assess and evaluate the actual impact of using Web 2.0 tools in language learning, both in and outside of classroom settings (Lomicka & Lord, 2009). Although scholars have asserted that language learning research in the realm of Web 2.0 is still in its embryonic stage, we have seen a soaring increase in research where the attributes of Web 2.0 have been investigated in conjunction with the instructional and pedagogical implications of language learning. This change, in the meantime, denotes a new paradigm shift in CALL research in which new interactive and multimedia Web 2.0 tools are being adopted by language educators (Wang & Vasquez, 2012).