A Systematic Exploration of Language Learning Technologies: Insights for Developers and Educators

A Systematic Exploration of Language Learning Technologies: Insights for Developers and Educators

Todd Sloan Cherner (Portland State University, USA), Diming Wu (Portland State University, USA & Bengbu University, China) and Alex G. Fegely (Coastal Carolina University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7473-6.ch007


There is an ever-growing number of language learning technologies designed for teaching English, and they commonly take the form of applications for mobile devices and websites. Because learning a language provides personal and professional opportunities, this chapter's researchers conducted a case study that examined the functionality and quality of websites designed to teach English using Puentadura's substitution, augmentation, modification, and redefinition (SAMR) scale. This case study opens with an overview of the edtech marketplace before explaining how the researchers used SAMR to analyze websites designed for teaching English. The researchers found that the majority of websites functioned at SAMR's lower levels and that their design presented challenges when navigating through their content. This chapter concludes with multiple recommendations for both developers and researchers regarding ways to increase the websites' functionalities and improve their design.
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Access has been a historical obstacle for many groups around the world since the birth of formal education. Across cultures and time, there are multiple examples of the privileged using access to education as a method to support their own interests while oppressing minorities, women, and the poor. Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed is a grand example that explains how when a population is denied access to quality education, the oppressor-oppressed relationship is sustained. However, when education is framed through conscientização, a Portuguese term for critical consciousness, it becomes a vehicle for social change. In Freire’s example, he provided adult migrant workers with access to education, and they were able to change their society and overcome historical barriers. In our current context, the use of internet-connected devices has increased access to education at an unprecedented rate, and the emergence of language learning technologies (LLTs) has been a particular area of interest to English language learners (ELLs), teachers, developers, and educational technology (edtech) companies. In this chapter, we will first contextualize the edtech marketplace before sharing a content analysis of the free LLTs available as websites. This chapter will conclude with recommendations for developers and researchers of LLTs.

The Language Learning Technologies in the EdTech Marketplace

The edtech marketplace is crowded, and the term edtech itself has multiple implications. At a foundational level, edtech refers to the assortment of technologies, such as devices, programs, and infrastructure, needed for technology to be accessible in educational settings for teaching and learning. Taking a wider viewpoint, edtech creates a ripple in its marketplace that extends into organizations, companies, and educator preparation programs that offer professional development, installation, and other related services. The result is a global edtech marketplace that was worth nearly $10 billion in 2017 (Shulman, 2017), and there is a great likelihood it will continue to grow due to how edtech is reshaping education around the world (Bonk, 2009; Khaddage, Müller & Flintoff, 2016). LLTs are then a subset of edtech that has specific benefits for ELLs, and LLTs have seen significant growth worldwide in recent years (Collins & Liang, 2014; Ganapathy & Seetharam, 2016).

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2017), there were 3.8 million ELLs enrolled in public schools in the United States in 2000, and that number grew to 4.8 million by 2015. The British Council (2018a) reported that there will be 15.3 million ELLs in the European Union (EU) by 2025, and China currently has a massive population of over 300 million ELLs (British Council, 2018b). As a result, the British Council (2018b) foresees English being the lingua franca, or common language, used for business in the EU and around the world well into the future, and they reported that over 80 million ELLs are using LLTs to advance their knowledge of the English language (British Council, 2018a). In this context, Hou and Besier (2006) and Kessler (2018) recognize that using LLTs to learn English opens up both professional and personal opportunities for ELLs. In response, this study’s focus is to analyze the functionalities of LLTs designed for ELLs.

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