Impediments to Gauging ICT-Based Informal English Learning Outcomes

Impediments to Gauging ICT-Based Informal English Learning Outcomes

Taha Ahmed Hezam (University of Bisha, Saudi Arabia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2116-8.ch003
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This chapter is a product of the impediments to measuring ICT-based informal learning in the Saudi EFL context. It unravels difficulties of measuring the outcomes of informal English learning with a particular reference to informal technology-based activities. It succinctly discusses why it is difficult to design, develop, implement, and sustain a comprehensive approach to assessing ICT-based informal English learning outcomes. The major problems surfaced from this discussion included absence of theoretical background of this evolving mode of learning, unawareness of recognizing linguistic, and inability to control the informal ICT-based activities for they are arbitrary and difficult to expect and measure by ordinary tests. Thus, there is a need to adopt alternative assessment tools such as portfolio, progress tests, and self-reporting within a new paradigm shift towards learner-centeredness.
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The rapid evolution of digital technology, also known as ICT, with its various and ever-growing tools and applications brought about different learning modes. The recent learning mode is independent learning through a range of ICTs that promote language learning in virtual spaces – through wired and wireless devices (Guth, 2009; Jung, 2006; Sockett, 2014; Toffoli & Sockett, 2015; Zanetti, 2017). Prior research shows that ICTs generally help language learners to elevate their linguistic abilities. A good number of earlier studies examined the impact of ICT tools and applications on target language skills (e.g. Al-Kadi, 2018; Blake, 2008; Gonzalez & Louis, 2013; Kenning, 2007; Sharples, Arnedillo-Sanchez, Milrad & Vavoula, 2009). A plethora of research has scrutinized the merits of certain types of digital technologies in certain language aspects. For instance, Hegelheimer and O’Bryan (2009), Travis and Joseph (2009) suggested podcasting-based projects to improve oral skills. Alm (2015) and Vivian (2011) studied informal exposure to English through Facebook. Nevertheless, using technology in second language (L2) situations along with measuring its outcomes are not always straightforward. Gauging the linguistic gains stemming from free and spontaneous uses of digital technologies is an issue that warrants further research to come up with conclusive findings. There is a worldwide debate on how to measure informal language uptake that mostly occurs in informal settings facilitated by various appliances. Investigating such a topic provides implications for practical procedures to include informal practices as additional benefits to the existing formal learning. It also charts new venues for research in the Arab context where English language teaching goes through serious problems related to lack of authentic exposure, teacher training, and paradigm shifts from the traditional teaching practices to recent trends that lay heavy emphasis on learners and learning.

Recent approaches to L2 learning recognized learning that cross the borders of the classroom. Thanks to modern technology learning opportunities are handy and accessible everywhere. Alan Rogers, one of the premier authors who addressed informal learning, believes that formal and informal learning are inseparable. Rogers (2014) mooted formal and informal learning as continua – ranging from the very informal (incidental and accidental) learning through self-directed learning opportunities (self-planned) and non-formal (planned by others, not learners) to the very formal (scheduled) learning. Inspired by Rogers’ continuum, Bagdonaite-Stelmokiene and Žydžiūnaitė (2016) viewed learning as a range of individual-centered learning opportunities to tacit learning (formal learning) – some of these learning activities are purposeful and some are chancy: self-regulated, self-directed, self-managed, experiential, incidental/accidental learning. Despite gaining acceptance, informal learning has not been fully researched. It remains a complex area of investigation and difficult to control its variables. One of the major problems is the difficulty of measuring outcomes of this type of learning. This provides a rationale for a close examination of this issue.

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