Metacognitive Knowledge and Language Learning in a Web-Based Distance Learning Context: The Case of Adult EFL Learners in China

Metacognitive Knowledge and Language Learning in a Web-Based Distance Learning Context: The Case of Adult EFL Learners in China

Naiyi Xie Fincham, Guofang Li
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8286-1.ch016
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This chapter reported on the construction and development of the metacognitive knowledge (MCK) about web-based distance language learning of two adult English as a foreign language (EFL) learners in China. Drawing upon theories and research in metacognition, self-regulated second/foreign language learning, and distance language learning, the authors investigated adult Chinese EFL learners' knowledge about themselves as online distance language learners, the nature and demands of online distance English learning, and how to best approach their learning in this program. They identified changes in these learners' MCK over the 16 week semester and discussed how a number of contextual factors, including the pre-determined learning structure, teacher-led instructional sessions, and peer interaction opportunities, were significant in shaping and influencing learners' adjustments and revisions of their MCK about online distance language learning. Findings from this study have important implications for the design and implementation of web-based distance language programs for adult learners.
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With the rapid development and integration of new media and digital technologies in second/foreign language (L2) education, technology now constitutes an important role in the ecology of learning (Lai, 2013). Not only has traditional L2 learning context been supplemented with increasing online/distance learning components, but there has also been growing demand for and availability of web-based distance education (Kostina, 2011). These technology-mediated learning environments are conducive to language learning by combining various tools with specific curricular aspects and allowing learners to choose the tools and activities that suit their learning styles and objectives (Stickler & Hampel, 2010). However, it is argued that the effectiveness of these learning environments can only be achieved if students deploy necessary metacognitive and self-regulatory processes (Azevedo, 2005). One prerequisite to effective self-regulated learning is to have an appropriate metacognitive knowledge (MCK) base – knowledge about themselves as learners, the learning task, and appropriate strategies, upon which students draw as they monitor and manage their learning (Flavell, 1979). Wenden (1998) is one of the first L2 researchers to apply Flavell’s framework of MCK to language learning, and she stressed that MCK was a “neglected variable” that warranted close attention from L2 researchers and practitioners (Wenden, 2001). Since then, there has been a growing body of literature that reveal the crucial role of MCK in language learning (e.g., Cotterall & Murray, 2009; Goh, 1997; He, 2011; Kasper, 1997; Ruan, 2005; Victori, 1999; L. J. Zhang, 2010). As Chamot and O’Malley (1994) suggest:

metacognition . . . may be the major factor in determining the effectiveness of individuals’ attempts to learn another language and . . . explicit metacognitive knowledge about task characteristics and appropriate strategies for task solution is a major determiner of language learning effectiveness. (p. 372)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Strategy Knowledge: In the context of learning a second or foreign language, it refers to language learners’ understanding of what and how certain strategies can be used to achieve the task goals, and the effectiveness of these strategies.

Metacognition: The awareness and understanding of one’s own cognition and the processes used to plan, monitor, and evaluate one’s own thinking, learning, and performance.

Metacognitive Knowledge: One’s awareness and understanding about what and how various factors act and interact to affect one’s own learning and thinking.

Web-Based Distance Language Learning: An online instructional delivery system that enables independent and interactive language learning through the means of multimodal materials for self-study, formative and summative assessments, and synchronous and asynchronous communications with instructors and peers supported by online learning technologies.

Self-Directed Learner: An individual who takes the initiative and the responsibility for what occurs through selecting, managing, and assessing one’s own learning activities.

Person Knowledge: In the context of learning a second or foreign language, it refers to language learners’ awareness and understanding about their strengths and weaknesses in certain knowledge or skill areas, language learning needs, motivations, and awareness of emotions arising during the learning process and their influences.

Online Language Pedagogy: The methods and practices of teaching a foreign language in an online learning environment.

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