Course Documents
  Main Page
  Contact Information
  Course Announcement
  Schedule and Syllabus
  Course Participants
  Discussion Forum
  Swiki Chat
  Lecture Material
  Independent Research
  Previous Courses
Swiki Features:
  View this Page
  Edit this Page
  Printer Friendly View
  Lock this Page
  References to this Page
  Uploads to this Page
  History of this Page
  Top of the Swiki
  Recent Changes
  Search the Swiki
  Help Guide
Related Links:
  Center for LifeLong Learning and Design
  Computer Science Department
  Institute of Cognitive Science
  Atlas Program
  University of Colorado at Boulder

Design, Learning and Collaboration ― 2006 Spring

Learning Group ―
Independent Research Fianl Report

Gary Knoll, John Lansing, Keisuke Nishimoto, Laoleng Xiong

In this research, we studied foreign language learning of both children and adults from multiple perspective. First, we contrasted two forms of learning, formal and informal learning as a method of language learning, and then we analyzed the relationship between "learning about" and "learning to be" in study abroad context for language learning. Next, our focus is moved to exploring different aspects of learning, especially those related to motivation factor. Finally we surveyed "tools for learning" and "tools for living" as a way of communicating in a foreign language. These four perspectives are analyzed by the concept of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. We found out that people with "social motivation", a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, would be more effective in language learning.

1 Introduction

The concept of Learning encompasses a very wide field of interactions and activities that are aimed at mental retention of knowledge, information and skills. The study of learning and attempts to improve the process of learning, have been ongoing ever since human beings have been cognitively aware of the ability to learn. There have been many studies on how we learn and what methods are most efficient for learning as well as focusing on tools that may aid in the learning process.

For our research, we decided to narrow down the view on learning to focus on language learning, or the process by which any individual may attain the skill and know-how to communicate both verbally and in written form. Our research has been directed with an emphasis on foreign language learning with an observation on how children learn compared to adults. The overall approach intends to look at the motivating factors in children and in adults and how they are either similar or how they differ. Clearly there are different driving forces behind the education of children compared with that of adults and we intend to analyze several of these driving forces that factor into learning. However, to first understand the learning process, we must first take a look at how human beings learn new information and facts as well as skills.

Many scholars have focused on “Formal” and “Informal” learning techniques that describe the learning process. This report will explain what constitutes “Formal” learning versus “Informal” learning. Examining these primary methods for teaching and learning will lead to a focus on the impacts of each on young children compared to that of adults. After obtaining a well developed understanding of learning, there will be a shift to focus on foreign language learning and the concepts of “Learning About” and “Learning to be.” The main idea will be to focus on how students from non-English speaking countries learn the English language with an in-depth review of the process in general. Our direction will then shift to discuss the many different aspects of Learning. Particularly there will be a discussion on the motivation of different individuals ranging from young children to adults and the effects of each underlying motivational factor.

In delving into the motivational factors behind different learning techniques and processes for both children and adults, there are new and innovative ways that have been developed to enhance and improve upon learning overall. As an example, some attempts to improve the learning of children have led to the creation of new learning tools that are interactive and entertaining as well as educational. This discussion will then usher in the idea of “Tools for Learning” versus “Tools for Living,” a look at how the world is accommodating the many different learning needs of specific individuals as well as everyone in the modern world. Tools that can be used for learning touch upon the idea of “Scaffolding,” the idea that learning can be made in increments with the aid of cognitive or environmental aids. Whereas the focus on tools that are used for living will take a closer look at tools, both devices and software applications that can enhance or aid in the daily lives of specific individuals.

2 Language Learning from Four Dimensions

2.1 Informal and formal learning

Learning in the broadest sense can be broken down into two clear definitions, that of “Formal” and “Informal” Learning. Formal learning can best be described as the learning that takes place in structured environments like a classroom. Formal learning has a context that is overseen by a certified teacher or instructor and is comprised of a format that usually has been fine tuned by a larger group of educators. While informal learning will vary from childhood to adulthood, the underlying principals are the same. Learning in an informal context will usually imply the absence of a rigidly structured process. They may or may not be a guiding teacher or certified instructor. Furthermore there is a lack of a formal classroom where outside variables can be limited and inner workings fine tuned. Generally, for young children a common definition of formal learning is what takes place inside a classroom, where classrooms tend to have the same kids and teacher(s) on a regular basis. In a classroom environment, learning units and programs can last several days and usually are constructed from a pre-approved curriculum. In addition, teachers are expected to have a certain level of training and education [R1]. In contrast, an informal learning environment for children can be illustrated with after school programs and community centers. Here the number of and the exact participants vary widely and are usually taught or run by individuals who vary in formal education. The content that is provided in these informal environments usually is of a short day to day type and is more flexible overall. Therefore it is interesting to note that many scholars believe that neither form of education is vastly superior over the other, but rather that a combination of the two, formal and informal learning is the best approach. Informal and Formal learning are most effective together, not separate [R2].

For adults, it becomes less distinct which form of learning is prominent in the majority of learning. Learning in adults is usually exclusively formal or informal depending on the content, as opposed to children who receive both forms of learning. For adults most learning can be thought of as informal, where on the job training and work related learning occurs. There are also aspects of adult learning that can be characterized by formal learning when given a more rigid and structured format such as adult education and seminars or conferences.

In the aspect of language learning, effectiveness can be related to the underlying motivational forces guiding each individual. Driving factors of language learning in youth can be characterized as both intrinsic and extrinsic. As young children are constantly attending school, they are exposed to both formal and informal environments for learning language. The factors in school can be thought of as primarily extrinsic, or external, as much of the underlying motivation is driven by instructors. Whatever occurs outside of the classroom related to learning a language can then be described as intrinsically motivated. The interesting thing to note is the stage at which young children begin to fully grasp the written form of a language. Studies have shown that by the fifth grade, students began to “write better than they speak” [R3]. Showing that speech is not truly representative of an individual’s overall understanding of a language, studies have shown that high school students had better thought content, sentence structure and fewer grammatical errors in their writing compared to their speech. Although it appears that writing may be a greater indicating aspect of learning a language, many scholars will argue that both writing and speaking each garner its own validity. This model of language learning can also be applied to adults, however the major difference is that whereas children are constantly learning both formally and informally, adults tend to learn in infrequent occurrences of both.

2.2 "Learning about" and "Learning to be"

"learning about" refers to a style of learning where students learn as an observer mainly focusing on acquiring knowledge about a subject, whereas "learning to be" denotes a style of leraning where students learn a subject by actually practicing it. These two forms of learning are not a binary choice, rather they should be regarded as two edges of a continuous spectrum. To analyze these two styles, we will focus on language learning in a study abroad context. Our discussion is based on the findings from related articles and interviews of three Japanese students who have experience of studying English in US.

Many of English classes taught in public schools in Japan can be seen as "learning about," since students have almost no opportunity to use it in real situation. This lack of opportunity may explain why Japanese students tend to be less motivated to study English other than to prepare for exams, which is a typical example of extrinsic motivation. Actually, two of our interviewees said they had never been motivated to learn English until they stayed in foreign countries for a short period of time, experiencing 'breakdown' by realizing their English skills had not been enough.

However, this does not imply that classroom lectures are not useful. Two of the interviewees took intensive English courses in Japan which were taught by English-speaking teachers, and they thought they had improved their skills a lot throughout the courses. These classes intended to let students learn BY English, which is a factor of "learning about." Another aspect to consider is that the prior skills of reading and grammar, which are typically taught in "learning about" style, positively affects acquisition of other skills in study abroad context[R4]. This is backed up by the statements by two of interviewees saying that they should have studied English grammar more.

Several studies have shown that the time spent in the native speech community will enhance second language proficeincy[R4], which may show the effectivnes of "learning to be." All the interviewees said they felt they enhanced English skills during their stay and tried to increase the opportunity to use English by exploring topics of their interest or getting involved in social activities. This shows that "learning to be" is mainly driven by intrinsic or social motivation. However, communication anxiety negatively affects communication confidence[R5] and this may make "learning to be" tougher than "learning about." Actually, all the interviewees said one of the problems they had encourntered during their stay was that sometimes their speech had not been understood by native speekers. To overcome this situation, one of the interviewees moved two times, gradually increasing the level of immersion. This could be a good example of how scaffolding helps students in "learning to be" situation.

2.3 Exploration of different aspect of learning

In researching different aspects of learning, especially in the context of adult language learning, one aspect consistently stands out above all the rest. This factor is motivation of the learner. We will use this space to report on the findings of a few different research studies regarding motivation in language learning.

One study has shown that "play" has a positive affect on language learning in children. The conclusion was that physical activities and songs created some source of motivation for the children, augmenting their natural ability to pick up a new language. The research suggests that these types of activities can actually create an intrinsic motivation in the children. So how can we produce this same kind of result for adults?

Alpine is a higher education project in Europe that is researching ways to modify the university system to help teach foreign languages more effectively. As part of their research, they uncovered a trend that the main reasons why adults learned a foreign language was for purely intrinsic reasons. However when these adults were asked why they would want their child to learn a foreign language, it was always for extrinsic reasons, and more specifically so that the child could "get a better job."

The other important thing to note is the adults don't necessarily learn languages more slowly than children. The two main problems that affect adults as they grow up in their language learning efforts are memory and pronunciation. There are exercises and practices that adults can use to tackle these shortcomings.

It becomes somewhat clear at this point that the main problem is a lack of motivation in an adult while trying to learn a foreign language. All of this information seems to point in the direction of providing frameworks for learning foreign languages that encourage both types of motivation, both intrinsic and extrinsic. The Alpine project even suggests a third type of motivation, social motivation. In their research, students that had social concerns for learning a new language were often the best students.

2.4 Tools for learning versus tools for living

This section will focus on the types of tools available to aid in completion of foreign language communication. There are two basic approaches to successful communication between two people that speak different languages. The first is for one of the people to learn the other’s language. This can be done through the use of tools for learning. Tools for learning provide the scaffolding to help one acquire fluency in a language. This scaffolding will then fade as the learner’s abilities increase and independence is reached.[R6] These tools may include anything from school courses and tutoring sessions to computer software applications. The second solution to successful communication would to use a tool for living. Tool for living are based on distributed intelligence; they provide one with the continuous assistance needed to do a specific task.[R7] The tool will be available to the users for every attempt of this task; for example, the use of a human or computer translation system.

We studied the software tools available for tools for learning and tools for living and found that each tool had their pros and cons. Developments in voice recognition software continue to increase the quality of computer aided language learning systems. Techniques in analyzing speech pronunciation, syntax, and semantics help create a valued critiquing system necessary for learning.[R8] The use of computer translation services have also been shown to be very effective means of communication between two peoples of different language backgrounds. An estimated $165M, seven year project funded mostly by the German Federal Ministry for Education, Science, Research and Technology (BMBF); worked on by language experts in universities all over the world created a speaker-independent system that processes spontaneous speech. It has a communication domain of making appointments travel planning, and hotel reservations. It translates between any combination of German, English, and Japanese.[R9]

After analyzing the two types of tools it is clear that they each have their places in foreign language communication. A person that wishes to live in a country which speaks a language foreign to this person it is clear he should use a learning tool to obtain fluency in the language. However, it is no longer required for an English speaking person traveling on business to Germany to learn German in order to book a hotel or schedule a meeting with a German speaking business client. Trends in this technology support tools to give presentations in English that will be instantly broadcasted in German or any other language. The development of tools for living have the power to enable us to do many things that we once though impossible without an immense effort. Tools for living are something that should continue to be developed for as many aspects of life as possible.

3 Conclusion

The most important aspect of learning is motivation. There exist two types of motivation: intrinsic motivation, which is a type of motivation to acquire intrinsic rewards, and extrinsic motivation, which is a type of motivation to acquire extrinsic rewards. For example, simple interest in foreign language can be an intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, extrinsic motivation typically involves material rewards such as money or a job. These kinds of motivations are common factors in our four perspectives, and we will describe the relationship among them.

In describing the four perspectives of informal learning, formal learning, learning about and learning to be, we would like to introduce the notion of motivation patterns. Each of these perspectives of learning is driven by a fairly distinct pattern of motivation that will contain a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. By looking at the chart below, we can see visually these motivational patterns.


By examining this chart, we can see that informal learning and learning to be share a similar motivational pattern consisting of mostly intrinsic motivation. Likewise, formal learning and learning about share a mostly extrinsic motivational pattern. By using this chart and our research above, we can draw some conclusions about adult language learning.

We know that informal learning is much more successful when aided by a strong foundation built in formal learning. We also know that learning to be is much more successful when preceded by a strong base in learning about. I think it can also be said by looking at this chart and the information above that a person with a mixture of the two types of motivation, namely "social" motivation, are much more successful in learning a foreign language. It is clear that the best way for an adult to learn a language would be to go through a program that exemplified the above characteristics and provide the opportunities to capitalize on the above findings.

4 Reference

[R1] Corporation for Public Broadcasting. (2006) "Enhancing Education: A Children's Producer's Guide."
[R2] Hellen Colley, Phil Hodkinson and Janice Malcom. (2005) "Non-Formal Learning: Mapping the Conceptual Terrain."
[R3] Wallace Chafe and Deborah Tannen. (1987) " The Relation Between Written and Spoken Language."
[R4] Barbara F. Freed (1998) "An Overview of Issues and Research in Language Learning in a Study Abroad Setting"
[R5] Yashima T. (2002) "Willingness to Communicate in a second Language: The Japanese EFL Context"
[R6] Pea, R. D. (2004) "The Social and Technological Dimensions of Scaffolding and Related Theoretical Concepts for Learning, Education, and Human Activity," The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(3), pp. 423-451.
[R7] Carmien, S., & Fischer, G. (2005) "Tools for Living and Tools for Learning." In, Proceedings of the HCI International Conference (HCII), Las Vegas, July 2005, (published on CD).
[R8] Farzad Ehsani and Eva Knodt. Speech Technology in Computer Aided Language Learning: Strengths and Limitations of a new CALL Paridigm. Language Learning & Technology. Vol. 2, No. 1, July 1998, pp. 45-60.
[R10] Play and Affect in Language Learning
[R11] Alpine: A Higher Education Project
[R12] Language Learning in the Translation Classroom
[R13] Integrative Motivation of Hong Kong Language Learners
[R14] What Motivates Adults to Learn a Second Language?
[R15] Summary of interviews with students who have studied abroad for language learning
Interview Summary

View this PageEdit this PagePrinter Friendly ViewLock this PageReferences to this PageUploads to this PageHistory of this PageTop of the SwikiRecent ChangesSearch the SwikiHelp Guide