Learner Analysis #deuloe assignment

Learner Analysis: Pre-Arrival Adult Immigrants to Canada Whose First Language is not English

My Role Within the Learner Group

The members of my learner group are pre-arrival adult immigrants to Manitoba, Canada, whose first language is not English. They have been pre-approved for permanent residency but currently reside in their home countries. This report will provide details of the needs and characteristics of the group, based on my experience working with similar groups.

I work for a subsidized non-profit organization, and all the services are free to eligible learners. I oversee the Learner Services department and the development of the learner support system in an online self-directed learning environment. I am also actively engaged in the learning design and facilitation of learning options, reflected in the chart below.

learning options chart

Learning options accessible by the learner cohort (click the image to enlarge it)

Client intake is ongoing, and currently we have approximately 600 learners registered, 10% of whom are pre-arrivals; the whole group is supported by two eFacilitators.

Learner Group

Since my task here is a speculative analysis, I decided to employ the personas technique, which helped me create a group of fictitious learners (see Appendix) to represent my learners. The group, consisting of three women, two men and one couple, is heterogeneous in professional and educational backgrounds, language abilities, motivation to immigrate, personal goals, computer skills, strengths and possible obstacles to their success in Canada. The three commonalities I established are maturity, the goal of immigrating to Canada, and isolation from the destination culture. I will discuss the learners’ characteristics and needs in three categories: online learning environment, metacognition, and survival.

  • Online Learning Environment

My learners access the services from locations spread across the globe. In a synchronous workshop I may facilitate individuals from six time zones. This presents me with scheduling challenges and requires repeats on different days at different times to provide access for all. Further, a full spectrum of computer skills can be seen, ranging from first-time users to avid online game players. Self-access tutorials are available, but even then for learners unfamiliar with computers, following instructions from a screen capture constitutes a learning barrier. Some persevere and contact eFacilitators for help; some drop out. Moreover, computer access is inconsistent for the learners, from library access, to the variety in operating systems and device sizes; this creates compatibility issues. Since our live workshops are planned for virtual classroom environments and incorporate chats, document sharing, watching videos, and browsing websites, mobile users are disadvantaged. Nonetheless, developing mobile-friendly versions is considered a lower priority as funding restrictions and the majority needs dictate the delivery outputs.

  • Metacognition

Given that they are mature learners, they most likely grew up in a traditional face-to-face educational model, and so for many learning online is a first-time experience. Learners entering our online self-directed learning environment are expected to take ownership of their learning, i.e. to formulate goals, select learning options matching their availability and needs, and reflect, monitor, and self-assess their own progress. In reality the group displays a spiky profile in terms of metacognitive skills and attitudes towards self-directed learning; some learners expect the eFacilitator to direct their learning, while others expect access to content anytime to engage in activities independently. This clash of expectations presents an emotional rollercoaster of stretching comfort zones for all involved. With varied autonomy levels, there is a strong need for study materials to raise awareness of metacognition involved in learning online. Additionally, the learning options must be diversified to address different interaction preferences shown in the chart above. It is a challenge to meet all learners’ expectations and needs, and occasionally learners drop out from the program. I have recently discovered instances where proficient language learners have chosen to not contact an eFacilitator because they are not used to taking the initiative to seek assistance for their learning. This could be a personal choice, or a cultural factor, such as high power distance. What frustrates me is that frequently I do not know why a learner drops out as they rarely notify me of their departure.

  • Survival

As future residents of Canada, learners need information about local services to address their family needs, such as applying for jobs, finding housing, or bringing pets. They also need familiarity with the particulars of the Canadian culture, or soft skills. One such soft skill is the ability to communicate in one of the official languages of Canada. Consequently, learners need opportunities to improve their language skills. The better they communicate on arrival, the higher their chances are of finding a job. One of the learners speaks English at a native level; however her accent might be perceived negatively and pose a challenge in her successfully landing a job.

One of the common denominators for pre-arrival immigrants is their isolation from the destination culture. Learners may be engaged with our services for three years prior to landing in Canada. In that case, the transfer of skills learned through engagement with the learning options in the chart above is delayed, while focus on the retention of skills prevails. Learners cannot contact employers to apply their interview skills as employers are disinterested in talking to a person with an unspecified arrival date. However, I encourage learners to use this time to build community networks with fellow immigrants living in Canada. Once the learners arrive in Manitoba, these new acquaintances will serve as a support system to help them with culture shock and nostalgia. To enable those connections I moderate a forum and virtual coffee chats where clients can exchange experiences and contact information.

The need for information and language practice juxtaposed with varied dates of arrival constitutes a learning design challenge. Learners arriving in a month needs quick access to information, while others arriving in two years’ time have the luxury of time to gather facts about their future home. I find myself constantly questioning and modifying the current learner support system and its effectiveness to satisfy the learners’ needs.

Conclusion

The learners I have described are highly diverse in their individual needs. Funding restrictions create a learning design challenge to offer inclusive services that will address the wide range of individual needs. As a teacher, ideally I want to see that every individual goal is achieved; as a learning designer I need to generate scalable and sustainable solutions to accommodate the majority and provide access for all. I feel that a self-directed learning environment is one that can best fulfill the needs of the group, but such an environment requires a considerable amount of time and resources to develop wide-ranging options to meet varied metacognitive, technical, and survival needs.

Appendix with personas can be viewed here.

Mandarin Learning Challenge

In the spirit of openness and visible learning, here is my report on the Mandarin learning challenge I did for Understanding Learning in the Online Environment (#deuloe).

Submitted March 29, 2015.  Word count 1095.


 

Kolb and Kolb posit that “learning identity is strongly influenced by one’s important relationships” (2009, p 3). My identity as a language learner began forming when I was six years old. I remember visiting my paternal grandfather and spending hours leafing through his dictionaries; he spoke ten languages. While other kids played games, I pretended to sound out Italian, French or German words, and dreamed of speaking all of them one day. My first English textbook came from my grandfather. I strongly believe that his encouragement awoke my life-long fascination with language learning, which led me to become a language teacher.

When I realized that for the learning challenge I was tasked to choose a motor skill, I knew it could only be another language; I chose to learn Mandarin Chinese. One could argue that speaking two languages I was simply adding a third to my language repertoire, where I could draw on an established facility with language learning. However, since Mandarin belongs to an utterly unfamiliar language family for me – Sino Tibetan – I expected it to constitute a considerable, yet stimulating learning challenge. In this report, I will justify my choice as well as explore my approach and barriers to learning, where I will specifically look at motivation as the most significant driver of my learning process.

I chose to learn Mandarin for a number of reasons. Firstly, learning a foreign language constitutes the best professional development one can undertake. Gaining an ability to make analogies between languages aids in understanding learners’ needs. Secondly, I work for a settlement agency, so knowing the basics of a language spoken by a learner helps break down barriers and build trust. As a result, learners are frequently encouraged to tackle English with greater enthusiasm. Thirdly, by embarking on this challenge, I wanted to increase my understanding of why Mandarin speakers experience difficulty pronouncing the ‘ey’ diphthong in English, as in the word plain. Finally, since Mandarin has more speakers than any other language, I want to be one of them.

My reasons for embarking on this challenge illustrate that motivation is multidimensional and complicated (Ellis 2015). Deci and Ryan (cited in Ellis 2015) concluded that people are motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically. On the one hand, I activated choice motivation (Dörnyei cited in Lightbown and Spada 2013) by being intrinsically motivated out of life-long curiosity for languages. On the other hand, my choice was externally enabled by this ULOE assignment, as it gave me ‘a push’ to make it happen. Furthermore, by wanting to learn Mandarin for professional and belonging purposes, I exercised integrative motivation, which represents “language learning for personal growth and cultural enrichment through contact with” Mandarin speakers (Gardner and Lambert cited in Lightbown and Spada 2013, p 87).

For this learning challenge, just do it was my approach. Even though Bruning et al (1999) claimed that establishing specific, measurable and time-bound goals fuels intrinsic motivation, I decided against structuring my journey, as it disagreed with my beliefs about self-directed learning. I believe that self-directed learning is arborescent. Each branch is potential to learn something, and so are the leaves. Arborescence represents a multiple-path opportunity to learn.

I began my challenge by curating free online learning materials. Afterwards, I engaged in vicarious and enactive learning (Bandura cited in Bruning et al 2004). Krashen (1989) proposed Input Hypothesis by asserting that input is crucial and output simply happens. Image 1 illustrates my perfect output scores, which happened after repeated cycles of input-output, scaffolded by a teacher who listened to my recordings and provided feedback, an interaction referred to as Zone of Proximal Development by Vygotsky (cited in Ellis 2015). After all, language speaking is connected to the motor skills of the mouth and facial muscles; Scott claimed that to learn a new language one needs to “get one’s tongue around new sound combinations” (1994, p 90). To achieve this, one needs a considerable amount of practice; muscle memory does not happen by default as Krashen postulated.

waichinese

Image 1. Pronunciation practice using the Waichinese app

Dörnyei’s (cited in Lightbown and Spada 2013) model of motivation also entails executive motivation, which is responsible for engagement in activities that fuel the maintenance of motivation. As a self-directed learner, I was able to modify my approach when my motivation was dissipating, or after non-study periods. To maintain my motivation, I switched between learning resources. I listened to podcasts, watched videos, practised handwriting, and recorded myself.

My engagement in a variety of activities was aimed at aiding motivation and fostering the retention of new vocabulary. The vocabulary that ‘stuck’ with me was one that related to my real-life, e.g. dog commands or the word bread (Image 2). Caine and Caine (1994) elaborated on the importance of the connection between learning and real-world, and referred to it as brain-based learning. Unfortunately, my strategies to maintain motivation and increase vocabulary did not guarantee barrier-free learning.

chleb2

Image 2. Making bread

My belief in having high self-efficacy to learn Mandarin clashed with the reality of learning without a plan and outside of a Mandarin-speaking environment. Although the informal approach to learning was fun and diminished any anxiety related to striving for a goal, it presented a barrier in maintaining motivation for regular practice. In addition, learning Mandarin as a foreign language constituted a barrier as I had to make an effort to learn; Mandarin did not exist in my environment by default to support latent learning, one that happens involuntarily (Wikipedia). Another barrier which affected my motivation was slow retention. For example, practising pronunciation using the WaiChinese app was stimulating, but did not result in an increase of my language skills. Even though I spent time on scoring a match between my pronunciation pattern and the provided recordings (Image 1: upper pattern – model, bottom pattern – mine), I was unable to either retain any of the vocabulary, or to pronounce them out of context.

Language learning progress requires exposure to target language and regular practice. Due to my inconsistent engagement, I was only able to learn some basic vocabulary. Still, I managed to impress two learners by greeting them in Mandarin and give my dogs a mental exercise to understand ‘shake paw’ in four languages. All in all, the learning challenge was an enriching project, which helped me realize that I am a social learner. Opportunities that involved exposure and interactions with others, be it people or animals, were the most successful factors in my language progress. This discovery will help me select future learning pathways.

References

Bruning, R. H., Schraw G. J. and Ronning R. R. (1999). Cognitive psychology and instruction. Chapter 6; Beliefs about self. Upper Saddle River, N.J., Merrill.

Caine, R. N. and G. Caine (1994). Making connections: teaching and the human brain. Chapter 1; Making connections (3 – 12). Menlo Park, Calif., Addison-Wesley Pub. Co.

Ellis, R. (2015). Understanding Second Language Acquisition. Oxford, UK. Oxford University Press.

Kolb, A and Kolb, D. (2009) On Becoming a Learner: The Concept of Learning Identity. In Bamford-Rees et al. (eds) Essays on Adult Learning Inspired by the Life and Work of David O. Justice. Learning Never Ends. CAEL Forum and News 2009. P. 5-13.

Krashen, S. (1989). We Acquire Vocabulary and Spelling by Reading: Additional Evidence for the Input Hypothesis. The Modern Language Journal, 4, p. 440, JSTOR Journals, EBSCOhost, viewed 29 March 2015.

Lightbown, P.M. and Spada, N. (2013). How Language are Learned. Fourth Edition. Oxford, UK. Oxford University Press.

Scott, M. (1994). Reflections on Language Learning. Chapter 9: Metaphors and Language Awareness.