As a kid in the 1970’s I used to learn German vocabulary on the train I took to school. Our teacher would give us a list of 10 words to learn and he then tested us on them at the start of the next class. The words I had to learn were written in an exercise book, a bit like the one in the illustration perhaps – light and portable it fitted neatly into my school bag a ready source of language practice at my fingertips. Mobile learning of the 1970s we might say.
So M learning has been around for a while, but what is important here is not the mobile it’s the learning.
Fast forward 30 or 40 years and instead of the exercise book I had, my son has an i pad or something similar in his bag, more technology than was used to send a man to the moon in fact (as I learnt at a conference recently – thanks Gavin Dudeney) ! This device can potentially offer some very sexy resources for him to practise his German, whether via dedicated language exercises or simply using an internet connection to browse, read and listen in German. Way more interesting than rote learning a list of words as I did you might think. The flipside of course is that it also offers plenty of interesting things to do which will not improve his German. Distractions we may call them, or simply other choices. So will an i pad send his language learning to the moon?
Back to the future
Who is likely to learn more German, 1970s Duncan or his 21st century son? Can technology provide a net benefit to my son in this scenario with opportunities outweighing distractions and driving him to greater success with his German? For this to happen I think he needs to be equipped with what I would like to call a “coaching orientation”. In fact the more options there are available via technology, the more attention he needs to pay to identifying his goals and tapping into some motivation which will help him to reach them. Like the rest of us, he will probably benefit from some help with that, help which can come from a coach.
There are two kinds of activity included in this blog which are designed to help integrate resources made available through technology with the coaching orientation referred to above.
1. Activities which support practising English outside class, most of which leverage the advantages offered by the internet in providing quick and easy access to written and spoken language as well as opportunities to write and speak. These activities are aimed at helping users of English understand not so much what the technology is (they tend to know that), but how it can help them practise their English
2. Activities which help learners to plan and manage their learning. These coaching activities work on areas such as goal setting, motivation and time management because we feel this kind of support is crucial if learners of English are going to maximise their progress. This second type of activity helps learners do more of the first type.
Digital literacy, the skills required to access and exploit information technology, is of course important, but without an appropriate orientation or “emotional literacy”, if you will, there is a danger that the benefits technology can bring to learning, and other human endeavour for that matter, will likely be missed.