The relationship between metacognitive knowledge of learning English as a foreign language and learning behaviour in a vocabulary learning computer environment
This investigation comprised two studies aimed at identifying the relationship, if any, between beliefs about the formal or functional nature of learning English as a foreign language and learning behaviour in a vocabulary learning computer environment. Two measurement tools were developed.A questionnaire was developed to measure beliefs of a general nature about the task of learning a foreign language, definition of the formal functional components of language learning activities, and beliefs about the efficacy of the same language activities. This was done to observe the correlations, if any, between formal-functional bias in general beliefs and preferences for specific activities which respondents have previously defined in formal-functional terms. A hypertext program was also developed. This program consisted of vocabulary learning materials with code built into the programming which recorded user interaction in log files. Using the logged data, general beliefs and beliefs about the efficacy of language learning activities could then be compared with preference for inductive and deductive learning, passive and productive practice, and effort invested in the task as measured by the number of screens accessed and time spent on the task. The two studies making up the investigation consisted of a pilot study to test the questionnaire and a main study, combining the questionnaire and software. The Main Study was done in four stages with the first three stages being used to pilot the software and the final stage functioning as the source of data on subject behaviour. Questionnaire data was compared with the logged data and post-hoc interviews served to triangulate the logged data. A qualitative analysis of subject behaviour in the computer environment was also carried out. Main findings for questionnaire data were that formal-functional bias in general beliefs may be related to preference for formal or functional activities. Beliefs regarding knowledge of target language culture or learning context may be more closely related to formal-functional preferences than beliefs regarding grammar or vocabulary. Regarding correlational relationships with logged data, beliefs appeared to be less important than prior knowledge of target vocabulary. Subjects showed a consistent pattern of variation of preferences according to level of prior knowledge while effort invested showed a bellshaped curve with increasing prior knowledge. Formal-Functional biases in general beliefs had correlational relationships with effort invested, but the direction of the relationships varied according to the belief. Main conclusions were that the pattern of interaction suggested subjects were acting autonomously. In exercising this autonomy, they were influenced by their beliefs, but level of prior knowledge of the task was more important in determining how they learned or practiced the target vocabulary. Regarding pedagogical implications, it was argued that the formal-functional distinction has little pedagogical value in terms of understanding language learners. Finally, it was concluded that this research has shown that language learners' metacognitive knowledge of the task of language learning is a resource which teachers ignore at their peril.