Reflection and the distance language learner
This research examines the role of critical reflection in learning theories and
the relationship between Kolb's learning cycle and notions of the 'good'
language learner, the deep approach to learning and autonomous learning in
the context of adult, part-time, distance language learning. This group of
learners is under-represented in the research literature.
The research takes an exploratory-interpretative approach. Open University
Language students had been invited by their tutors to use materials based on
Kolb's learning cycle, designed to encourage critical reflection in order to
enhance learning. In-depth interviews explored the experience of users and
non-users. Course materials were examined for evidence of encouragement
and support for critical reflection and autonomy. The research aimed to
establish what OU language learners do to develop productive and receptive
language skills and the extent to which they demonstrate capacities of
critical reflection and autonomy. It examined the extent to which these
capacities were developed via course materials and assignments and the
impact of the style and pace of study. It considered whether these capacities
could be enhanced by the project materials, as well as the influence of
tutors' expectations and approaches.
The majority of interviewees exhibited considerable functional activity
except in writing skills. They demonstrated characteristics of the 'good'
language learner, elements of a deep approach and features of autonomous
learning. This contrasted with a surface approach to coursework and
assignments, brought about by excessive workload and the controlled,
anxiety-provoking nature of assessment. Analysis of assignments also
suggested they were likely to evoke a surface approach. Course materials
advocated reflection, self-assessment and self-evaluation, but did not
support this via teaching or practice and offered few decision-making
opportunities.Students exercised the capacity for critical reflection and autonomy to
varying degrees. Those who had used the proj ect materials appeared more
likely to make decisions about their learning, and set specific goals. The
project materials were judged a straightforward framework for reflection.
Tutors were positive about the materials but appeared to give little attention
to critical reflection. Their concerns about time constraints and student
workload may have confirmed student perceptions and discouraged use of
the project materials.
The research suggests broadening the notion of the 'good' language learner.
It proposes more explicit development of learning strategies and the
capacity for critical reflection within course materials and tutorials, and
giving more attention to the nature and impact of assessment in order to
foster 'active', deep, autonomous learning.