The Era of Engaged Learning

The Era of Engaged Learning

The Era of Engaged Learning

Willy A Renandya – 13 June 2021

The past 75 years or so have witnessed paradigmatic changes in the way we view teaching and learning. These changes have shaped the way we teach our students and support their learning.

I outline below some of the most distinct eras that we can glean from the language education literature.

  1. Era of conditioned learning. One of the key figures during this era was BF Skinner who famously said “Give me a child and I’ll shape him into anything”. Early methods of language learning such as memorization, repeated drills and practice characterized this era.
  2. Era of natural learning. Two key figures here were Noam Chomsky and Stephen Krashen who believed that humans were endowned with an in-born capacity to acquire language. Given a sufficiently rich linguistic environment, language learning will happen quite smoothly and naturally.
  3. Era of machine learning. John Anderson was perhaps the most well-known figure who developed a theory of learning based on how computers process information. The three steps of processing, i.e., encoding, storage and retrieval became popular during this time, with researchers investigating how we can help learning by teaching students to encode, store and retrieve information more effectively.
  4. Era of socio-cultural learning. The key figure here is Lev Vygotsky, the Russian Psychologist, who claimed that learning is socially and culturally situated and that learning happens when students receive the right kind of support from the more knowledgeable others. The term ZPD became the buzzword during this time; students learn best within their ZPD in the presence of their peers and nurturing teachers. Another key construct in this era is constructivsm. Students learn best when they can utilize their pre-existing knowledge to make sense of what they are about the learn.
  5. Era of engaged learning. This is the era that we find ourselves in now. Engagement, as Sarah Mercer, pointed out in her excellent presentation on learner engagement recently, is the holy grail of learning. Learning happens optimally when students are holistically engaged, i.e., when they are kinesthetically, emotionally, cognitively and socially engaged.
  6. The next era is likely to be AI-inspired. Although AI is still at its infancy, it has had significant impact on numerous areas of our life, including language education. Tech tools such as Google Translate, Text-to-Speech apps, automated feedback technologies for example, have made their inroads in the language classroom. Going forward, we can expect to see new AI-based applications that can dramatically change the way we teach language in the classroom.

It is good for us to reflect on our own thinking about language education and where we are in relation to the six eras above..

  1. Are you already embracing the era of engaged learning and are deep into learning about how to fully engage your learners in the language classroom? Or
  2. Are you still living in the previous eras?
  3. Or the era before the 6 eras listed above?


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