To study or just learn?

I’ve been pondering whether or not to embark on an MA Applied Linguistics – the best I have come across for a reasonable price is the 2 and a half yr option from Leicester UK (approx 7700 UK pounds) The Uni of Melbourne does a Applied Linguistics MA with a specialist CALL focus but the price seems about double as I would be a foreign student. But then with all this MOOcing going on, what’s the point? Can’t I just wait for an Applied Linguistics MOOC to appear – hop on and learn that way?

After doing change11 early this year, I think my perception of study shifted. I have tried to maintain a open rhizomatic approach to my own learning – but really this just means understanding what I want to learn, knowing that I can achieve this for the most part through my PLN/connections and then going after the papers I need and then articulating my thoughts either through discussion with likeminded interested people or through a blog post. Most recently, I have been able to learn a fair amount on the learning process itself – some stages, how this relates to complex systems to some extent and then most recently I looked into linguistic relativism and the work of Boroditsky and others. Now with linguistic relativism, it was possible to download directly 3/4 key papers for free. With the case of complex systems in relation to language learning – I was less successful initially but now have got my hands on one at least on complex systems and applied linguistics┬áby Larson Freeman and L Carson 2007.

So, I can access a reasonable amount of reading. It seems the papers that are cited by many can end up being downloadable for free. Now, I wonder how much more reading I could get through if I was studying part-time (is it worth paying the study fee for the journal access?)

There’s for learning that comes from creating papers – I presented at a conference recently and wrote up the paper, so I could probably achieve a significant amount of learning here without paying study fee.

But of course, there is the guidance of someone more knowledgeable than you. Someone who understands the development path that you are taking and can guide you to where you want to go. Someone to question your thought patterns, assumptions and logic. Identify the gaps in understanding before you do, and despite all the learning that can take place individually or with likeminded people, can make your learning experience more effective / efficient.

I think that everyone makes decisions on how best to use their time and while the internet and connectivism model offers a process to exchange ideas and post some reciprocal comments on blog posts occasional discussion platform. However, the amount of interaction and ‘feedback’ is inconsistent so this cannot reliably determine a consistent learning development pattern. To achieve a consistent amount of feedback and guidance at the time that it suits you – an exchange is required to guarantee this. A study fee amounts not to the knowledge that can be gained but it’s about getting it when you want it. Interacting with professors in your field of interest can be incredibly motivating – there’s a huge amount that I have to learn. But studying part-time, I wonder how much more time I could actually dedicate to learning/studying than I already am.

The auto tutor project (A Grasser) seemed to be able to prompt students to articulate their understanding on a topic and based on the responses, prompt the students to explain their ideas more clearly. If this was widely available, as it might be in the future, then most people could access a ‘tutor’ anytime, anywhere.

It all comes down to the interaction with something (generally someone these days) that can analyse language output – assess meaning with respect to learning goals, and respond in a way that helps lead the articulator of language output more closely to the goal.

Our brains are currently much more effective at doing this than a automated system. We are able to process huge amounts of input and incredible speed and formulate a reliably useful response. Semantic text and speech analysis does exist – when this is able to reliably and quickly assess meaning to the point of a human brain, then the auto tutors are really in charge. Language learning has been moving online for some time – instant feedback, flexible access are key points that ensure it’s success to some extent. It is limited by the need to interact with a brain who can make sense of your articulations and provide a natural language interaction in real-time: ‘talking’. When the speed and reliability is guaranteed this is when the final limitation to self-study and online learning is almost removed.

Timing: things happen, people reflect on what’s happening, try to understand what’s happening and make predictions on an individual level to global society level. Often the prediction misses something, or perhaps another variable has to change first. Only a small percentage of the planet are online and connected, the rhizomatic form of learning can only exist on a minimal level so far.The education system was also questioned back in change11 with the ‘dangerous idea’ that suggested that the putting everyone in a certain place at a certain time for ‘learning’ was a fundamentally unnatural thing to do out of sych with our natural life cycles.

Assume, 90% of the planet are always online, assume auto tutors exist and the time and place variables that the current education system is built on and there is a situation where perhaps all the learning materials and prompting to further your ideas is all there. The teacher/autotutor is one that facilitates an attitude to learning, to discovery. All learning becomes self-directed and self-paced – at this point the education process may become much less institutionalised, less controlled, more individual and hopefully, more stimulating and motivating – more effective.

If you really are the bright spark in the class, you have always felt sufficiently rewarded and motivated by the current model by getting top of the class. This feel good factor probably motivated further learning and further success. Even a ‘drill and kill’ pedagogy would probably not deter this positive feedback loop. Does this explain the almost complete ambivalence to add in some more gamification features to an online exam prep course I’m involved in to help Chinese students? The idea put forward was not explained but also was ignored – the same occurs when there’s ever any mention of adding any social learning and community interaction for the the learners to use English to interact with others. Maybe in a test orientated education system, the actual reason for learning (interact, exchange ideas with others) is lost. If the reason to learn, is soley and only to pass a test (good score means good salary chances) then why would I want to actually use language to achieve any other purpose? But that’s the making use of online affordances to move away from the ‘tutorial’ / online course book approach to building online language learning experiences. What about the gameification? I think it’s the word ‘game’ = not serious, possibly even fun that means that this does;t fit into valuable education as it’s perceived in China. Ways to ensure learners (after payment is made) maximise the potential of learning from the site, will more likely recommend the learning experience to others. I think the conceptualisation of the term gameification and social learning are a difficult fit with learner’s expectations and perception of what ‘education’ is here in China.

What about a tool that could instead of translating a webpage/article could ‘convert’ it into a easier form of the same language? There are sites that can assess text for difficulty, what if you could simply convert any webpage you want into the level of English you want. The vocabulary that is proposed as C1 can be replaced by synonyms more commonly used and understood by a B2 learner for example. The more complex sentence forms could be replaced in some cases by simple sentences with more referencing from one sentence to the next that are more frequently used and would be understood by a lower level student.


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