An ecological perspective on language learning beyond the classroom in a challenging environment: a study of learners' experiences, beliefs and autonomy

PhD Thesis

Moncef Bendebiche An ecological perspective on language learning beyond the classroom in a challenging environment: a study of learners' experiences, beliefs and autonomy. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University Centre for Language and Linguistics
AuthorsMoncef Bendebiche
TypePhD Thesis

This research explores the complexity of experiences of learning English beyond the classroom in a challenging Algerian setting.

Language learning has two dimensions, inside the classroom and beyond the classroom. Studies on language learning beyond the classroom are relatively scarce, in part because this dimension is to some extent hidden (Benson, 2011a). Furthermore, in the Algerian setting, studies about language learning and aspects such as autonomy are mostly classroom-based and dependent on teachers’ perspectives. This calls for more LBC studies, which are contextually appropriate and primarily based on the learners’ personal understandings of their learning experiences. This will provide insights that can contribute to triggering change that is fit for the learners, their circumstances and their needs.

Adopting an ecological and person-in-context view, this study taps into the learning beyond the classroom (LBC) experiences of six Algerian learners in a challenging environment. It aims to explore the relationship between the learners and the environment. More specifically, it explores the influence of this environment on the nature of the learners’ experience, their perceptions of learning affordances and their exercise of autonomy beyond the classroom through different activities.

The study utilises a qualitative study design that draws from narrative inquiry to elicit learner perspectives on the LBC experience. It is based on language learning histories (LLHs) written by the participants in the study, which were followed by a set of semi-structured interviews customised for each participant based on their LLHs. Data collection was concluded with a focus group which discussed the shared and contested views on LBC experiences in their environment.

The findings suggest that the experiences of learning English beyond the classroom were characterised by persistence and creativity. The environment presented several challenges (e.g., the community’s negative attitude to foreign language use, and the low status of English) and few opportunities for English language learning or practice. Despite this, the participants managed to find or create learning opportunities based on their interests and goals. The findings showed that the participants carry a set of language learner beliefs (e.g., the value of having a strong connection with the language) and motivations (e.g., motivation for improvement of local English learning situation) that reflect a synergy between the environment’s influence and the learner’s agency. These beliefs and motivations aided the learners in the perception of learning affordances, which in turn allowed the participants to bypass the challenges of the environment and interact with LBC resources that fit with these beliefs and goals. The findings revealed a dynamic exercise of autonomy, unique to the learners in their environment and seen in different forms throughout the narratives. The dynamic aspect is drawn from the fact that the participants willingly give up control and change from self to other-directed learning to satisfy needs.

The study has implications over three levels: theoretical, methodological and pedagogic implications. Concerning theory, the implications are for local researchers and researchers in similar settings to view challenging learning circumstances positively with consideration of how learners learn despite the difficulties. Additionally, the research calls for the use of the ecological perspective to view LBC experiences holistically and with reference to the relationship between the environment and the learner, reflecting aspects such as learner beliefs, motivations and autonomy.

The study also has implications for methodology. They include the empowerment and prioritization of learners’ perspectives, the need for awareness of the pitfalls of conducting research in settings familiar to the researcher, and a demonstration of how to manage research limited by time or circumstances.
In terms of pedagogic implications, the study demonstrates different activities learners in challenging environments can use. It also shows how LLHs are a strong tool through which learners can reflect on their learning experiences.

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Deposited20 Sep 2022
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