The following blog post was written by Glen Cochrane, a faculty member at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement.
In 2015, the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement published Virtual Education in ELL, a report on learner isolation and instructional distance in ELL online learning environments.
The report includes an extensive literature review focused on learner isolation and instructional distance and provides an overview of an action research project that was conducted during an online course pilot. The report also discusses some of the mitigating strategies and findings as a result of the research project.
The literature review conducted for this report focused on learner isolation and instructional distance, and grew to include the topics of community building and the importance of presence in online environments. While these issues are commonly found in educational literature, it was less common to find them in the context of ELL programs and courses. There is a distinct need to explore these topics in the unique context of language learning.
Action Research Project
The research portion of the report was based around the facilitation of Language for Work, a pilot course that was offered in the spring of 2015. The course, aimed at newcomer working professionals in Canada, focused on communication and the soft skills of working in a multicultural environment, with the associated language and vocabulary skills as an implied learning goal.
The facilitation of the course sought to alleviate some of the issues associated with learner isolation and instructional distance (and by extension, community building and presence). Several mitigating strategies were explored and observed.
Virtual Education in ELL concluded that online learning in ELL offers both drawbacks and benefits.
It is inherently challenging to teach language (and the embedded culture within language use) online, asynchronously. Spoken language is a real-time event, which includes major body language, tone, facial recognition, and cultural communication – these are all challenging to recreate in an online setting.
Positively, online learning is often a matter of access for working professionals with families who simply wouldn’t be able to attend classes if they were not offered at a distance. Additionally, for language learners, the asynchronicity of online space offers learners a pace that can allow for deeper thinking and flexible interaction.
Learn more about this applied research project: Creating Community Online: An investigation to mitigate issues of learner isolation and instructional distance in an ELL e-learning environment