Taking Language Learning Outside the Classroom

As digital natives, students demand innovative ways to learn outside of classical modes of learning. The use of smartphones for English language instruction has opened up a wealth of possibilities for educators and therefore, numerous possibilities to enhance students’ learning and to make studying more interesting and engaging. This increased use of digital technology has also affected, the way languages are studied and taught today.  

Mobile-assisted language learning (MALL) 

Using mobile technology to learn languages is a current trend known as mobile-assisted language learning (MALL). There is growing literature on the use of social media in language learning. MALL can serve as an after-school learning tool as we transition back into the physical classroom. This way, our students do not get disconnected from the digital world. Learning-in-use liberates students to learn in a more personal way, and in turn, this allows teachers to offer something more rewarding and more personal for their students. Students with MALL are more motivated and engaged, gain a better learning experience, and are more likely to succeed and stay in school.  

My students have found the following applications helpful: 

Instagram  

Instagram is a popular and much-loved application among students  

(http://www.instagram.com/). This app provides an online photo-sharing, video-sharing, and social networking service. I found that students who use Instagram for language learning purposes claimed that it prevented them from taking free time and made them more focused on their classes. Utilizing Instagram with linguistic content to support language learning kept them on track. The learners in my class did not feel stressed about making mistakes because it provided an authentic platform for practising the language or interacting with people. Instagram is found to be an effective educational platform for eliminating classroom barriers, enabling students to participate in formal classroom situations without inhibition. As one of my students explained, normally, she feels awkward participating in the classroom activities or hesitating to speak for fear of making mistakes; however, when she commented on Instagram posts, wrote answers to questions, or recorded videos, she felt no pressure. Students felt that, unlike school lessons, they were more motivated to check the class posts and participate in the tasks because they do not feel inhibited.  These results are in line with those who asserted that social media can help intimidated students to share their opinions and thoughts. 

I have created an Instagram account specifically for students. We have Instagram stories and posts based on four skills and language areas that align with the course book. Here are some of the activities we do in class.  

For the first activity, students are divided into groups and asked to create video communications with voice-overs about festivals, tourism, climate, and different cultures. These videos are uploaded to the class Instagram account. Groups have a week to prepare their video, and another week to comment on videos uploaded by other groups and answer questions. Students are encouraged to interact daily. I have experienced that this activity has a positive impact on students’ confidence. 

Exercises that require listening are posted regularly on the same account, with questions answered in the comments section by students. For speaking skills, students are required to complete a video interview with a peer. To assess their reading skills, students are given reading texts and instructed to identify the main idea, cite paragraph titles, and comment on their peers’ responses.   

It is evident in my language classroom that Instagram provided students with educational opportunities for language learning, as the students felt relaxed and spontaneous, and stated that the Instagram tasks enhanced their verbal and written communication skills. Therefore, Instagram is a great platform for such transactional learning. Instagram correspondence provided students with the opportunity to interact in a dialogical manner. 

Some Instagram accounts to follow are #bbclearningenglish, #dailyenglishlearning, #inEnglishwithlove, #tofluency,  and #english_vocabulary.   

Twiducate  

Twiducate (https://www.livelingua.com/twiducate/) is a microblogging tool for educators.  Compared to Twitter, it gives teachers greater control of the online learning environment as well as a more secure platform for interaction and collaboration. Teachers can create a private learning network for their students by adding them all to a private classroom. There is a lot of flexibility available to teachers, including the ability to create or delete posts, add class bookmarks, set important dates. Twiducate allows students to add comments to existing tweets as well as post new tweets, which adds yet another layer of interaction. Twiducate activities are fun and quick. I often have my students compress classic stories like Cinderella, The adventures of Tom Sawyer into 140 characters.  Additionally, students are asked to share their opinions outside of school hours about an important issue. Thirdly, they write a 140-character review of a book they have just finished reading. Their fourth activity consists of tweeting about their everyday lives. Students also rate tweets by using the “Like” function. 

Brainly 

Brainly (http://brainly.com) is an online social learning network for students. The site attempts to bring middle school and high school students together to make learning outside the classroom highly engaging thus improving learning outcomes. Once the students have been registered, they can ask questions to specify their homework problems and information needs, while other members can volunteer their help to solve homework problems. It is interesting to note that answers to multiple-choice questions in Brainly are not only answered, but the answerer also justifies why the answer is correct. Brainly is a good platform for motivation to learn through self-education. Asking a question is critical to conceptualizing and improving a user’s self-education process. 

Minecraft 

It is evident that many students choose to play digital games during their leisure time outside school. The game world provides participants with the freedom to create fantastical characters and plots. The game Minecraft (https://classic.minecraft.net/) encourages knowledge production by providing students with a means to construct knowledge by studying, interacting, and experimenting with content. The classic Minecraft is free. My students play it on the web browser without downloading or installing it. This is a unique opportunity for students to demonstrate their creativity and grasp of concepts in ways that might otherwise be impossible to accomplish in the “real” world. It is also important to mention that Minecraft’s theoretical underpinning is constructionist by nature, its graphically simple environment encourages interaction with natural phenomena. Moreover, this game-based learning solution encourages 21st century skills that are critical for success in the classroom such as curiosity, creativity, problem-solving, and collaboration.  

Students use Minecraft outside of class to create a setting for a story. Sometimes students work with their classmates to create the same setting in Minecraft but still come up with very different stories, which encourages creativity on their part. Creating a Minecraft version of a known fairy tale is another enjoyable activity which we do. 

In addition to enhancing language learning, these applications also contribute to 21st-century literacy and life skills.  It may not be possible to solve language problems through MALL, but by bridging formal and informal learning environments, they can also serve as a valuable peripheral language learning device. Thus, language teachers might facilitate the use of these tools so that language learners can continue using the target language even after they leave the classroom. 

For too long a time we have allowed our education system to remain in the past, while our children have been born in the future. The result is a mismatch between learner and educator. We can only close this gap by revising educational practice in light of how our culture has changed and reuniting education with our children and the rest of society.