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Learner-Content Interaction: Theory

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Approaches to interaction in online spaces. Cultures of use and online discourse. Ignoring the technology: pedagogy-driven lesson design. Expanding possibilities: what can happen exclusively online. This lesson is part of the NFLRC Online Language Pedagogy Series, designed for in-service teachers of world languages online.

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As we consider a variety of theoretical approaches to facilitating interaction online, it is critical to take a step back and examine what we mean by interaction in language learning and teaching. Generally, research on interaction can be categorized from two distinct perspectives. The interactionist approach to SLA (Long, 1983, 1996; Gass, 1997) emphasizes the key function of negotiation for meaning as learners work together by interpreting input, responding through output, and noticing various language components as the negotiation occurs. From a socially informed view, learning through interaction is highly contingent on social context and language is used as a tool for interacting with one another. Reinhardt (2012) notes that from this perspective, L2 development is not acquisition or internalization, but “engagement and participation in a dynamic and changing mind-body-world continuum (Atkinson, Churchhill, Nishino, & Okada, 2007, p. 170). For additional information about these theoretical distinctions as related to digital contexts see Reinhardt (2012),

No matter one’s theoretical stance, it becomes impossible to ignore the critical component learner-to-learner and learner-to-expert communication has on the development of L2 abilities. When facilitating online courses, it is essential to create opportunities for learners to engage with one another in meaningful, productive ways. Critical to this process is drawing on a cultures of use model (Thorne and Payne, 2005) to ensure the incorporation of inherently digital interactional contexts. Instead of intentionally replicating non-mediated contexts, we now have the opportunity to introduce learners to a wide variety of interactional contexts occurring each and every day.

The emergence of new tools is instantiating the need to adapt to new learning behaviors and, simultaneously, human demands and ideas about learning and access are driving the invention of future tools (Thorne, Black, and Sykes, 2009). Consider, for example, the implication of consistent, ubiquitous access on human behavior. In 2015, 92% of teens reported going online “daily” with 71% accessing social media sites (Pew Internet, Lenhardt, 2015) In designing learning experiences, we then must consider the expecations these learners have about online behaviors, they ways these learning and interactive behaviors are shaped by the tools they use, and ways in which we can leverage their power to enhance learning in the language classroom. Three elements are especially helpful in this approach: (1) adapting a cultures of use perspective, (2) ignoring the tools in favor of creating the types of pedagogical behaviors of most interest, and (3) expanding and transforming the types of interactions available to learners.

Reinhardt, J. (2012). Accommodating divergent frameworks in analysis of technology-mediated interaction. In M. Dooly and R. O'Dowd (Eds.), Researching Online Interaction and Exchange in Foreign Language Education: Current Trends and Issues, 45-77. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.

Thorne, S., Black, R. W. and Sykes, J. M. (2009). ʻSecond language use, socialization, and learning in internet interest communities and online gamingʼ. Modern Language Journal 93 (s1): 802-821.

Thorne, S. and Payne, J. S. (2005). ʻEvolutionary trajectories, internet-mediated expression, and language educationʼ. CALICO 22 (2): 371-397.

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