Elearning in the English language training: new opportunities and challenges for Russian universities

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №8 - 2016

Malinina Irina, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Russia
Tsvetkova Svetlana, Nizhny Novgorod State Technical University n.a. R.E. Alekseev, Russia


Application of information and communication technology (ICT) in many spheres of human activity including education is a distinctive feature of the development of the modern society. Various web-related communication technologies, learning management systems make educational process social and collaborative, allow monitoring the learning activities of students, contribute to the individualisation of education and present information on a higher level. Wankel (2010) defines Web 2.0 tools as “any form of on-line technology or practices through which users create communities to convey information ideas, independent learning, entertainment, collaboration and personal messages and thus facilitates communication and interaction between individuals and groups”.

The term “eLearning” is widely used in education-related fields, that has led to the diversity in its understanding and defining. Traditionally, eLearning refers to the use of electronic media and information and communication technologies (ICT) in education to support learning and teaching. Bernard Luskin suggests that the "e" should be interpreted to mean "exciting, energetic, enthusiastic, emotional, extended, excellent, and educational" in addition to "electronic." (Luskin, 2010). This broad interpretation focuses on new applications and developments, and also brings learning and media psychology into consideration. Another attempt to redefine the term was made by Parks (Parks, 2012) whose idea is that the "e" should refer to "everything, everyone, engaging, easy”, where the concept of availability for anyone interested is underlined. In general terms eLearning is considered as the third learning system that uses various electronic techniques as its primary medium for learning. The first two learning systems are S-learning, using speech as its primary medium to promote learning, and P-learning, where “P” stands for paper (Rosenberg, 2001; Snyder, 1998; Swan, Bowman, & Holmes, 2003).

Literature review

There are various forms of eLearning, in particular, online or distance learning, blended or hybrid learning, tandem learning. The main differences among them lie in the arrangement of educational process and the proportion of electronic media usage.

1.1. Distance learning

Distance or online learning presumes the extensive use of ICT as all or most of the time participants (students and teachers) are in different locations, and the source of information and the learners are separated by time and distance. In this form of learning it is crucial to select the right tools and technologies because they impact significantly the interacting parts. (Moore, Anderson, 2012)

Advantages vary, but a major attraction is flexibility. Learners can complete an online degree with an opportunity to take a mix and match of different modules or intensive certificate courses. Via the Internet, distance learners can formulate their own curriculum, learn at their own pace and set their own timetable. The variety of media that online courses can offer means that distance learning can be both a productive, rewarding, efficient way of getting knowledge and a rich, inspiring, exciting experience. Graphics, sound and video bring dry texts to life and students can chose to spend more time going into depth on a particular topic they find interesting or a certain subject they consider difficult to grasp by hyperlinking to other pages on websites. To add to this, Internet access means tutors and students can interact and collaborate quickly. Another benefit is an opportunity to update the information, as students always appreciate when the content is relevant to the real world it gives them an additional incentive to study. In comparison with slower paper-based courses in distance learning designers and instructors can do it much faster and more frequently.

Corporate distance courses are becoming more and more popular as they allow, on the one hand, to combine receiving necessary knowledge with full-time employment and, on the other hand, the company usually pays the expenses.

Implementation of learning management system (LMS) allows tutors to monitor the learning activities of students. Moreover, it helps to communicate teachers and students, to make announcements, determine the time for examinations, set deadlines, get quick responses and feedback from students. Some LMS, for example Moodle, Blackboard, have built-in wiki tools, which are designed to collaborate, share and build online content and are especially useful for learners who are separated by time and place. Wikis are more effective for forwarding information compared to emails attachments with tracked changes, a method that supports only one editor at a time and can create issues with students having multiple and conflicting versions of the same document (Richardson, 2006). Blackboard is said to be one of the leading commercial LMS products and is the most widely-adopted learning management system. In this 21st century the increasing use of Learning Management Systems across higher education institutions has, in theory at least, provided the potential for rich learning environments for all students.

Among the drawbacks of such an educational system unsafe and unreliable work of technology is commonly named. Low level of information culture can also be a possible obstacle to getting qualitative education. Another barrier to effective distance learning is psychological issues, which may be caused by the technologization of educational process or lack of experience to work alone and can lead to unreadiness and unwillingness to use ICT. Furthermore, it is necessary to have good time-management skills, ability to prioritise, and be self-disciplined.

1.2. Blended learning

Blended learning is the term used to describe learning or training events or activities where e-learning, in its various forms, is combined with more traditional forms of getting knowledge such as "class room" training (Richardson, 2006).

Another definition of blended learning is "any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace" (Peachey, 2012a).

In reviewing the literature, many suggest that blended courses emerge “where between 30 to 79 percent of the instruction is delivered online”. But online teaching is a complement to on-campus teaching and not a replacement (Watwood et al., 2009)

Alan Clarke distinguishes 6 models in blended learning:

1. Conventional lecture with teaching notes and visual aids placed on a college intranet for you to access.

2. Using digital cameras to record practical work for your portfolio of evidence.

3. All assignments submitted in an electronic format and feedback provided in the form of annotation.

4. Email and conferencing with tutors in place of face-to-face tutorials.

5. Simulations of laboratory experiments as part of a conventional/ science course.

6. Distance learning course with regular face-to-face meetings (Alan Clarke, 2004).

In order to choose the most suitable variant it is necessary to consider several factors including students, teachers, time, money, goals, resources.

So, the main difference from distance learning is an opportunity to have onsite support, which may be crucial especially for not very well-prepared from technological perspective. It means that there should be some requirements for tutors, in particular, a certain level of information culture, psychological skills for helping students to overcome communication and other barriers.

The list of professional skills of teachers should also include

• ability to design their own training technologies;

• ability to independently and efficiently resolve constantly arising difficulties and challenges;

• ability to develop and use non-standard methods of solving educational problems;

• ability to rationally evaluate their own professional work and put achievable goals.

The ability to analyze their own teaching activities is of high priority as well, as it helps to correct, improve and match them to modern requirements (Malinina, 2012).

Speaking about problems that are likely to occur in blended learning low level of computer skills is of high priority. Some researchers (Yunus, Nordin, Salehi, Embi, & Salehi, 2013) also underline difficulties in class controlling and distraction of students' attention as the main obstacles they face while implementing ICT.

1.3. Tandem learning

In language education a special form of receiving knowledge is distinguished: a tandem language learning, which is based on mutual individualized language exchange between tandem partners. Tandem learning can be autonomous and integrated (Kydryavtseva, 2012). The chief purpose of the first type is to refresh or maintain the certain language level. While the latter is supplementary to regular classes and aimed at improving language competence, first and foremost, communication skills. Tandem learning makes great use of Web-related technologies, such as skype, videoconferences, webinars, blogs, forums to interact, socialize and communicate.

Learning a foreign language involves getting acquainted with national traditions, mentality and culture of the country where this language is spoken. Lack of language environment can be compensated with the help of interaction with the native speaker who can demonstrate different aspects of the life of another nationality (cultural, social, domestic, economic, etc.) and promote the understanding of the language in the way local people use it.

Sociocultural competence is a key to successful intercultural communication, as it assumes awareness of social factors' influence on the choice of linguistic forms, appropriate words and knowledge of ethical behavior. So, it is better to form it with the help of sociocultural approach to learning. Sociocultural approach is traditionally considered as an interconnected learning of the language and culture of native speakers. However, to limit the language training by learning the culture of only the target language country is unjustified. Studying native culture should be an equal component in mastering the art of intercultural communication. Learning a foreign language culture should have a comparative nature and include links to the native culture, so as to be a dialogue between the two ways of life and thought.

Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter provide opportunities for meeting new people, making friends, getting acquainted with lifestyle and traditions of other nationalities, in other words, they are perfectly suitable for reaching aims of tandem learning.

Some researchers (Yunus et al., 2013) claim that ICT provide a tendency for the students to use short forms and informal abbreviations in their writing tasks and it may have a negative effect, but they emphasize that advantages of using ICT outweigh possible drawbacks.

2. Research objectives

Our educational program was designed for first-year students of the Faculty of Economics in the National Research University Higher School of Economics in Nizhny Novgorod. 72 participants took part in our program, all of them are from different backgrounds: they have come from different cities and finished different schools. According to the curriculum first-year students have 4 hours of English a week, so a lot of work should be done at home. But we want it to be collaborative and monitored.

The main purposes of the pilot project on implementing Web-related technologies into educational process were:

• to determine what Internet resources will suit the standards of educational program of the English language learning best of all;

• to analyze motivational state of students, their willingness to implement ICT into educational process and expectations of learners;

• to prove the necessity of using Web-related resourses in a foreign language learning and suggest one possible approach of integrating new technologies into educational process;

• to research the influence of ICT on motivation of students and results of training.

The main methods used in the project were questionnaire, survey, interview and observation as well as analyses of students' work done.

3. Methods of teaching

Before starting our project we provided students with information about educational strategy, corporate culture of the university, requirements for the level of knowledge both in English and computer technologies, aims and objectives of learning as well as methods and techniques used to achieve them. Moreover, in order to minimize the possible negative affect of the lack of computer skills before starting to implement each tool or resource we give our students detailed information on their using and always give time to get acquainted with the basic elements of the user interface program.

For our project we have selected 5 Internet resources, the choice was made according to the skill we wanted to develop:

• www.tricider.com

• www.voxopop.com

• www.quizlet

• www.eslvideo

• www.cloze test creator

Tricider.com is aimed at arranging brainstorming and sharing ideas. Besides, it can be used to vote for or against the suggested idea and provide your arguments.

What is great about using a tool like this is it makes learning experience social as it connects students with each other. Moreover, it teaches students to work in a team, listen to, agree, disagree, convincingly prove their points of view, give reasons and make conclusions.

The purpose of voxopop.com is to record your own speaking for others to listen and respond to (Peachey, 2012b). You can get the general information about the person who recorded the word; also you can add your own pronunciation. It is also a great tool to record and practice pronunciation drills, which are very useful when studying a foreign language. It is an excellent audio tool for real communicative speaking and listening practice out of the classroom. This site can be used for writing dictations as well, when a teacher records a dictation text and gets students to write it down.

Web-related communication technologies, such as Quizlet, let learn words in a new, more interesting, exciting and, as a result, effective way. It is well-known that it is impossible to master a foreign language without constant exercising and drilling. And Quizlet is of great help here, as it allows in a playful manner to practice words and word combinations.

ESLVideo is a tool of video based quizzes. Here there is a choice to create your own quizzes, you can ask as many multiple choice type questions as you wish or use available ones. It is possible to add transcripts, translation or notes to the video. What is also great is that the site can assess the work: students get the feedback on their answers and then their results are sent to the teacher (if the class are registered users of the site), so it can be done at home. Or a teacher may get students to create quizzes for each other as a hometask.

Web-related tool Cloze test creator is excellent for revising and testing. You can upload any text and choose what exactly you want to check. The choice is every n-word, articles, prepositions, link words, auxiliaries, wh-words, quantifiers or modals. You can also add clues if you wish.

Taking all these points into consideration we can conclude that the use of Web 2.0 resources causes the intensification of students' self-directed foreign language learning, identifying their potential and thereby leads to the increase of the level of foreign language training of intending economists.

The table “Technology of professional language training in the conditions of the information educational environment Web 2.0” represents a set of methods used in foreign language training, corresponding types of speech activities as well as mechanisms for their intensification through the use of the Internet resources (table 1).

Table 1. Technology of professional language training in the conditions of the information educational environment Web 2.0

Methods of foreign language training

Types of speech activity

Mechanisms of self-directed foreign language learning

1. Traditional

- work on lexical and grammatical side of foreign speech (repetition, consolidation and training of linguistic phenomena);

- reading and translating language material on the topic using a dictionary

- training of lexical items and grammatical phenomena while performing interactive tasks in the game form related to studied topics of a certain level of complexity;

- different types of giving an answer (multiple choice, matching);

- receiving feedback in the form of:

ü reports on the results of each task;

ü scoring for the implementation of a set of tasks;

- sending the teacher a report on the results of tasks as a form of the current control (Quizlet Web-resource)

2. Problem-based learning

2.1. Problem-searching methods

Perception, understanding, information extraction process:

- reading (viewing, searching, exploring);

- listening (perception and understanding the information by ear)

- listening to information and watching video;

- getting acquainted with the translation of individual words, the peculiarities of their pronunciation (transcription), as well as notes on the video;

- performing automated tasks to test understanding with the "multiple choice" form of answering;

- receiving feedback in the report form to check the correctness of each task;

- sending a report to the teacher indicating their "code" and performer's name, (http://www.eslvideo.com)

2.2. Active methods

- commenting on statements on everyday topics; message / report on a professional theme;

- creating an original idea / giving various perspectives in preparation for discussion

- participating in brainstorming and sharing ideas;

- voting for / against any idea;

- giving convincing arguments;

- collaboration in a team;

- preparing for participation in the role / business play, discussions and other forms of interactive communication


3. Interactive-communicative methods

Participation in the question-answer interview on the text, simulations of communicative situations, in role / business plays, in discussing any professional problem, in the debate concerning finding the way out of problematic situations, etc.

- interactive and communicative collaboration outside the classroom;

- recording own speech for partners/ colleagues to listen to and give feedback;

- writing an automated dictation

(www. voxopop.com)

4. Final control

Tests performing to control mastering key communicative competence (language, speech, discourse)

Doing tests on:

- checking text understanding

- learning grammatical phenomena and lexical items

(сloze test creator)

4. Results and conclusion

At the beginning of our educational program students were presented with some questionnaires in order to gather information about students' perception of the English language, their motivational state and their attitude to introducing ICT. We wanted to research each student’s motivation of success and fear of failure and to assess their willingness to implement ICT into educational process and their expectations.

According to the received answers of our questionnaire about their expectations of the content and the aim of the English Language course, the majority of the respondents would like to improve their communication skills (92%), and 74% want the training to be relevant to their future job-related activities, 46% admit that they will need English for further education.

Another questionnaire and some interviews were conducted in order to find out the attitude to introducing ICT in educational process among participants. At the end of the program, the same questionnaire and interviews were presented once more to gather more information about the participants' motivational state, their attitude to ICT.

At the end of the program the attitude to using Web-related technologies has changed greatly towards the positive impact on the results of training. The participants were very willing to continue using Internet resources to improve their language skills and all of them admit that these tools are useful, helpful and practical (especially eslvideo.com and voxopop. com).

Another positive aspect they indicate in using Web-resources is that they allow to train necessary skills at a convenient time wherever they want. Moreover, they can interact with each other in a more comfortable (than email) and less intrusive (than telephone call) way.

Another question we would like our students to answer was about the desirable way to study English. The received responses show that the majority of learners (86%) want to study English with the teacher, but they expect to be approached individually (76%). During interviews they explained that it is very important for them that their characters, peculiarities and the level of knowledge should be taken into account.

In addition, at the end of the experiment, we conducted a survey of students to identify their self-esteem of professional foreign language capabilities in the experimental and control groups. All students were trained at the Economic Faculty. It should be noted that in the control group classes were arranged by traditional educational methods without implementing Web 2.0 resources, and the number of students is 72, which is equal to the experimental group.

The results of the survey indicate that the students of the experimental group more highly estimate their professional foreign language abilities compared to the students from the control group. Results of the survey are presented in Table 2 “Self-assessment of learning content mastered by future economists”.

Table 2. Self-assessment of learning content mastered by future economists

Evaluated foreign language abilities

I can:

Average value

Standard error of estimate

Confidential interval

Significant difference



M (ex)

M (co)

M (ex)

M (co)

M (ex)

M (co)

Discuss in a foreign language issues related to planning and budget allocations








Participate using a foreign language in the discussion related to the problem-solving of increasing financial control








Fill in official documents (invoice, letter of credit) in a foreign language








Inform in a foreign language on general professional topics (management functions, delegation of authority, controls, economic areas, organization, etc.)








Use a foreign language in situations of direct professional communication (business talks, discussing conditions of shipment, delivery, price, payment terms, etc.)








Note: Assessment based on a five-point scale: 1 point is the minimum value; 5 points is maximum; * means the difference in indicators is statistically significant

So, to sum it up, participants of our pilot project considered the offered educational program efficient, useful and beneficial. Implementing Web-related technologies into educational process makes it more social and collaborative as well as interesting and exciting. The information is original and up-to-date. All of these contribute greatly to the rise of motivation and desire to continue learning English.

Eventually, the most important advantage of eLearning is that it may be adapted to the individual student needs and state of minds, and thus, become more effective and motivating in all eLearning areas, including simple vocabulary trainers and even entire university programs. Nowadays it is impossible to imagine educational process without online learning.


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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №8 - 2016

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