Self-determination theory and the facilitation of second language learning

Submitted by: Elizabeth Ka Yee Loh
Abstract: Abstract:
Effective learning requires the concurrence of cognitive and affective factors. The cognitive mechanism helps us to learn, while the affective factors maintain our learning persistence. Second language learning poses great challenges to the learners in culturally-diverse classrooms, and many students are giving up due to the resulting difficulties. This study, guided by the self-determination theory, examines how education technology can help create social-contextual conditions that effectively facilitate secondary school students’ learning of English and Chinese as second languages (ESL & CSL) with their own initiatives by fulfilling three innate psychological needs, namely competence, autonomy, and relatedness (Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Ethnic minority students (N=150) from 3 secondary schools in Hong Kong were invited to use a self-developed mobile app named “mLang” to learn ESL and CSL for one year. They were asked to create their own multilingual, multimodal e-flashcards under different topics that reflected their own experiences and worldviews (autonomy). With customised pedagogical designs, teachers supported their students’ use of e-flashcards as shared learning objects, which became part of their curriculum content for learning and sharing (relatedness). Through the participants’ interactions around the e-flashcards, they reported feeling self-competent, autonomous and socially-related in their ESL and CSL learning, implying development of self-determined motivation (Deci & Ryan, 1995). Following a design-based research (DBR) approach involving triangulation of quantitative and qualitative data from pre- and post-tests, lesson studies, interviews, and text analysis of students’ learning outcomes, it was found that the experimental group outperformed the control group significantly in reading and writing. The results showed that “mLang” had been able to multiply and energise the participants’ ESL and CSL vocabulary learning, while paving the way for faster transition to reading and writing (Loh, Shum & Ki, 2018).

Keywords: Self-determination theory; education technology; second language acquisition; pedagogy

Deci, E. L. & Ryan, R. M. (1995). Human autonomy: The basis for true self-esteem. In M. Kemis (Ed.), Efficacy, agency, and self-esteem (pp. 31-49). New York: Plenum.
Loh, E. K. Y., Sun, K. W., Ki, W. W., & Lau, V. M. K. (in press). IT Assists Chinese as a Second Language Learning: mLang Pedagogy. In E. K. Y. Loh, P. W. Y. Chou, W. W. Ki & M. S. K. Shum (Eds.), Teaching and learning of Chinese in the multilingual and multicultural contexts. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press.
Ryan, R. M. & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.