Practices and Strategies of Self-Initiated Language Learning in an Online Social Network Discussion Forum: A Descriptive Case Study

Open Access
Hsieh, Hsiu-wei
Graduate Program:
Instructional Systems
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 08, 2012
Committee Members:
  • Dr Susan M Land, Dissertation Advisor
  • Priya Sharma, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Wei Chen, Committee Member
  • self-initiated learning
  • online social network
  • language discussion forum
  • affinity space
  • knowledge building
  • learning strategy
The proliferation of information and communication technologies and the prevalence of online social networks have facilitated the opportunities for informal learning of foreign languages. However, little educational research has been conducted on how individuals utilize those social networks to take part in self-initiated language learning without guided instruction. The main purpose of this descriptive case study was to understand the strategies, practices, and knowledge that were shared by forum members during the self-directed learning process. I reviewed forum topics that remained actively discussed over a six-month time frame (from the beginning of September, 2011 to the end of February, 2012). Among those active forum topics, only topics with 30% or more popularity were studied. A total of ten forum topics qualified both selection requirements. Only those that exchanged questions and information pertaining to knowledge of language learning were analyzed. By examining a total of two hundred and eighty-three discussion messages from the ten selected topic threads, twenty-eight codes with their operational definitions were generated to analyze the selected discussion messages into thirteen sub-themes, and eventually to summarize them into main themes. The results of the data were categorized into four themes that illustrated the main practices and strategies used by participants in the social network to help each other learn new languages: (1) self-initiated learning strategies, (2) self-initiated learning priorities, (3) reflections on the complexities of practices, and (4) knowledge building. These four themes suggested that this online language learning social network Website provided an open space for registered forum participants to exchange resources and information for language learning, to share their past learning experiences, to discuss their personal learning problems with other members, to contribute their language learning strategies and skills to the knowledge repository, and to build up their individual knowledge based on others’ distributed knowledge and the dispersed knowledge within the social network shared by other forum members (Gee, 2004). Through forum members’ social practices of group interaction, communication, discussions, clarification, and negotiation on different subject matters, self-initiated learning and sharing of group meanings were evidenced in the threaded discussions. In addition, forum members’ participation in the various discussion topics by contributing their individual knowledge to the group knowledge base served the effect of advancing the accumulation of collective knowledge and moved the current knowledge repository forward during the process of knowledge sharing (Chuy et al., 2011; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006; Stahl, 2006; Sternberg, 2003).