Chinese learners and computer assisted language learning: a study of learning styles, learner attitudes and the effectiveness of CALL in Chinese higher education
E-leaming has become a staple diet in many learners’ academic lives in higher education institutions all around the world. This study did not follow the techno- centric standpoint and the comparative research design tradition in this field; instead, it focused on how learners’ learning styles and attitudes interact with the effectiveness of E-leaming implementation in the field of foreign language learning. The research was set in the author’s home institution—a comprehensive university in mainland China, where the first- and second-year undergraduate students who were studying a compulsory English course were surveyed from 2003 to 2004. For this course, the College of Foreign Languages developed an online computer-assisted language learning (CALL) environment—NCE Online which was the basis of this investigation. The author’s former colleagues helped organise the distribution and collection of 4 questionnaires and 9 groups of student interviews over one academic year. A total of 5258 participants completed the first questionnaire in 2003 while the numbers of participants who completed the other questions varied from around 200 to 700. To understand data from the learners in more depth, the language teachers and NCE Online developers were also surveyed with a questionnaire and individual interviews. The results showed that the learners had very positive attitudes towards the use of computer technologies in their study, and that there was an evident tendency to expect an increasing proportion of CALL elements as the students progressed in their English study. Despite these positive attitudes, what was equally clear was that there were still more students who preferred to have traditional classroom learning as their main learning mode, and they did not think of the E- leaming materials available as more effective than the traditional ones. Meanwhile, their teachers’ attitudes and the University’s policies also played an important role in influencing learners’ attitudes and actual behaviour toward the CALL system. In addition, the research revealed that Chinese learners have learning styles distinct from their peers in the west, which suggests that a CALL environment for Chinese learners should not follow blindly the much-advocated constructivist design model in the west. Reconsideration of both the ideals of foreign language teaching methodologies and E-leaming pedagogies, which originated mainly in Europe and Northern America, needs to take place before the design of a CALL system for Chinese learners. The implications of this research were therefore discussed to begin just such a rethinking of CALL implementations in Chinese higher education.