This contribution has attempted to illustrate that successful pedagogical exploitation of technologies depends on a number of parameters located within the learning context, the technology and the individual learner. It is indeed a set of “interrelated and complex research variables” (to re-quote Garrett 2009) that we need to look at if we are to assess the viability of using technology for part or all of the complex business of learning languages for business purposes.
The ways in which various media are integrated into different learning contexts are varied and numerous. We have seen that the array of blended learning scenarios encompasses everything from technological “add-on” in face-to-face courses to the primary input-delivery function in distance learning formats. Despite these differences, any form of technology use tends to entail greater learner control in terms of access and self-pacing. The lack of temporal and geographical constraints represents another major benefit greatly appreciated by professionals.
Yet, as stressed throughout this chapter, pedagogical exploitation of the new media involves more than simply expecting learners “to get on with it” in their own time. Familiarity with and proficient use of certain technologies for private and business purposes does not guarantee that they are considered effective tools for language learning; as Levy (2009: 779) asserts, “the default position of users is different from that of learners”. Use and usefulness of a given resource’s affordances may need to be demonstrated by a teacher; tasks and projects must be devised carefully in order to enhance language learning. This poses new challenges for teachers, who need to adapt to new demands and acquire different sets of skills in the quickly changing world of technology. In fact, “sustainability” and the need to provide training for teachers as well as learners have become central issues in the field.
What is more, learner differences encompassing such diverse factors as proficiency level, autonomous learning skills and personality aspects are further important variables when assessing opportunities and pitfalls of technology-mediated language learning. Research has confirmed the paradox frequently intuited by teachers that, in self-study and blended learning contexts, it is often the most motivated, self- directed and experienced students who make best use of internet and CALL resources. By contrast, weaker learners, who could do with extra practice, may be overwhelmed by the virtual world’s abundance of materials and lack of structure. A certain level of autonomy is necessary if learners are to be able to identify their weak points as well as the appropriate “digital remedy”. At the same time, differences in proficiency and confidence also mean that lower-level or shy learners may feel more comfortable in having a technology-mediated conversation, whereas extrovert, proficient students feel insufficiently challenged. For the former group, computer-mediated communication represents a helpful stepping stone towards managing real-life encounters. For the latter, on the other hand, the technology intervention constitutes an unwelcome distraction, and the computer environment is deemed a poor substitute for direct contact.
To conclude, in assessing the efficacy of technology-mediated learning, it is crucial to remember that perceived and actual effectiveness of any resource, whether real-life or virtual, human or material, must be seen in relation to its ability to meet specific learning aims and learner preferences. Researchers have long agreed that, rather than comparing technology with face-to-face environments, more specific questions have to be asked about what type of technology should be employed in realizing different types of outcomes in diverse learning contexts (Lafford 2009). In short, technology can be used in the services of language learning for a great variety of reasons and with widely differening aims, but it should never be considered a panacea.