Motivational Regulation and L2 Learning

Chapter 2 introduced the theoretical framework of motivational regulation study, SRL based on social cognitive learning theory, and the related studies on motivational regulation in general learning. This chapter is particularly about motivational regulation in L2 learning (second or foreign language learning). Correspondingly, this chapter will review self-regulated language learning and the essential components of self-regulated language learning, including L2 motivation, motivational regulation in L2 learning, and language learning strategies.

Self-regulated Language Learning

Self-regulated language learning has received increasing attention from language researchers and the student’s ability to regulate one’s own learning is now increasingly recognized as a major goal within language education. Although the phrase “self-regulated learning” is rarely used in the field of L2 or FL learning, the concept is very much alive in terms like “self-direction,” “self-directed learning,” “self-instruction,” and “autonomous learning” (McDonough, 2001). Knowles (1975, p.18) defines self-directed learning as “a process in which individuals take the initiative, with or without the help of others, in diagnosing their learning needs, formulating learning goals, identifying human and material resources for learning, choosing and implementing appropriate learning strategies, and evaluating learning outcomes.” Holec (1981, p.3) defines autonomy as © The Author(s) 2017

K. Li, Motivational Regulation in Foreign Language Learning, DOI 10.1057/978-1-349-93118-7_3

“the ability to take charge of one’s own learning.” According to Holec, to take charge of one’s learning is to have, and hold, the responsibility for all the decisions concerning all aspects of this learning, that is, to determine the objectives, define the contexts and progressions, select methods and techniques to be used, monitor the procedure of acquisition, and evaluate what has been acquired. Holec labels the process of learning to acquire autonomy self-directed learning. It can be seen that what Holec sees as self-directed learning largely shares the same meaning as Knowles’ definition of the term. SRL is the extent to which the learner is a metacognitively, motivationally, and behaviorally active participant in his or her own learning process (Zimmerman, 1986). Although there are slight differences in the conception of these terms, in practice the distinctions are often blurred. Different terms are often used to refer to the same thing, for example, autonomous language learning may refer to self-directed learning (Pemberton, 1996, p.4). Wenden (1998, p.8) writes that autonomous language learners are not only more efficient at learning and using their L2 but also more capable of self-directing these endeavors. For Wenden, autonomous learning and self-directed learning are the same thing. Oxford (2003) points out that autonomy and self-regulation refer to the same condition of being self-ruled or capable of regulating one’s own thoughts, learning, and actions. Furthermore, with different terms, these researchers had similar research objectives and goals: to learn about the attributes and skills of the learners who take charge of their own learning, and the conditions that promote learning development (Hiemstra, 1996).

Although the term “self-regulated learning” is mainly used in the area of educational psychology, it is employed in the present study mainly because the SRL model has made specific descriptions of various components of the successful learning process. Motivational regulation was also mainly studied within the framework of SRL. Furthermore, SRL is employed in this study because it is most often used in formal educational settings. In the field of FL education scholars have also begun to focus their attention on self-regulation and its importance in language learning (Ehrman & Dornyei, 1998). Researchers in the field of language learning, most notably, Wenden and Oxford, have frequently cited self-regulation theory, from educational psychology, to show that FL learners are capable of exercising conscious learning strategies. A large body of FL research has been conducted on the effectiveness and importance of language learning strategies in language acquisition. However, because of an interest in shifting the focus from the product (learning strategies) to the process

(self-regulation), the field of FL education has shifted its focus from language learning strategies to self-regulation and the degree to which individuals are active participants in their own learning (Dornyei, 2005). Dornyei (1994) suggests that SRL allows FL researchers to evaluate a broader, more multidimensional construct, including cognitive, metacognitive, motivational, behavioral, and environmental processes that learners might use to enhance achievement. The application of self-regulation theory by FL researchers has thrown much light on the potential variables that are responsible for the differences between successful and less successful English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learners.

Horwitz (1987) observes that how students regulate their learning is crucial to their success as language learners. Wenden (1991) also connects learner autonomy to success in language learning:

In effect, “successful” or “expert” or “intelligent” learners have learned how to learn. They have acquired the learning strategies, the knowledge about learning, and the attitudes that enable them to use these skills and knowledge confidently, flexibly, appropriately and independently of a teacher. Therefore, they are autonomous. (p.15)

On the other hand, researchers in the area of FL learning point to a need to develop the autonomous learning attitudes, strategies, and knowledge in less successful language learners. These researchers, including Hurd (1998), largely agree that what the learner brings to the learning process (i.e., attitudes or beliefs) may not only determine a learner’s degree of autonomy but is also often a measure of learning success. In addition, learning strategies are seen as particularly important in the enhancement of learner autonomy because the adoption of appropriate strategies allows learners to take more responsibility for their own learning (Dickinson, 1987). Researchers have also suggested inevitable links between learner autonomy and learning motivation (Dickinson, 1995; Spratt, Humphreys, & Chan, 2002; Ushioda, 2001). For example, the study of Spratt et al. (2002) provides empirical evidence that cognitive aspects of motivation are a key factor that influences the extent to which learners are ready to learn autonomously. However, as an important factor influencing self-regulated language learning, motivation is not static but dynamically evolving and changing, as Ushioda (1996, p.240) summarizes, “within the context of institutionalized learning especially, the common experience would seem to be motivational flux rather than stability.” Students’ ability to maintain and increase their motivation has also been regarded as an important aspect of SRL (e.g., Pintrich, 2000; Wolters, 1998). In view of this, students’ regulation of their motivation should be particularly important for self-regulated language learning and success in language learning.

To sum up, learner motivation, language learning strategies and regulation of motivation are the key components of the configuration of learner self-regulation in language learning. In the following section, we will present the previous studies on these variables in the area of L2 learning.

 
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