Online self-study - the way forward

Author: Cecile Tschirhart


The author describes the "e-packs", as developed by London Metropolitan University, and the rationales behind them. Developed for online use by autonomous language learners, they are also used to supplement taught classes. Although the e-packs have been successful, the author reports that tighter integration with taught material would be beneficial and that both learner and teacher training would be necessary to secure this.

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Table of contents

This paper was originally presented at the Navigating the new landscape for languages conference (, 30 June - 1 July 2004.

1. Introduction

This article describes briefly the LondonMet e-pack project. It relates e-packs to the theory of autonomous learning; discusses the feedback given by students and, finally, makes some suggestions for future directions.

2. What are e-packs?

E-packs are online interactive exercises and games created with Macromedia Flash and designed to optimise the learning experience. The material is varied and visually attractive, and includes animation, graphics, sound and text.

The twelve topic-based units each include nine exercises with answers, links to related web pages, learning tips and practical references for further study.
E-packs contain over 100 exercises covering the main language learning skills: vocabulary, listening, reading, writing and grammar, through a variety of activities. It takes between three to four hours to complete each e-pack unit.

3. E-packs and autonomous learning

In its final report on Independent Learning, the Ciel project defines autonomous and independent learners as people who:

  • Take responsibility for their own learning and learn to learn
  • Develop key transferable skills (e.g. study, time-management, IT, interpersonal skills)
  • Actively manage their learning; seeking out learning opportunities and using appropriate learning strategies
  • Involve themselves in an iterative process in which they set short and long term learning objectives, reflect on and evaluate progress. (Ciel Language Support Network, 2000)

As practitioners of independent learning, we believe that autonomy for learners is the ultimate aim. However, it is evident that autonomy in language learning is not automatically acquired and that a good deal of learner and teacher training is required. (Reinmann, 1996)

The e-pack aims to provide learners with quality independent learning materials online. It also attempts to put into practice, in a multi-media environment, such key pedagogical concepts as:

  • Active learning in multi-skills language input
  • Language advising and learner support
  • Use of language and grammar in context
  • Varied and progressive presentation of language

The pedagogical rationale behind the e-pack is to establish stepping stones on the road to autonomy in a number of ways:

1. By facilitating access to self-study: online as opposed to designated places of study

2. By providing feedback in multiple modes (listening, reading, translating, etc.)

3. By designing the feedback in such a way that it reinforces the learning process, as opposed to just providing answers

4. By integrating the package into the course programme as a follow-up and as a tool for teachers in the lessons

Another important point is that "the teacher's role is shifting as learners become more active and independent in and outside the classroom. As a consequence, teachers must take into account the whole learning experience of the students, not just what happens in class". (Ciel Language Support Network, 2000)

4. Student feedback

4.1. Questionnaire

The aim of the questionnaire, which was filled in by 142 respondents, was to investigate the students' use and appreciation of the e-pack in relation to independent learning.

Overall, the feedback has been very positive: the vast majority (70-80%) rate their experience of using the e-pack as good or excellent and believe that it has made a significant contribution to the learning of the module.

The following are some of the more specific issues raised by the questionnaire.

4.2. Access to materials

Around 40% of the students access the e-packs from home, which seems to confirm the importance of facilitating access to learning materials. Indeed, many students want even more flexibility in choosing where to do their self-study. For example, only about half of them do the extension work, but many of them claim that they would do it if the materials were online.

4.3. Learner autonomy

Most students seem to have embraced the learning process and are on their way to becoming autonomous learners. One piece of evidence for this is that they use the e-packs in the manner intended by the designers. For instance, they are able to reinforce their learning by doing the exercises more than once; similarly, they choose to do the exercises in the order they are presented, which suggests that they are aware of the concept of progression.

However, it seems that not all students have yet developed the right mentality or skills for self-study. Judging by their feedback, a minority (about 20%) have failed to fully understand the rationale behind the e-packs; for instance, they are unable to appreciate the difference between 'providing feedback' and 'just providing answers'.

4.4. Integrating e-packs with classes

Less than half of the students discuss the exercises with their teachers, and many feel that more could be done to co-ordinate classes with independent study. This confirms our belief that it is essential that teachers integrate the materials into their classroom work, both in terms of content and pedagogical approach.

5. Conclusion

The e-pack has been highly successful among students and staff at London Metropolitan University. However, learner and teacher training will remain our priority. Students and teachers will be asked to attend an initial training session together and issues such as active learning, independent choices and learning skills will be raised and reinforced during the academic year via the advisory service for students and via staff training.

We also need to investigate further the effect of the online experience on the learner's overall language learning process. A next step would be to interview students to assess what strategies they use when working with online materials, and what motivates their choices.


Ciel Language Support Network (2000). Integrating independent learning with the curriculum. Available at: (

Reinmann, N. (1996). Learner Autonomy, In G.Leder, N. Reinmann and R.Walsh (eds), Ab initio language learning . London: CILT.

Related links

London Metropolitan University epacks available