Mobile Learning, Collaborative Learning and World Languages - The Flexi-Pack Project at SOAS-UCL CETL for Languages of the Wider World

Authors: Itesh Sachdev and Nathalie Ticheler


The SOAS-UCL CETL for ‘Languages of the Wider World’ (LWW CETL) aims to promote excellence in the teaching and learning of languages that do not have a large presence in higher education in the United Kingdom but which are of increasing strategic importance locally and globally. A key objective of the CETL is to support blended language learning, the combination of face-to-face learning and self-study, using multimedia materials.
LWW CETL has launched the Flexi-Pack project to create a whole range of mobile learning (M-learning) materials with a fully-integrated approach between traditional lessons and self-study. This paper will present the pedagogical rationale behind the Flexi-Packs and will also recommend further developments in relation to them (e.g., collaborative learning) in order to maximise students’ motivations.

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Table of contents


This paper describes the Flexi-Pack project launched at SOAS-UCL CETL for Languages of the Wider World. It is based on a socio-constructivist approach and highlights the significance of collaborative learning to maintain students’ motivation.

What are the Flexi-Packs?

Each course unit or module comprises a series of lessons focusing on a variety of topics and language skills. Flexi-Packs complement these lessons by providing students with online materials tailored to their needs, both in terms of contents and level of difficulty.

Each Flexi-Pack is composed of a downloadable text file (PDF) accompanied by audio or video files. A typical text file normally contains:

  • learning objectives, in accordance with course syllabi
  • learning tips and cultural tips, when applicable
  • key vocabulary and grammar
  • activities which correspond to the contents of the previous lesson and cover listening, reading and writing skills, as well as grammar and vocabulary
  • web sites with additional tasks to complete
  • list of published materials to use in Language Self-Access Rooms
  • answers to allow students to check their work
  • transcripts for all the audio files.

Why the Flexi-Packs?

Flexi-Packs correspond to the objectives of the HEFCE e-learning strategy launched in 2005, in particular regarding the diversity of learners’ needs and the flexibility of provision.

“It is timely to consider the need to support the sector further in taking best advantage of ICT developments, as it moves to: meet the greater diversity of student needs, increase flexibility of provision, enhance the capacity for integrating study with work and leisure through work-based and home-based learning, develop approaches to individualised support for planning and recording achievements.” (HEFCE, 2005)

Another measure of success employed by HEFCE in its e-learning strategy is tutors’ communication with the students, as well tutors’ access to materials for regular use and improvement. The Flexi-Pack Project has taken these points into consideration.

“Tutors have tools for course design to enable better communication between them and their students, giving feedback and targeted support. Individual teachers have access to information about the materials available, and support for continuous improvement of them.” (HEFCE, 2005)

  • Flexi-Packs are easy to use
    Flexi-Packs follow a blended learning approach and are specially-tailored to the students’ needs. Students can choose to use them directly from the computers or to download and use them on the go.
  • Flexi-Packs are easy to modify and update
    If staff modify course syllabi, they will need to update Flexi-Packs as well, in order to maintain a coherent approach to learning. Flexi-Packs are easy to modify, even with limited technical knowledge and this applies in particular to text files. Moreover, they offer flexibility in terms of presentation, as they can be placed on web pages or on Virtual Learning Environments such as Blackboard or Moodle.
  • Flexi-Packs provide opportunities for collaborative learning, with activities such as the writing-up of dialogues in preparation for the next class. Virtual Learning Environments offer built-in communications tools such as discussion boards to expand further the range of collaborative learning opportunities.
  • Students are more likely to visit Language Self-Access Rooms, if they are made aware of the range of published materials available, and how they can use them.

Learner empowerment

Students have varied motivations to learn a language (Gardner, 1985; Dornyei, 2001, Agnihotri, Khann & Sachdev, 1998). They frequently come from diverse educational backgrounds and their experience of second language acquisition will be different. They may also have different learning styles and their individual learning preferences may vary. Students make sense of the various influences which surround them and will act in their own personal ways. Therefore, what motivates one person to learn a foreign language and keeps that person going will differ from individual to individual. No two people will learn precisely the same thing from any particular learning situation. In this context, learning a foreign language constitutes an essentially personal and individual experience, albeit with important societal context underpinnings (Clément & Gardner, 2001).
Dornyei (1994) proposes a three-level categorisation of motivation. In Dornyei’s model, the language level encompasses various orientations and motives related to aspects of the second language, such as the culture and the usefulness of the language. These will influence learners and the goals they set themselves. Dornyei’s learner level involves individual characteristics that the learner brings to the learning task. Key features of this level are self-confidence and the need for achievement. Finally, the situation level includes components related to the course, the teacher and the group dynamics. Dornyei’s formulation is helpful as it highlights the fact that motivation is multi-faceted and likely to be affected by situation factors.

”A number of researchers investigating cognitive approaches to motivation have proposed that the sense people have of whether they cause and are in control of their actions, or whether they perceive that what happens to them is controlled by other people is an important determinant in motivation. These factors are a part of what is known as a sense of agency.” (Dornyei, 1997)

Flexi-Packs take this dimension into consideration and offer built-in flexibility so that students can choose where and how to use the materials, either directly from Virtual Learning Environments, or “on the go”. The objective is to empower students to have more control over their learning. Within each Flexi-Pack, students have greater choices to focus on specific activities, spend less time on others if they wish, complete others more than once. Flexi-Packs also contain reference sections with key grammar points and essential vocabulary, together with learning tips, which learners are free to use as they wish. Extension sections including web links allow for a great variety of activities.

Further developments

Socio-constructivist models of learning promote the important notion that individuals learn together with other learners as a community, through mutual support and collective sharing of experience. Collaborative learning is generally perceived as being beneficial to learners, and further development of the Flexi-Packs for collaborative learning is important. Creating a community of learners will be beneficial to students’ experiences and this can be done by using communication tools such as discussion boards in tandem with Flexi-Packs.

Visually-pleasing interfaces together with on-screen information are likely to increase students’ level of satisfaction and motivation. For instance, Fadel and Dyson (2006) suggest that “Visual-based interfaces increase the sense of reality, of social presence, and motivates the students to participate.”

Language Self-Access Rooms should be placed at the centre of the learning process, where students can find a wide range of resources and activities, meet other students and receive group and individual support in the form of language learning skill workshops and drop-in sessions. Ideally, these rooms should include social areas that allow collaborative learning and where students can obtain language materials to use for their pleasure, such as international press and DVDs.

The interaction between learners themselves, between learners and tutors, as well as between learners and tasks is of particular interest here. Learning is not presented as taking place in isolation but, on the contrary, interaction with the others and the learning context contribute to students’ experience.

Concluding Notes

This article outlines the rationale for creating Flexi-Packs, a range of mobile learning
(M-learning) materials with a fully-integrated approach between traditional lessons and self-study. Flexi-Packs are currently being developed for a variety of languages (Turkish, Bengali, Nepali, Japanese and Romanian) at SOAS and UCL (see Flexi-Packs empower the students in terms of providing independent self-learning online materials fully tailored to their needs, both in terms of contents and level of difficulty. Additionally, they have great potential in enhancing collaborative learning in the context of well resourced ‘social’ spaces for learning languages.


Agnihotri, R & Khanna, A.L. & Sachdev, I. (1998) Introduction. In Agnihotri, R., Khanna, A.L & Sachdev, I (eds) Social Psychological Perspectives on Second Language Learning. New Delhi: Sage.

Clément, R., & Gardner, R.C. (2001). Second Language Mastery. In H. Giles, & P. Robinson (Eds.): The New Handbook of Language and Social Psychology (pp. 489-504). London: Wiley.

Dornyei, Z. (2001). Teaching and researching motivation. London: Longman.

Dornyei, Z. (1997). Motivational factors in second language attainment. A review of research in Hungary. Acta Linguistica Hungarica, 44, 251-275

Dornyei, Z. (2005). The Psychology of the Language Learner. Individual Differences in Second Language Acquisition. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers. London.

Fadel, L.M. & Dyson, M.C. (2006). A Comparison of the Perception of Social Information in Text-Based and Visual-Based Interfaces 12TH International Conference on Technology-Supported Learning and Training. Book of Abstracts.

Gardner, R. (1985). Social psychology and second language learning: The
role of attitudes and motivation. London: Arnold.

HEFCE strategy for e-learning (2005) [last consulted on 25/02/2008]

Related links

SOAS-UCL Languages of the Wider World

Turkish Flexi-Pack samples