A Pedagogy of Online Second Language Teaching

A Pedagogy of Online Second Language Teaching


Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

Cognitive approaches. 1

Social interaction or social cognition. 4

Sociocultural and constructivist approaches. 4

Conclusion. 5




Online teaching is increasingly common in modern times due to the growth of the flexibility of the tools and demand from various users. It is preferred mainly because of the availability of different modes of interaction between the learner and instructors that are provided over the internet platform. Due to this, various tools have been created to enable quality online learning. The essay focuses on best practices and frameworks for online teaching of a second language. Online teaching for a second language can utilize technology to achieve a number of objectives in the teaching of language, although this need not be seen as a panacea for challenges encountered in this process. The main approaches of pedagogy for online teaching of a second language are cognitive and sociocognitive. Each has its advantages and disadvantage that are discussed here in this essay.

Cognitive approaches

These approaches are based on an understanding that language is an individual psychological process of acquisition and development. This means that the learners ought to form mental models that are based on their knowledge and comprehension skills of a new language. Like the first language development, IQ is not a determinant in language development and this can be true for the acquisition and learning of the second one. Towell and Hawkins (1994) noted that the cognitive approach works in a linear fashion where learners decode, analyse, store, and produce. Technology and specifically the online approach can be used to help learners with cognition in leaning a second language. Technology can be used to allow learners to an environment where they are exposed to enable them utilise their own knowledge to learn a new language. Luo et al. (2010) observed that not all of these are based on the curriculum but online tools are very useful in offering a rich environment, some are interactive and useful for cognitive development for leaning a second language.

Though online tools should make it easier to learn a language, the approach should be to make it learner-centered. Depending on the teacher and familiarity of the learner, there are a number of tools that we provide online to aid in second language learning. Some of these include multimedia simulation software that is available online and which allows a student to exploit the environment to comprehend desired language skills. The software can help in comprehension using built-in tools such as task-based learning on the web where students solve activities and in the process, acquire necessary skills. Modern software development technology has allowed the use of language that provides graphical environments that are fun and easier to learn.

To use cognitive tools, like traditional face-to-face communication, there is a need for input from a learner. Zazulak (Zazulak, 2016) observed that one is required to be a better listener be less distracted, become a better multitasker, and ability to solve problems and be creative.  Online tools provide where there is no interaction with other people and require utilisation of personal faculties to ensure they acquire learning skills. Demirezen (2014) added that online learning of a second language requires that learners be exposed to conducive learning for the same.  Cognitive learning is beneficial to the learner but it has to be holistic where a learner understands all rules of a language to be learned.

According to Sun (2014), cognitive approaches of pedagogy of online have in the past focused on being teacher-centered but recently, this has changed to being personalised. However, this does not mean that there is no input from teachers; the drive has to originate from learners, and programmes designed online have to make it easier for learners to own it and utilise available tools to make them learn the language. The author noted this works best where a multidimensional model is adopted, where small groups of people are involved and focused on this goal. The following mode was quoted by Sun (2014) to provide the structures in which this should be done. 

The model indicates that software used online should ensure users have ICT competence to use the hardware and software. This is especially true in cases where the learning process will not be intervened by a teacher. Learners also need to familiarise themselves with the software incorporates online and which will be used to aid in the learning process. This means that users have to use their cognitive tools to understand the tools available in the software. Self-drive and interest will ensure one learns graphical tools among others used to ease the learning process. The effectiveness of language learning will be increased under this third step. The cognitive module explained above that all constraints should be understood and solved but also online socialisation is a must to enable learners to develop their own tools for learning a  second language.

There is evidence that modern learning tools tend to be learner-centered and this pedagogical approach is thought to aid in a faster and more effective learning process. Middlebury noted that these approaches are task-based and use the online platform, there are activities with authentic materials to train in language and cultural growth.  However, they too need to have a strong backup of trained teachers and a strong connection to the curriculum (Middlesburry, 2017). The tasks given follow a number of rules such as academic rigour, providing relevant context for learning to take place, and ensuring that professionalism is observed throughout this process. Using academic rigour meant that language development should follow academic principles, requiring them to be exposed to a challenging environments where they need to understand the content given. This principle that was called ‘comprehensible input’ is thought to be used in several other academic processes where content is above their skill level.

Social interaction or social cognition

The emphasis on this is the social aspect of interaction in the process of learning a language. It means that for learners to acquire skills in a given language, they need to be exposed to their peers and given the opportunity to interact and learn from them. It is different from the cognitive process that is learner-centered. While Pasfield-Neofitou (2012) observed that online learning of a second language is possible, necessities that must be availed include forums for interaction and communication for the practice of language to be done. In this case, authentic interactions should be between native and non-native speakers where language skills are thought to be shared in this process. This interaction has to happen online and this can be done using various technologies available. It can be done using text or video chats, audio, and video, all of which are synchronous or interactive.

Swan (2010) studied processes and courses of online programmes where the emphasis on interaction was given precedence. The establishment of online communities where social presence was used indicated higher success and this was due to effective communications that were used. Interaction in online teaching needed participants to use and display more verbal immediacy behaviours that are necessary for interaction and the learning process. The main success factors that were noted in this process is clarity and consistency of the course, availability of feedback from tutors and importance of active discussion.

While emphasising the importance of socialisation in learning, Teach Online (2015) observed that success in online second language learning requires a matching pedagogy, learning objects, subject matter, and the ability of students to access the technology to be used for training. There is an emphasis on the need for interaction where a student will be assessed and supported and access the tools to deliver the course content to be delivered. The use of technology in learning is well supported but needs to be understood on how useful it will be in the process of learning a new language.

Sociocultural and constructivist approaches

According to Felix (2010), learning of language online goes beyond cognitive and sociocognitive approaches to include sociocultural and constructivist theories. This learning should be based on the pedagogical framework for online learning that includes graphics, collaborative writing, text, chat, and sometimes videos that make it easier to access content and interact actively. Teach Online (Teach Online, 2015) noted that in a case study at George Brown College noted relatively effective learning occurred where students were not just passive participants but active as teachers as well. This is opposed to the teacher-led model where learning took a long time for learners to familiarise themselves with the new model. Thus, while making it learner-centered, there was a need for discussions, especially among the learners where most support was provided. The teacher too becomes a learner, co-researcher, and presenter in this process.  


While technology does not claim to replace traditional face-to-face learning, its place in online teaching especially has been noted, used, and continues to be applied in various parts of the globe. Increased demand in foreign language learning especially English in the modern globalised world has meant that new and effective tools be made available for use in this process. However, it is important to note that the two main pedagogical approaches that were discussed are effective on their own. They need integration where learning becomes student-led but also, interaction is made available online using communities and support made available to hasten the process and make it possible generally.


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Felix, U., 2010. Language Learning Online: Towards Best Practice. New York: CRC Press.

Luo, X. et al. eds., 2010. New Horizons in Web Based Learning -- ICWL 2010 Workshops: ICWL 2010 .... New York: Springer.

Middlesburry , 2017. World Language Learning Pedagogical Approach. [Online]

Pasfield-Neofitou, S. E., 2012. Online Communication in a Second Language: Social Interaction, Language Us. New York: Multilingual Matters.

Sun, S. Y. H., 2014. Online Language Teaching: the Pedagogical Challenges. Knowledge Management & E-Learning: An International Journal, , 3(3), pp. 428-441.

Swan, K., 2010. Building Learning Communities in Online Courses: the importance of interaction. Education, Communication & Information , 2(1), pp. 23-49.

Teach Online, 2015. A New Pedagogy is Emerging... and Online Learning is a Key Contributing Factor. [Online]

Towell, R. & Hawkins, R. D., 1994. Approaches to Second Language Acquisition. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Zazulak, S., 2016. The cognitive benefits of language learning. [Online] 



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