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An exploration of the mediating effects of a digital, mobile vocabulary learning tool and device use on Gulf Arab learners’ receptive vocabulary knowledge and capacity for self-regulated learning.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Michael Bowles
Publication date16/03/2021
Number of pages266
Awarding Institution
Award date16/03/2021
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Receptive knowledge of the meanings of the first 3,000 most frequent word families in English is a vital pre-requisite for enabling academic reading and contributing to academic success in higher education where English is the medium of instruction. While many English foundation programmes include frequency-based word lists for their students to learn, learning gains made by students have frequently proven to be disappointing and little attention has been paid to the technological interventions to learn these words. In addition, little consideration has been given to the negative aspects of smartphone use to learn these words.

In this naturalistic, mixed-methods study, I explore the mediating effects of using an off-the-shelf, digital vocabulary learning tool in out-of-class settings on the receptive vocabulary knowledge of students in the United Arab Emirates. I also examine how the same tool mediates the students’ capacity for self-regulation and whether different devices had any effect on this, both through a self-reported, online survey tool and pair-depth interviews that aim to capture rich, qualitative data about the learners’ own perceptions.

Overall, the findings show that students’ receptive vocabulary knowledge increased, but their self-reported capacity for self-regulated vocabulary learning through technology showed no change. In terms of devices, many students preferred to use the web-based version of the digital tool on their laptops rather than the mobile application on their smartphones. While students saw the laptop as a serious learning device that better enabled self-regulated vocabulary learning, the smartphone is seen predominantly as a communication and entertainment device to access social media, which depleted students’ ability to self-regulate their vocabulary learning, particularly their ability to remain committed to their learning goals. Device control is therefore an important dimension of self-regulated, mobile vocabulary learning, which needs to be considered in future research in this field.