Editor’s note: Mr. Ben Knight, Director for ELT Research & Teacher Development at Cambridge University Press, shares information with TIRF Today readers about the establishment and activities of OLLReN.

Laureate International Universities and Cambridge University Press (CUP) have set up the Online Language Learning Research Network (OLLReN) to support the sharing and development of research into how language is taught and learned online. Both organisations have been involved in cutting-edge online and blended English language courses, and have felt the need for more research into what makes online language learning effective.

We have found that there are researchers around the world who are carrying out very interesting projects that relate to online language education. However, it is difficult to bring all this research together and identify the implications for teachers, course developers, and other ELT practitioners. With these realizations in mind, members of Laureate and CUP decided to set up a network where researchers can share their work and practitioners can get an overview of what the research shows and its implications for practice.

This network is being established in a number of ways:

  • Provide an online forum for sharing existing research work in online language learning;
  • Maintain a database of researchers and research projects that relate to online language learning;
  • Provide guidance and summaries on current research to practitioners working with online language learning;
  • Support online language learning (OLL) research projects – e.g. with seed funding or access to our own data; and
  • Run events that bring researchers from around the world together, to share their knowledge and experience.

As mentioned in the June issue of TIRF Today, the first OLLReN event is an online conference on Research into Using Technology for Language Learning, on 6–7 October 2016. The conference is a joint event with the IATEFL LTSIG (Learning Technologies Special Interest Group).

OLLReN network membership is free of charge for individual researchers and practitioners – the purpose is to encourage as much global participation as possible. Institutions that want to play a greater role in the network can apply to become an Associate Institutional Member.

The scope of online language learning is very broad and offers an abundance of opportunities for research. During the early stages of our OLLReN work, we have been engaged in research projects looking into the following areas:

  • How mobile devices can improve language learning;
  • Evolving pedagogies for synchronous language teaching;
  • Effective behaviours by learners when learning online;
  • How the design of online learning platforms affects teachers’ interventions;
  • Motivating learners in online environments;
  • Impact of online learning on areas of proficiency gain; and
  • Effective approaches to learning analytics for OLL.

When asked about how OLLReN adds unique value to the broader network of language education researchers, Mr. Gordon Lewis, Vice President of Language Programs for Laureate Higher Education, said the following: “OLLReN will help make research into online language learning more widely known and more useful for educational managers and tutors that are responsible for online language programmes.”

Adding to Mr. Lewis’ comment, Mr. Ben Knight noted, “Both Laureate and CUP are increasingly trying to help students who are learning languages in an online context. We could see a lot of claims being made about the impact of technology on learning – especially by companies selling products based on that technology – but it was more difficult to find independent academic research into what is really happening when people teach and learn online, what is effective and what isn’t.”

Mr. Knight continued, “We found that there are researchers working on these questions, but educational practitioners, such as teacher educators, publishers, and curriculum developers, would struggle to get an overview and make decisions based on that research. We felt the need to provide a single forum where researchers from around the world could share their work with each other and with educational practitioners, leading to a productive exchange of theory and practice that will ultimately help our students.”

For more information on OLLReN, please visit http://ollren.org/.