Getting and Keeping Language Learners Engaged

This month we published Student Engagement in the Language Classroom edited by Phil Hiver, Ali H. Al-Hoorie and Sarah Mercer. In this post the editors explain how the book came about and why it’s important.

All three of us share an interest in the practicalities of getting learners engaged and keeping them engaged. As educators and researchers, we recognized for some years how this has become increasingly difficult in the face of the multitude of distractions competing for learners’ attention. In 2018, we met at the PLL3 conference in Japan. Sarah had already begun work with Zoltán Dörnyei exploring the notion of engagement in depth with a book aimed at educators concentrating on practical issues based on an underlying theoretical frame (Mercer & Dörnyei, 2020). However, all of us felt there was still a need for a greater research commitment to the construct of engagement in SLA. At PLL3, the inspiring relevant plenary by Richard Ryan sealed our resolve to bring such a collection of research papers together. Given its heritage, we are especially honored to have an introduction from Richard Ryan to preface the collection.

In our previous work, we had all seen that although learners may be motivated and want to learn, at the critical moment, their attention could be hijacked leaving them disengaged with the objectives of their learning despite their initial good intentions and motives. Clearly, motivation still has a role to play in understanding learning processes, but learner engagement seems to provide a critical link between learners’ intentions and their actions. What is the nature of engagement, how can it be fostered, and how does it connect with other key variables in language learning – these were some of the key questions driving our interest in compiling this exciting collection of papers.

To date, engagement in language learning has remained relatively unexplored apart from some notable pioneers who have conducted key studies in SLA. This book is intended to chart some of the territory of language learner engagement, pointing out the key areas that can be connected to and built upon but also new directions and avenues yet to be investigated. Engagement is a core foundation for successful learning. While motivation represents an intention to engage, engagement itself is the action state driving learning. Engagement is a complex, multifaceted construct comprised of affective, cognitive, social, and behavioural elements. It is closely interconnected with motivation but differs in its temporal and actional frame. It is a hugely important construct to comprehend, as without engagement, there will be no learning. We are excited to share this collection with you. We expect to continue to learn much more about engagement of different forms in the context of language learning and teaching in the years to come – our hope is that this collection can provide the impetus for that next wave of engagement research.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Contemporary Language Motivation Theory edited by Ali H. Al-Hoorie and Peter D. MacIntyre.