5 Important Instructional Strategies

8 Oct

Tag words from my blog

An instructional strategy is something that an instructional designer (or educator) uses as a vehicle to deliver information.  Some instructional strategies utilize the Internet like WebQuests, HyperInquiry, and well-designed educational videogames, while others are used within the mind metacognitively like mnemonics for memory.  However, the vast majority are used to present instruction in multimodal formats.  Other strategies include academic controversy, advance organizers, chunking of information, imagery, and spatial strategies (i.e., Frames Type I and II matrix, concept mapping). The best ones are based on cognitive science and learning theory.  Instructional strategies differ from learning strategies in that the latter are for the learner to use for encoding information (also known as a cognitive strategy).  For example, here are some useful cognitive strategies for enhancing learning and retention: making it meaningful, organize the information, visualize it, and elaborate on it.  In my opinion, learning strategies should be embedded within instruction and modeled by the teacher to increase use.

Instructional strategies are based on the goals and learning objectives identified during the analysis phase in the instructional design process.  The instructional strategies must match the intended end behaviors, condition, and criteria of the objectives.  For example, if you’re developing an online course, it would be important to include an advance organizer (AO) for each unit to build a bridge between the information learned and the new content.  This bridging strategy is based on Ausubel’s subsumption theory  because it taps into your prior knowledge and adds new information in a structured way to build schema on the topic (West, Farmer, & Wolff, 1991).  AOs are written like an abstract with all the key information but brief.  They have seven different features that are critical to making this more than simply an introduction to a unit; for example, AOs must encourage students to tap into their prior knowledge on the topic.

Concept mapping is the most commonly used spatial strategy.  It makes a graphical depiction of the content in a connected frame.  There are different types of concept maps based on the type of information you need to teach: spider maps for different categories (typologies), chain map for linear processes, hierarchy map for complex topics and their interrelationships of the system, subsystem, and parts (West, Farmer, & Wolff, 1991).  This is related to the instructional strategy of chunking information into meaningful units.  You need to chunk the information before you map it.

Chunking and concept mapping are based on some of the same learning theories such as Sweller’s cognitive load theory, Miller’s seven-plus-or-minus-two principle, and Baddeley’s working memory model. All of these theories describe a limited capacity of working memory.  Cognitive load theory proposes several conditions to optimize learning such as reducing the amount of “noise” (extraneous elements in the broad sense) during a learning event.  For example, long lectures need to be reduced to five minutes or less due to the human brain’s inability to pay attention, process, and store lengthy amounts of information.

Other types of spatial strategies are frames, type one and two. Frames, type one is described by Reigeluth (1983) as a combination of ‘big picture and telescoping’.  Instructional designers use frames, type one as a way to unpack and emphasize the big ideas of a unit of information into a meaningful structure to build on existing schema.  Frames, type two is a rule-bound matrix and requires higher-order thinking skills to complete, whereas frames, type one, is for simple recall, comprehension, and application (West, Farmer, & Wolff, 1991).  Usually, the information for both types of frames is presented in a two-dimensional matrix. These instructional strategies are also based on the theory of cognitive load in that the structure and relationships of the information will reduce extraneous thought processing and instead focus on the intrinsic and germane elements.  It’s also based on schema theory, which was first posited by Piaget.  Frames, type one and two, provide the structure to build on existing schema.  Of all the instructional strategies, these five are the ones that I rely on the most as an instructional designer.


Reigeluth, C. M. (1983).  The elaboration theory of instruction. In Charles M. Reigeluth ed. Instructional-design theories and models: An overview of their current status.  Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.

West, C. K., Farmer, J. A., & Wolff, P. M. (1991). Instructional design: Implications from cognitive science. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Videogames for Extracurricular Second Language Acquisition Activities

26 Sep

Photo by Emma Kim

Massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORGs) provide English language learners (ELLs) with various gameplay situations and narratives to learn language functions in interactive, fun, and effective ways. Commercial MMORGs like World of Warcraft (WOW) provide numerous opportunities to practice information literacy activities such as interpreting, seeking, synthesizing, and disseminating information (Martin & Steinkuehler, 2010).  According to Krashen’s (1982) acquisition versus learning hypothesis, these would be great conduits for informal second language acquisition (SLA).  When a player enters WOW to complete a quest, generally they interact with other players and non-player characters (NPCs) to find and share information. These are examples of information literacy activities, which are linguistically described as heuristic (infer), instrumental (seek), and informative (disseminate and synthesize) language functions (Yahya, 2012). ELLs need to practice these and other types of language functions in all sorts of situations to achieve English language fluency.

MMORGs provide an informal learning environment with a narrative structure to learn language functions via observation and interaction with others.  This resonates with Bandura’s (1978) social learning theory.  Bandura posited learning through observation of others and without formal reinforcement of learning.  Hence, learning is viewed as a cognitive process where one can learn vicariously through others, which can occur with the NPCs and other gamers during the role-play aspect of WOW. Krashen also posited that SLA can occur unconsciously through passive learning activities.  I extrapolate this idea to the passive learning of language functions via gameplay.  Dickey (2007) described the narrative structure of MMORGs in her typology of quests as follows: bounty, collection, escort, FedEx, goodwill, and messenger.  For example, the bounty quest is an assignment to hunt for certain players or things within the game.  As a subject matter expert in SLA, I could work with script writers to identify the language functions that correlate to each type of quest per character and game level to develop a list of the language functions and their corresponding level of difficulty (beginner, intermediate, advance).  This document would become a curriculum map of language functions for ELLs and could be marketed as an afterschool program to schools and/or to ELLs directly.

MMORGs make the target language understandable.  MMORGs provide affordances to make the conversation comprehensible via animation, sound alerts, written rules, NPCs, and other players verbal input and actions. Krashen’s posited in his input hypothesis that learners need comprehensible input (i + 1) before moving to a higher level of understanding.  Besides the aforementioned affordances, the story narrative of MMORGs provide multiple reinforcers to make the input comprehensible. For instance, the narrative structure has a logical sequence of beginning, middle, and end, as well as an appeal to the senses. In a somewhat similar theory, Vygotsky (1978) proposed that all learning takes place at the edge of one’s understanding with the help of others or a support system.  This is known as the zone of proximal development (ZPD). The role-playing aspect of the videogame provides ELLs with an opportunity to go beyond their own ability and access their ZPD with the help of their partners and NPCs within gameplay. Based on these theories, I propose MMORGs as a way to informally learn a second language during afterschool extracurricular activities.


Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. Oxford, England: Prentice-Hall.

Dickey, M. (2007).  Game design and learning: A conjectural analysis of how massively multiple online role-playing games (MMORPGs) foster intrinsic motivation.  Educational Technology Research & Development, 55(3), 253-273.  doi:10.1007/s11423-006-9004-7

Martin, C., & Steinkuehler, C. (2010).  Collective information literacy in massively multiplayer online games.  E-Learning and Digital Media, 7(4), 355.  doi:10.2304/elea.2010.7.4.355

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Yahya, N. (2011). English language oral development and instruction. In H. Zainuddin, N. Yahya, C. A. Morales-Jones, & E. N. Whelan Ariza (Eds.) Fundamentals of teaching English to speakers of other languages in K-12 mainstream classrooms (3rd ed). (pp. 151-171).  Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

Cognitive Perspective of Flow Theory and Videogames

14 Sep

Icon of game consul

Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory (1990) is based on several interrelated psychological constructs: ability, attitude, cognition, emotion, motivation, and personality. When perfectly combined in a task, they catapult a person into a state of flow commonly known as being in the zone. Csikszentmilhalyi refers to this as an optimal experience. He found that people around the world had shared descriptions for flow such as the joy it yields, episodes of unfettered concentration, suspension of time, and the spontaneous automaticity during an experience. Flow occurs differently for different people. For example, individuals who aren’t good at playing games, or find the game uninteresting, wouldn’t experience flow during gameplay.

As an instructional designer, I want to create optimal learning experiences. Flow theory has components similar to those used for effective instruction based on cognitivism. For instance, Sweller’s cognitive load theory (1998) recommends reducing distractions (extraneous elements) and delivering germane and intrinsic elements of instruction in manageable chunks. This correlates to the component of enjoyment in flow theory in that a person can only fully enjoy a task if they’re capable of completing it. Flow theory has eight main components that engender enjoyment: manageable tasks, deep concentration, clear goals, immediate feedback, effortless involvement, learner autonomy, metamorphosis of self, and suspension of time. These components parallel best practices for instruction.

To make learning more enjoyable, I’d apply Miller’s seven-plus-or-minus-two principle (1956) regarding the limitations surrounding the amount of input that can be remembered at any given time. Adherence to Miller’s principle will make a task more manageable. Additionally, I’d use Gagne’s (1965) nine events of learning to establish the optimal cognitive conditions for effective learning to occur. In my opinion, three of Gagne’s events (state objective, provide feedback, and provide practice) closely correlate with the enjoyment phenomena of flow theory (task has clear goals, task provides immediate feedback, and sense of control). Furthermore, the aspects of clear goals and feedback also correlate to self-regulation of learning. Self-regulation processes include rehearsal, selection of important information, and metacognitive strategies. The selection of important information aids deep concentration for possible enjoyment of an optimal experience.

A vehicle for cognitive learning experiences with flow potential would be well-designed educational games. Elements of good game design include goal-oriented, stimulating, active learning that is anchored in instruction (Shute, Reiber, & Van Eck, 2012). While playful (fun) learning has similar elements, the key difference is active learning, as many playful activities passively follow the teacher’s directives. Another difference is the challenge aspect of gaming that adapts to the learners’ abilities, whereas playful learning is freeform. A challenge provides learners with intrinsic motivation and the pathway to achieve learner autonomy to make their own way through the world. This is different from traditional learning activities that are teacher directed. Chatti, Jarke, and Specht (2010) described this as a knowledge push, whereas knowledge-pull is akin to gaming where the learner gravitates toward knowledge.

Videogames, in particular, have similar characteristics for creating a context for flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, clarity, centering, choice, commitment, and challenge are the characteristics necessary for a unified flow experience. In my opinion, these are the flow characteristics that can be found in gameplay: 1) clarity with explicit gaming context, rules, and goals, 2) centering with narrative providing storyline, 3) choice with multilevels of play, numerous episodes, variety of characters and actions, 4) commitment via resets (do-overs) and new virtual identity, and 5) challenge via incremental task difficulty and reward system. The challenge for instructional designers is to determine how to use the potentiality of videogames to engender flow for educational purposes. Based on the aforementioned research on cognitive learning best practices and flow theory, we have the theoretical basis to move forward.

Sandra Rogers


Chatti, M. A., Jarke, M., & Specht, M. (2010). The 3P learning model. Educational Technology and Society, 13(4), 74-85.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Gagné, R. M. (1965). The Conditions of Learning. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus-or-minus two: Some limits on our capacity
for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.

Shute, V. J., Rieber, L. P., & Van Eck, R. (2012).   Games…and…Learning. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey   (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and   technology (pp. 321-332). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill   Prentice Hall.

Sweller, J., Van Merriënboer, J., & Paas, F. (1998). Cognitive architecture and instructional design. Educational Psychology Review 10(3), 251–296. doi:10.1023/A:1022193728205

Where Learning Happens

7 Sep
Young boy riding a wave

My Godchild Surfing (Photo source: Ed Compo)

During the flow of a task, at the edge of our zone of proximal development (ZPD), via our selective attention, rehearsal, and metacognition is where learning happens.  I acknowledge that this description short shrifts other important cognitive and behavioral learning processes; nevertheless, these are what I recognize as the most important to create an optimal learning experience. To be certain, many other constructs come into play such as ability, attitude, emotion, motivation, and personality.

Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) flow theory describes the conditions for flow occur when there rules, goals, feedback, and potential for participant control. His flow theory is not specific to learning, but rather generic to all of life’s activities. He described flow as an optimal experience; I translate that to “being in the zone”, which comes to us from popular culture (not the ZPD). In reading his work, I saw similarities to learning in his descriptions of flow in how it motivates one to higher levels of performance. For example, for an activity to engender enjoyment, it should provide manageable tasks, deep concentration, clear goals, immediate feedback, effortless involvement, learner autonomy, metamorphosis of self, and suspension of time (Csikszentmihalyi). As an instructional designer, I want to utilize these aspects of flow to create optimal learning experiences.

Vygotsky’s (1978) proposed that learning takes place at the edge of one’s understanding with the help of others or a support system. This is known as the ZPD. This means that learning will not take place if the activity is too easy or too difficult. Csikszentmihalyi also described flow occurring for activities within a channel with just the right type of challenge to match a person’s skills. This channel exists somewhere between anxiety and boredom. Educators understand the need for differentiated instruction to meet each individual learner’s needs, but the reality of trying to make this happen in a classroom of diverse learners is almost impossible to do all of the time. Grouping according to ability is a solution but can cause equity issues if overdone. Computer-adaptive software programs, peer mentoring, cross-age tutoring, well-designed educational games, and pull-out programs for gifted or remediation are some solutions to providing the ZPD for our learners.

Self-regulation processes include rehearsal, selection of important information, and metacognitive strategies. Self-regulation aids working memory by stretching the time the information is held in storage, as well as enhancing transfer to and retrieval from long-term memory. A helpful example of self-regulation would be self-directed speech. Students might not think this is helpful, so an educator should model this behavior or otherwise teach it explicitly. Other useful learning strategies specific to self-regulation are mnemonics, reciprocal teaching, and reflection (written, verbal, or artistic formats).

Where do you think learning occurs? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

Sandra Rogers


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Sample Integration of Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction for Workshop

14 Aug
Photo of authur with stars, leaves, and vines over image.

I used Pixlr to edit and manipulate my photo.

Pixlr Tech Teaser (15 min)
Instructional Sequence based on Gagne’s 9 Events of Instruction

Prep: Download Pixlr software to desktop. Open picture editor. Preload folder with images for practice. Locate some great images edited with the software to illustrate as examples.

Software constraints:
• Not compatible with Mozilla Firefox; Use Google Chrome or Internet Explorer instead;
• Advance level Editor will not save as an image file. It will download as an odd file type. You’ll be able to see the icon. Simply rename it as a .jpg or .png; and
• Limited text manipulation of font. For example, you can’t make font bold or italicized. To enlarge the text,  manipulate the text box size.

1. Gain Attention: Show some amazing images that you created with Pixlr for a class.
2. State Objective: Use Pixlr to modify or enhance images for course content to add visual imagery, cues, or a personal touch to your online courses.
3. Stimulate recall of prior learning: Ask if they have ever worked with Pixlr, Picasa, Photoshop, or Gimp? Let them share their experience with these photo editing software programs.
4. Present content:
• Free software. Free mobile app, too. Show intermediate level— Open Pixlr express (Efficient);
• No need to login. Can save image to desktop. Log in to save images in the cloud;
• The more advanced level, Open Pixlr editor, has almost the same amount of photo editing capabilities as Photohop;
• Functions include crop, re-size, fix red-eye/whiten teeth, colorization, and 600 special effects.
5. Provide learner guidance: Share handout with tips. Demo Open Pixlr express (Efficient), which is mid-level.
6. Elicit performance: Participants upload photo from desktop for editing at Efficient level.
7. Provide Feedback: Answer questions and assist participants one-on-one.
8. Assessment: Ask some basic recall questions about software, tips, and constraints.
9. Enhance retention and transfer: In one word, how do you plan to use it in your class? (e.g., lessons, projects, introductions) Invite them to a workshop on emergent technology to learn more about Pixlr.

Note: For more information on Pixlr, visit my blog on the topic. For more information on Gagne’s nine events of instruction, see my blog on that topic.

Cognitive Benefits of ePortfolios

4 Aug

Dewey and Instructional Design

25 Jul

As part of my doctoral course work, I read Dewey’s Experience and Education (1938) lecture series this summer. As an instructional design (ID) practitioner, I noticed numerous connections between what Dewey suggested for optimal learning and the current practices of ID. For example, in his chapter comparing traditional and progressive education, he warned progressive programs not to completely disregard lesson planning for the experiential process of learning events because complete rejection of external controls can lead to missed opportunities usually discovered via preplanned guidance. Dewey believed in a bind between the process of experiencing something and education. He challenged educators to determine what that process entailed in terms of place, occurrence, and purpose. This connects to the ID parameters for creating measurable goals, which include stating the behavior, condition, and criteria of the learning event.

Additionally, Dewey did not advocate for complete control of the learning environment by the instructors. Instead, he welcomed a balanced education where the educator is tasked with understanding all of the social factors involved in the individual learning experience. This is related to the ID analysis phase where the learner, learning environment, and subject matter are analyzed in order to include the entire social, environmental, and cognitive implications. These are identified prior to designing the learning event or learning object, as part of the systematic design of instruction.

In another essay, he called for the need for a theory of experience. Dewey wanted structure for the learning experience through thorough preplanning of a balanced curriculum based on a philosophy of learning from experiences. He wanted educators to break down the components of different experiences. This sounds like what an instructional designer would do through the systematic design of instruction (e.g., entry level, subordinate, and supraordinate skills) of a learning task.

In his essay on the criteria of experience, Dewey suggested the following criteria for experiential learning: continuity, democratic, humane, modifiable, habitual, specification of growth, opportunities for new growth, social interaction, and subsequent broader learning. He felt that disregard of any the aforementioned aspects would derail students from the natural learning experience and all of its positive markers such as wonder, intensity, joy, and the desire to learn more. He touched on the fact that learning experiences are a social phenomenon where interaction is critical. Dewey urged educators to notice the habits and attitudes of their students, as these are tied intrinsically and extrinsically to learning experiences with others. Fortunately, my instructional design studies have included socio-cultural learning (e.g., Bandura and Vygotsky) and motivation (e.g., Deci and Dweck) theories to help me meet the criteria for experiential learning in my lesson or course design.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. The Kappa Delta Pi Lecture Series. New York: NY: Collier Books.

Sandra Rogers

My Professor’s View on Knowledge

5 Jul

Note: This is a review of my professor’s article on knowledge.

Johnson, R. B. (2008). Knowledge. In L. M. Given (Ed.), The Sage Encyclopedia of Qualitative Research Methods (pp. 478-482). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

In his article, Johnson (2008) addressed the typologies of knowledge, affective variables, standardization, debates, and its history. Knowledge is often defined in simplistic terms as scientific, commonsense, or religious. He described knowledge as the accepted understandings of phenomena in our universe. Dewey called this warranted accertability. Paradigm wars occur over the nature of knowledge, epistemology.

In cognitive psychology, knowledge typologies are broken into declarative (ability to make a statement), procedural (process oriented), and situated knowledge (contextual). Another typology of knowledge is in terms of tacit (internally understood) or explicit (externally expressed) understanding. The former could be procedural or situated knowledge. The latter is aligned with declarative knowledge. Another typology categorizes knowledge as subjective (nuanced by lifeworld), intersubjective (commonsense from community), and objective (warranted accertability). Johnson described how objective knowledge is defined in many different ways by scholars.

Knowledge comes from discoveries and sense-making of humans. We store it in our minds and in our books. We also “carry” it in our societal interactions, as part of our reality. This is referred to as structuralism. Some scholars like Plato believed that there are universal truths. Knowledge is either true or false without any go-between (absolutism). Other scholars like Protagoras believed that knowledge is relative (relativism). Related to this idea is Hume’s problem of induction, which states that we cannot separate ourselves from what we are investigating; therefore, all we can know is our experience with it. Our interaction with that which is studied changes it.

This also relates to Kuhn’s idea that knowledge is a construct of psycho-social and objective variables. These viewpoints have caused debates historically and affect scientific inquiry today. Johnson described the current paradigm war between qualitative, quantitative, and mixed research, as a current day Plato versus Protagoras debate. Johnson promotes mixed research as the best method for seeking knowledge of a phenomenon. He proposed several flexible paradigm emphasis (QUAN+qual) and time/order emphases (Qual →QUAN) for designing a research study.

Knowledge must be somehow justified as true and people must believe it. This phenomenon is called justified true beliefs (JTB). For example, creationists believe that a god placed man in full form on Earth; they do not believe that we evolved from other species. Apparently, the evidence for man’s evolutionary span from nonhuman species is not adequate for some to accept. As expected, there are different theories about truths. For example, correspondence theory relates statements with facts. Second, coherence theories consider information true if it fits within the relevant existing theories. Third, pragmatic theories about truth focus on the practical application of the knowledge that works. Last but not least, at the individual level, Bem and Bem described psycho-logic as man’s own reasoning at the personal level.

Sandra Rogers

The Neuroscience of Learning

23 Jun

Neuroscience has the potential to prove and disprove existing educational learning theories, as well as identify learning disabilities. It will eventually lead to new discoveries and clearer explanations about the internal processes of the brain/mind. Hopefully, this information will make its way into educational textbooks and school curriculum. It already has determined many specific functions of the brain and aspects of human memory from research experiments using electrodes, electroencephalography (EEG), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). For example, from the use of implanted electrodes in rats, neuroscientists identified place cells (neurons) that respond to a specific place from a collection of neurons (schemata) when needed (Ward, 2010).

Neuroscience has determined specific learning activities directly related to components of the brain. Neuroscientists are able to measure neuronal activity by observing the spiking rate of neurons as they code information. For example, the hippocampus stores contextual details for recall in a spatial map of the environment (Ward). This was discovered in a research study that planted electrodes in rats that maneuvered a maze; these rats’ neurons exhibited a high spiking rate only when they were in a particular location (O’Keefe, 1976). Later, in a study of humans that maneuvered in a virtual environment, it was determined that humans have place cells that are lateralized to a particular region of the hippocampus (Hartley, Maguire, Spears, & Burgess, 2003). The implications from this research finding suggest that it’s important for learners to discover the routes themselves in order to store this information; otherwise, it may not become a part of the spatial map if provided directly from the instructor.

Another study related to learning and cognition identified the basal ganglia as being responsible for regulating motor skills and skill learning (Ward). This was found through disorders of the basal ganglia. For example, individuals with Parkinson’s disease have damage to the basal ganglia structures and subsequent poverty of movement (hypokinetic). Neuroscience is helping better understand neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson, but it still has not been able to solve them all.

Moreover, neuroscientists used fMRI to identify mirror neurons in monkeys. These neurons respond specifically to precise actions that are goal-directed but not to mimicked actions without an object (Ward). The neurons were even sensitive to the direction of rotation in mirroring an action. A study with infants showed similar imitation processes that are goal-directed more so than action-oriented. This data was collected from observation, not with the use of fMRI. These studies indicate that the act of imitation requires deeper cognitive processing than mimicry. Neuroscientists are investigating relations with mirror neurons and mirror systems such as empathy. These mirror systems are “…neural resources that disregard the distinction between self and others (Ward).”

There are many limitations to collecting data for neuroscience. For example, it’s difficult for young children to keep still under a scanner, and this disrupts the MR signal. Children are also unlikely to tolerate electrodes from an EEG. Bruning, Schraw, and Norby (2011) noted that even though fMRI shows activity in particular parts of the brain in correlation to specific mental activities, it really does not explain why or how. Additionally, the medical ethics of research on human subjects limits some of the advances of neuroscience. There is also a political debate on the use of animals as subjects of research studies. 


Bruning, R. H., Schraw, G. J., & Norby, M. M. (2011). Cognitive psychology and instruction, New York, NY: Pearson.

Hartley, T., Maguire, E. A., Spears, H. J., & Burgess, N. (2003). The well-worn route and the path less travelled: Distinct neural base of route following and wayfinding in humans. Neuron, 37, 877-888.

O’Keefe, J. (1976). Place units in the hippocampus of the freely moving rat. Experimental Neurology, 51, 78-109. Ward, J. (2010). The student’s guide to cognitive neuroscience. New York, NY: Psychological Press.
This article was written by Sandra Rogers.

Practical Second Language Acquisition Strategies

14 Jun

People dining outside of a restaurant in Norway on a sunny day.

One of my friends journeyed across the Atlantic for a new job where he’ll need to learn a new language.  As a farewell gift, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of my practical experience in successfully learning two foreign languages while working abroad.  In the past, my masters in teaching English as a second language provided me with some excellent practical strategies.  These are the ones that worked for me.  I hope they help you, too!

1. Eaves-dropping: I learned this from my professor in graduate school, world-famous second language researcher, Rebecca Oxford.  This learner strategy was mentioned as useful by surveyed students in a book she edited, Language Learning Strategies Around the World: Cross-cultural Perspectives (1996).  This would fall under Bandura’s (1977) social learning theory.

2. Silent rehearsal (a.k.a private speech or subvocal rehearsal): I also learned this from Dr. Oxford back in the 90s.

3. Read your favorite children’s book in that new language. For, example, I’ve read The Little Prince in three languages—it never loses its beauty. The simplified language of a children’s book will assist you in becoming a successful reader in the second language. Your familiarity with the storyline will aid your comprehension.

4. Find a tutor to exchange language journals.  Meet with them regularly and informally. Write about what interests you.  For example, I wrote a short form of poetry in free verse in Portuguese. I still have it to this day. Your language journals will become your memorabilia.

5. Immerse yourself in the everyday language communicated on their radio stations, TV channels, local newspaper. and yes, the local pub!

6. Learn the shared words that have crept into their language through pop culture, history, or religion. These are called friendly cognates.  Also, learn the false cognates; they don’t mean the same thing

7. Study, test, test, test yourself on the grammar to develop long-term memory of it. Roediger & Karpicke (2006) found that students in the treatment group of study-test-test-test (STTT), outperformed other students in other treatment groups (SSST and SSSS). This is referred to as the testing effect.

8. Become the extrovert that pushes the envelop to encounter opportunities to practice the language by yourself.  If you hangout with other English language speakers, they will keep you from learning the language.  Try to find locations where no one speaks English.

9. Watch classic children’s movies in the target language. The strategy is similar to #3 but with media, you will hear the language. I remember watching Pinocchio in Spanish when I was in the Peace Corps in Honduras at a movie theater. Nowadays, you can simply select the language settings on your movie streaming devices.

10. Change the language settings on all of your devices. Force yourself to learn the language within a situated task. This is called situational learning.


Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Roediger, H. L. III, & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1, 181-210.

(Note: This is a work-in-progress. I’ll keep adding the research basis when I have more time to devote to this.)


A Journey Through the Evolution of Educational Technologies

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The Starry Mantle

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“The more radical the person is, the more fully he or she enters into reality so that, knowing it better, he or she can transform it. This individual is not afraid to confront, to listen, to see the world unveiled.― Paulo Freire


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