What is the current landscape and the history of language learning technology? Can we say that the language learning websites, applications, and services recognize that language learning is complex and nonlinear?
It is relevant to analyze how computer software for language learning have evolved over the decades to identify its gaps.
The history of CALL
Warschauer & Healey (1998) roughly divide the history of Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL), into three stages: behavioristic CALL, communicative CALL, and integrative CALL.
1. Behavioristic CALL (the 1960s and 1970s)
In this period, computers were seen as “mechanical tutors which never grew tired” (Warschauer; Healey, 1998, p. 57). They served to prompt some automated, linear, fixed exercises to learners.
Most of these exercises were “repetitive language drills, referred to as drill-and-practice (or, pejoratively, as ‘drill-and-kill’)” (Warschauer; Healey, 1998, p. 57), as illustrated on Image 1.
2. Communicative CALL (late 1970s)
This period is marked by the rejection of a pure behaviorism. Rather than just drill exercises, computers would also feature discussion prompts and other forms of conversation starters that students could use to engage in authentic communication.
“Proponents of communicative CALL stressed that computer-based activities should focus more on using forms than on the forms themselves, teach grammar implicitly rather than explicitly, allow and encourage students to generate original utterances rather than just manipulate prefabricated language” (Warschauer & Healey, 1998, p. 57)
Additionally, the software would then begin to experiment with elementary forms of interaction with learners, such as mini-games, multiple-choice tests, audio recording, and others.
3. Integrative CALL (1990s)
It reflects a shift in language teaching theory and practice from a “cognitive view of communicative teaching to a more social or socio-cognitive view” (Warschauer & Healey, 1998, p. 58).
In other words, it puts emphasis on language use in authentic context, rather than on language forms. Task-based, project-based, and content-based exercises begin to be part of the integrative approach.
Additionally, learners begin to make choices in the Integrative CALL period. Computers would give them control over both their learning pace and their individual path within the software.
4. Still Integrative? (2000-now)
The Integrative CALL period is the last period covered by Warschauer & Healey (1998). From their standpoint in 1998, a lot of hope and fascination was being directed to the “multimedia networked computer.”
Almost two decades after the publication of “Computers and language learning: An overview”, claims and projections made by Warschauer & Healey (1998) seem to accurately describe the current context, as in:
“students learn to use a variety of technological tools as an ongoing process of language learning and use, rather than visiting the computer lab on a once a week basis for isolated exercises” (p. 11).
On the other hand, it was not clear to them what to expect from such variety of technological tools. Also, new academic terms were created to describe the current context better.
In the acronym CALL, the word “computer” is usually associated with desktop or laptop machines. The acronym does not cover the current range of digital devices that may be used for learning purposes.
The literature variously refers to CALL (Computer Aided Language Learning), CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction), TALL (Technology Assisted Language Learning), distance learning, on-line learning, and more (Bourgerie, 2003, p. 3).
Notably, the acronym MALL (Mobile Assisted Language Learning) has become widely accepted over the past decade, for dealing with the particular affordances and challenges of mobile devices:
Notwithstanding its benefits, MALL also poses related challenges. For instance, inherent in the portability of mobile media are reduced screen sizes, limited audiovisual quality, virtual keyboarding and one-finger data entry, and limited power. (Chinnery, 2006)
By analyzing the history of CALL and the current perspectives of MALL, we may think that the notion of a computer as a mechanical tutor (as seen in the Behaviouristic CALL period) is mainly in the DNA of language learning software.
Most services incorporate a single particular method and attempt to guide learners through the whole language learning experience as if they were enough to all learners (see: Landscape Audit).
As a result, most language learning software does not help learners understand how to engage in effective practice. The “networked computer” now offers a sea of distributed, individualized resources that compete to be the best.