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At the turn of the new millennium, in an article in Language Teaching Research in 2000, Dörnyei and Kormos proposed that ‘active learner engagement is a key concern’ for all instructed language learning. Since then, language engagement research has increased exponentially. In this article, we present a systematic review of 20 years of language engagement research. To ensure robust coverage, we searched 21 major journals on second language acquisition (SLA) and applied linguistics and identified 112 reports satisfying our inclusion criteria. The results of our analysis of these reports highlighted the adoption of heterogeneous methods and conceptual frameworks in the language engagement literature, as well as indicating a need to refine the definitions and operationalizations of engagement in both quantitative and qualitative research. Based on these findings, we attempted to clarify some lingering ambiguity around fundamental definitions, and to more clearly delineate the scope and target of language engagement research. We also discuss future avenues to further advance understanding of the nature, mechanisms, and outcomes resulting from engagement in language learning.
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DOI: 10.1177/13621688211001289
Engagement in language
learning: A systematic review
of 20 years of research
methods and definitions
Phil Hiver
Florida State University, USA
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
Royal Commission for Jubail and Yanbu, Saudi Arabia
Joseph P. Vitta
Rikkyo University and Kyushu University, Japan
Janice Wu
Florida State University, USA
At the turn of the new millennium, in an article published in Language Teaching Research in 2000,
Dörnyei and Kormos proposed that ‘active learner engagement is a key concern’ for all instructed
language learning. Since then, language engagement research has increased exponentially. In this
article, we present a systematic review of 20 years of language engagement research. To ensure
robust coverage, we searched 21 major journals on second language acquisition (SLA) and applied
linguistics and identified 112 reports satisfying our inclusion criteria. The results of our analysis
of these reports highlighted the adoption of heterogeneous methods and conceptual frameworks
in the language engagement literature, as well as indicating a need to refine the definitions and
operationalizations of engagement in both quantitative and qualitative research. Based on these
findings, we attempted to clarify some lingering ambiguity around fundamental definitions, and to
more clearly delineate the scope and target of language engagement research. We also discuss
future avenues to further advance understanding of the nature, mechanisms, and outcomes
resulting from engagement in language learning.
Corresponding author:
Phil Hiver, Florida State University, 1114 West Call Street, G128 Stone Building, Tallahassee, FL 32306,
1001289LTR0010.1177/13621688211001289Language Teaching ResearchHiver et al.
2 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
L2 engagement, methodological synthesis, qualitative research, quantitative research, student
engagement, systematic review
I Introduction
Engagement defines all learning. Learning requires active involvement on the part of the
learner, and action is the defining characteristic of learner engagement (Mercer, 2019).
In the everyday sense, engagement has a generic meaning related to being occupied or
busy doing something. However, in the realm of teaching and learning, engagement
extends beyond this and refers to the amount (quantity) and type (quality) of learners’
active participation and involvement in a language learning task or activity. An engaged
learner is actively involved in and committed to their own learning, and without engage-
ment meaningful learning is unlikely. The growing recognition for the importance of
engagement in contemporary education has also made it one of the most popular research
topics in education, to the extent that it has been described as ‘the holy grail of learning’
(Sinatra et al., 2015, p. 1). Specifically in language learning, the notion of learner action
for learning is deeply embedded in the dominant paradigms of communicative and con-
structivist language learning and teaching, which view language use and interaction as
critical for language development. Furthermore, the predominant line of thinking in
many theoretical understandings of language acquisition (e.g. cognitive-interactionist
approaches, sociocultural theory and complexity/dynamic systems theory) is also that
learning occurs through meaningful use of the language. As such, it is apparent why
learner engagement has come to be of particular interest to scholars and practitioners in
the field of language learning. The domain of language learning has begun to build on the
considerable body of work in the learning sciences and educational psychology (Fredricks
et al., 2019), extending it in domain-specific ways (Hiver, Al-Hoorie & Mercer, 2021b).
Considering this wave of interest in engagement, it seems that it is both appropriate
and necessary to assess this body of empirical work and evaluate the strength of its con-
tribution to the field by examining the methods and conceptual frameworks adopted in
language learning (L2) engagement research (Oga-Baldwin, 2019). In the present review
of 20 years of L2 engagement research, we had two main objectives. Our first aim was
to look back at the methodological characteristics of previous empirical L2 engagement
research in second language acquisition (SLA) and applied linguistics to note trends and
tendencies in designs and analytical choices. By defining the shape of existing research
designs, we can take stock of study quality and chart a path forward, evaluate what evi-
dence it has provided for specific domains of study, and what conclusions this empirical
work has allowed the field to draw relative to shared concerns and issues. In addition to
methodological characteristics, we were also interested in the conceptual application of
definitions and operationalizations of engagement across various subdomains of lan-
guage education. Study design and analytical choices in empirical work are often
informed by rigorous conceptual or theoretical understandings of relevant constructs.
For this reason we intended to explore whether there were limitations and potential areas
to clarify lingering ambiguity around fundamental definitions, and more clearly deline-
ate the scope and target of L2 engagement research. This dual focus will, we hope, allow
Hiver et al. 3
us to identify future directions for engagement research that will continue to advance our
understanding of the ways and means by which learners pursue meaningful participation
in language learning and use.
To our knowledge, this is the first systematic review and synthesis of engagement
research in language learning. In the wider educational research literature, reviews syn-
thesizing research on student engagement are centered on conceptual and theoretical
issues (e.g. Lawson & Lawson, 2013; Reschly & Christenson, 2012). None have been
methodological. And, because theory and conceptual models have proven so diverse, the
methods used to study student engagement reflect this heterogeneity. For instance, there
has been no attempt to meta-analyse empirical engagement reports in educational
research (Christenson et al., 2012; Fredricks et al., 2019). Consequently, when consider-
ing methodological aspects and study quality, we followed recommendations to examine
broader and more generic methodological issues first as these can inform later reviews
that assess more fine-grained aspects of study quality (Siddaway et al., 2019). In our
review we aimed to survey the methods employed by L2 engagement researchers broadly,
looking at generic characteristics such as research objectives, design and methodological
orientation, sampling characteristics, data elicitation measures, and analytical strategies.
We turn now to outlining the topic, scope, and rationale for the present review.
II Defining engagement
1 Characteristics of language learning engagement
The central characteristic of engagement in learning is the notion of action (Skinner &
Pitzer, 2012). While there are differing perspectives and definitions of engagement, this
feature of engagement as action is consistent across definitions and frameworks (Reschly
& Christenson, 2012). As mentioned above, engagement refers to how actively involved
a student is in a learning task and the extent to which that physical and mental activity is
goal-directed and purpose-driven.
A second characteristic is that engagement is highly context-dependent. A learner’s
engagement does not emerge in a vacuum. It is in part a product of cultures, communi-
ties, families, schools, peers, classrooms and specific tasks and activities within those
classrooms (e.g. Finn & Zimmer, 2012; Pianta et al., 2012; Shernoff, 2013). These dif-
ferent contextual layers influence each other and extend their influence across various
layers of engagement. For example, academic engagement in school settings is a long-
term form of action that covers months or years, but within a specific classroom at
school, there are task-level forms of engagement that function at a timescale of minutes
or hours.
Third, engagement always has an object. It is possible, for instance, to be engaged
with a topic, a person, a situation, or in an activity or task. This means that while defini-
tions have often focused on the intrapersonal components of engagement, there must also
be a commensurate understanding of its situated characteristics. An understanding of the
‘person-environment fit’ (Reschly & Christenson, 2012, p. 13) of learners in their learn-
ing contexts can better reveal how engagement impacts learning, and how it can be
enhanced. Engagement is inherently situated. As such, engagement research must be
clear about the contexts and the timescales of relevance to engagement.
4 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
A final characteristic is that engagement is dynamic and malleable (Appleton et al.,
2008). Although research investigating developmental trajectories of engagement
remains rare (e.g. Aubrey et al., 2020), this characteristic provides a promising point of
direct action for educators as it suggests that learners can become more engaged with the
right kinds of intrapersonal and contextual conditions (Fredricks et al., 2004). This also
indicates the potential for well-constructed interventions exploring the dynamism of
learning engagement on various timescales (Reschly & Christenson, 2012).
2 Dimensions of language engagement
Scholars posit at least three (though sometimes four or more) core dimensions of engage-
ment. A main strand of work in the field suggests that engagement is manifested not only
in its behavioral facet (i.e. individuals’ qualitative behavioral choices in learning), but
also in demonstrations of action through the cognitive (i.e. learners’ mental activity in the
learning process) and social dimensions (i.e. relations between interlocutors that support
interaction and learning), as well as in students’ emotional responses to learning tasks
and peers (Baralt et al., 2016; Henry & Thorsen, 2020; Lambert et al., 2017).
Behavioral engagement corresponds with the amount and quality of learners’ active
participation in learning, and early L2 research operationalized behavioral engagement by
measuring word counts and turn counts (Bygate & Samuda, 2009; Dörnyei & Kormos,
2000; Platt & Brooks, 2002). Examples of behavioral engagement in L2 learning include
learners’ voluntary involvement in speaking, interactional initiative, time on task, the
amount of semantic content produced while on task, and persistence on task without the
need for support or direction (Philp & Duchesne, 2016). Whereas all domains of engage-
ment involve some degree of action, more recent reviews view behavioral engagement as
students’ expenditure of effort on learning tasks, the quality of their participation, and
their degree of active involvement in the learning process (Sang & Hiver, 2021). While
more subjective than conventional dichotomous perceptions (i.e. of being on-task vs. off-
task), this perspective of behavioral engagement taps into the quality action and opens the
possibility for researchers to link behavioral engagement to other dimensions.
Cognitive engagement refers to learners’ mental effort and mental activity in the pro-
cess of learning. Learners are cognitively engaged when they exhibit deliberate, selec-
tive, and sustained attention to achieve a given task or learning goals (Reeve, 2012;
Svalberg, 2009). In L2 classroom settings, research on cognitive engagement has focused
primarily on verbal manifestations, including peer interactions, students’ questioning,
hesitation and repetition, volunteering answers, exchanging ideas, offering feedback,
providing direction, informing and explaining. In addition to such negotiation of mean-
ing, others see language-related episodes (LREs) as fitting indicators of cognitive
engagement (e.g. Baralt et al., 2016; Lambert et al., 2017; Svalberg, 2017). Non-verbal
communication, private speech and exploratory talk (i.e. learner discourse that occurs as
they attempt to make sense of learning) are also seen by some as further indicators of this
dimension (see, for example, Hiver et al., 2021b). In addition to these more obvious
communication cues, it is also possible to study cognitive engagement through nonver-
bal cues such as body language, facial expressions, eye movements and body positioning
(Fredricks & McColskey, 2012).
Hiver et al. 5
In L2 instructional settings, emotional engagement is often manifested in learners’
personal affective reactions as they participate in target language-related activities or
tasks. Emotionally engaged learners are characterized as having a ‘positive, purpose-
ful, willing, and autonomous disposition’ towards language, associated learning tasks,
and peers (Svalberg, 2009, p. 247). Expressions of discrete positive emotions such as
enjoyment, enthusiasm, and anticipation are thought to be representations of students’
affective engagement, whereas negative emotions such as anxiety, boredom, frustra-
tion and anger demonstrate emotional disengagement or disaffection (Mercer, 2019).
Emotional engagement is considered to have a key impact on other dimensions of
engagement because the subjective attitudes or perceptions learners carry with them
in a class or through language-related tasks are fundamental to the other dimensions
of engagement (Dao, 2019; Henry & Thorsen, 2020). Affective engagement is, there-
fore, related to learners’ attitudes towards learning contexts, the members in that con-
text, the learning tasks, and their own participation in learning (Skinner et al., 2009;
Reeve, 2012).
Social engagement, too, occupies a central place in language learning (Philp &
Duchesne, 2008; van Lier, 2004). The social aspect of engagement is defined in light of
the social forms of activity and involvement that are prominent in communities of lan-
guage learning and use including interaction with interlocutors, and the quality of such
social interactions (Linnenbrink-Garcia et al., 2011; Mercer, 2019). The social dimen-
sion can be distinguished from other forms of engagement when considering that it is
explicitly relational in nature and its purpose is interaction with and support of others.
Social engagement underlies the connections among learners in terms of the learner’s
affiliation with peers in the language classroom or community, and the extent of their
willingness to take part in interactional episodes, turn-taking and topic development, and
collaborative activities with others (e.g. Lambert et al., 2017). This dimension of engage-
ment is also linked to phenomena such as reciprocity, mutuality, and other prosocial
expressions of affiliation that are manifested in empathetic discourse moves such as
learners’ willingness to listen to one another or pay attention to teacher talk (Storch,
2008). Social engagement also pertains to learners’ active connection to the learning
environment (Järvelä & Renninger, 2014).
III Relating engagement to learning
1 Importance of engagement for language learning theory
Given the multiple dimensions and the diverse topical areas of concern that engagement
touches on, including task-based learning and L2 interaction, engagement can be posi-
tioned as a meta-construct that unites many separate lines of research within the field. A
prime example of this is in the domain-specific framework of Engagement with Language
(EWL) that originates in Svalberg’s (2009, 2017) work on how language awareness is
developed. In her work on the topic, she offers the following definition: ‘In the context
of language learning and use, Engagement with Language is a cognitive, affective, and/
or social process in which the learner is the agent and language is the object (and some-
times vehicle)’ (Svalberg, 2009, p. 247).
6 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
One point that drives work on engagement for language learning is the object of the
learner’s attention and engagement. For Svalberg (2009), the focus is clearly on the lan-
guage itself. This EWL gives rise to the critical notion of language awareness, which has
been connected with language acquisition by some researchers (Svalberg, 2017). Much
of the work on EWL itself has focused on language as the object being studied and the
form of interaction in classroom tasks. This is equally the case in related areas of inquiry
such as L2 interaction research using LREs (Storch, 2008; Swain & Lapkin, 2001). This
focus on language as the process of learning and the outcome of learning is especially
pronounced in L2 interaction research.
Another important dimension of this work has been a consideration of attention,
which is critical to engagement – that is, a learner must direct their attention to tasks and
to connections between language form and its meanings in use in order to be truly
engaged. While there are marked parallels to Schmidt’s (2001) pioneering work on notic-
ing, the field of language learning is still notoriously divided regarding the role of delib-
erate attention and awareness in language acquisition (Rebuschat, 2015). Yet, as Philp
and Duchesne (2016) explain, attention itself is the gatekeeper of our working memory,
and the ultimate currency of instructed L2 settings. Because engagement is ‘the major
force of learning’ (Ellis, 2019, p. 48), engagement research in language learning raises
critical questions about the link to implicit and explicit learning mechanisms and knowl-
edge, and the elements that learners’ attention is being directed to – whether that is for-
mal features of the language, the task, the content and/or the social interaction.
This also raises important questions about what is considered as an indicator or proxy
of engagement. In a considerable number of studies looking at engagement in language
learning, the indicators of engagement have centered around the quantity, quality, and
form of individual learner discourse and participatory behavior (Baralt et al., 2016;
Lambert & G. Zhang, 2019). However, there are likely to be other indicators of learner
engagement (e.g. Dao et al., 2019; Z. Zhang, 2020), given the less visible dimensions of
engagement (e.g. cognition and affect). Additionally, given the typical format of lan-
guage learning contexts, the interaction that defines language development, and the
social nature of all language interaction, Svalberg (2009) stresses the importance of
social indicators of engagement within language learning processes. Adopting broader,
more inclusive markers of engagement is likely to make this domain relevant to all areas
of language acquisition research.
2 Importance of engagement for language learning practice
In both language learning and in educational research and practice more generally, one
of the appeals of engagement as a construct is that it can provide a broad portrait of how
students think, act, and feel in instructional settings (Oga-Baldwin, 2019). Engagement
is intertwined with many other individual and situational factors and relates to broad
aspects of students’ and teachers’ functioning in school contexts (Mystkowska-Wiertelak,
2020). High learner engagement has been linked to many positive outcomes in educa-
tion. These include high levels of academic persistence, effort and achievement, high
academic aspirations and increased mental health and low dropout rates and reduced
high-risk behaviors (Christenson et al., 2012).
Hiver et al. 7
There are also important policy implications of L2 learner engagement. In formal L2
classroom settings language development is a driver of equity. However the emphasis on
standards, outcomes and teacher accountability has intensified. With the progress and
achievement of L2 students under greater scrutiny than ever, students need to be engaged
to actually succeed (Hiver et al., 2021b). In many educational systems, the makeup of the
local communities that schools serve has become more linguistically and culturally
diverse, pushing schools and teachers to manage a broader, more ambitious role in sup-
porting their community. This is also perhaps why many educational systems keep close
tabs on student engagement and disengagement to identify students who are struggling
and might benefit from targeted interventions (Fredricks et al., 2019).
Engagement also resonates with practitioners because it is easily understood as an
essential ingredient for learning and for quality instruction. Educators across the globe,
in language education and beyond, increasingly recognize the difficulties of keeping
learners engaged and focused on their learning in the face of a myriad of distractions
(Mercer & Dörnyei, 2020). What many teachers witness in their daily classrooms is
closely related to learner attention and action: these are problems of engagement.
Studying engagement brings together teaching and learning perspectives, and for this
reason it can help to identify the classroom and instructional conditions that shape stu-
dent outcomes and build meaningful involvement and participation (Fredricks et al.,
IV Aims and research questions
The L2 research community has witnessed a growth in interest and activity around the
construct of engagement over the last two decades. This points to a clear desire to probe
the nature of engagement, capture the necessary conditions for engagement, explore the
development of engagement over time, and uncover ways to maintain and sustain learn-
ers’ engagement as well as re-engage disaffected students (Hiver et al., 2021b). However,
several unsettled issues that might hamper this program of research have yet to be
resolved. The first and foremost of these is related to the fuzziness surrounding how
engagement is defined and operationalized. Engagement still suffers from a jingle (i.e.
different terms being used to refer to identical notions or constructs) and jangle (i.e. the
same terminology being used to describe distinct notions and constructs) in the way it is
defined and operationalized (see also Reschly & Christenson, 2012). Given the variety
of operational definitions used across studies it is common to discover, for instance, that
one researcher’s conceptualization of cognitive engagement is used as another’s meas-
urement of behavioral engagement.
In addition to such operational issues, other challenges relate to eliciting, measuring and
analysing this multidimensional construct. In particular, the large variation in the measure-
ment of this construct has made it challenging to compare findings across studies. To date,
the most frequently used approach in evaluating engagement is self-report, an indirect
measure of the construct (Fredricks & McColskey, 2012). However, as some reviews of
designs and measurement techniques for engagement show, too few valid and psycho-
metrically sound indirect measures of student engagement exist with which to assess the
multidimensional nature of engagement (Hofkens & Ruzek, 2019). Exacerbating matters,
8 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
some view engagement as an outcome that predicts learning, while others consider it a
resource progressively built during the process of learning (Symonds et al., 2019).
To assess the unique contribution of engagement to student learning and development
across these dimensions as accurately as possible, it is essential to take stock of existing
operational definitions, study designs, and analytical strategies in the field. As 20 years
have passed since the first study explicitly investigated engagement in language learn-
ing, it is time to look back at this body of research and systematically review it. As men-
tioned above, we approached this systematic review project with two parallel objectives
– one descriptive and one substantive. These correspond with our research questions. On
the basis of a body of research spanning the 20 years from 2000 to 2020, we asked the
following research questions:
Research question 1: What are the methodological characteristics of engagement
studies in the field (including trends in study design and analytical choices)?
Research question 2: What conceptual definitions and operationalizations of
engagement are adopted in empirical reports?
Research question 3: What, if any, areas for improving engagement study quality
are apparent?
V Method
1 Report pool creation
We constructed the report pool through a sequential process: 1) journal selection, 2)
automated search, and then 3) report exclusion/inclusion. Our aim was to ensure robust
coverage by compiling a pool of all studies on engagement in language learning from
major field-specific journals.
In line with recent L2 research syntheses (see, for example, Andringa & Godfroid,
2020) we restricted our analysis to reports published in L2 journals in the Web of
Science’s Social Science Citation Index (SSCI) as these journals have been observed to
present high-quality research (for a rationale on exclusive SSCI focus, see also X. Zhang,
2020). We must concede however that this exclusive focus is not without challenge. L2
research syntheses, especially meta-analyses such as Bryfonski and McKay (2019) and
Vitta and Al-Hoorie (2020), have alternatively included reports from a divergent range of
databases with calls for unpublished reports. Such comprehensiveness is in line with
Norris and Ortega (2000), and the rationale for such comprehensiveness includes the
mitigation of selection and publication biases where large and significant effects are
favored to be published (Fanelli, 2010). With systematic reviews, however, there appears
to be a trend to focus on the SSCI to capture the methods and research aspects published
in the journals which the field trusts as both robust and consistent (for a similar rationale,
see also Zou et al., 2020). Thus, there is precedent for the current study’s SSCI focus, but
we acknowledge that doing so presents a representativeness limitation.
As the SSCI does not have a specific sub-category for L2 or applied linguistics jour-
nals (Vitta & Al-Hoorie, 2017), we reviewed two recent comprehensive reviews of SSCI
L2 journals to systematically construct the SSCI journal list (Al-Hoorie & Vitta, 2019;
Hiver et al. 9
X. Zhang, 2020), and combined their respective journal lists (n = 20 journals).
Subsequently, the decision was made to include the journal Language Awareness given
that seminal research on L2 engagement has been published there (e.g. Svalberg, 2009,
2017). A total of 21 journals (see Appendix 1) were selected from which the report pool
was constructed.
Each journal was searched using the ‘engagement’ keyword and date of publication
was set at 01-01-2000 to 02-02-2020 in accordance with our research questions. We
restricted the keyword search to titles, abstracts, and keywords. This decision was
intended to avoid the false negatives likely to arise from the more generic use of the term
engagement in applied linguistics research.1 Such restriction also enhances the replica-
bility of our approach. The journal searches were conducted using the Scopus platform
as Scopus allowed for a parsimonious title-abstract-keyword (TITLE-ABS-KEY) while
facilitating an easy download of reports bibliometric data. To ensure that Scopus that not
omit relevant reports, redundancy checks followed using ProQuest, EBSCOhost, Web of
Science, and manual checks of journal websites. At the end of the journal searches (pro-
cess shown in Figure 1), there were 13,710 unique reports in the 21 journals published
Field-specific SSCI journals
searched using keyword and
date of publication (k= 13,710)
InclusionEligibility Idenficaon
Additional electronic
databases (ProQuest,
EBSCOhost, Web of Science)
searched for redundancy
Unique reports identified (k= 351)
by screening abstracts, titles, and
Full-text articles
(k= 351) screened
Non-empirical reports
excluded (k= 104)
Full document
inspected (k= 247)
for eligibility against
inclusion criteria
Reports unrelated or
tangential to
language learning
(k = 140) further
Studies included in
final pool for
synthesis and coding
(k= 112)
Figure 1. PRISMA flow chart illustrating journal search and report pool creation process.
Source. Moher etal., 2009.
10 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
within our selected time range. Of these, 351 reports were automatically selected by the
keyword search and 247 were retained as empirical reports via manual inspection. A
second researcher inspected these empirical judgments and 100% agreement was
observed ( = 1).
2 Coding
The resulting 247 reports were then coded by the authors using the categorization scheme
in Table 1, which operationalizes L2 engagement as the amount (quantity) and/or type
(quality) of learners’ active participation and involvement in a language learning task
(see, for example, Hiver et al., 2021b). At the end of this process, 112 empirical reports
were retained (for number of reports by year, see Figure 2). Within these selected reports,
there was further differentiation, as highlighted in Table 1 where a report was coded as
being either a bona fide L2 engagement report as defined above (k = 39) or an ambigu-
ous one (k = 73; i.e. a study that adopts a generic notion of engagement as participatory
behavior of any kind within a language learning context).
These reports were then coded individually by a team of 3 trained coders using a
detailed categorization scheme (see supplementary material) that included descriptive
markers such as study aim and unit of analysis as well as more substantive descriptors
such as indicators included in operational measurement. To validate these judgments,
one researcher independently coded 30% of reports. The observed interrater agreement
(75.7%) approached the conventional 80% threshold (McHugh, 2012) and the observed
kappa ( = .612, p < .001) was within a magnitude range (.60 .79) considered to
be either substantial (Landis & Koch, 1977) or moderate (McHugh, 2012). As with
Plonsky (2013) who had a value (.56; 82% agreement) below conventional thresholds,
we highlight the conservative nature of kappa especially as possible categories increase
(Brutus et al., 2010). Thus, we consider the reliability of the coding to be acceptable but
we concede that future researchers may improve upon it.
VI Results
Research question 1: Methodological characteristics
Starting with the characteristics of participants found in engagement research, as
expected a range of sample sizes and participant age groups were included (Table 2).
Fifteen studies included a sample of 5. A similar number of studies in this pool sam-
pled between 6 and 20 participants (18.7%), 51 to 100 participants (15.2%), and 101 to
500 participants (17.9%). The largest single category was studies with between 21 and
50 participants (25%), and the biggest sample size in the article pool was N = 43,463
(Mdn = 31; IQR = 85.75, 12–97.75). Three studies featured multiple samples, and
two did not specify any sample size information. Table 2 also presents an overview of
participant ages in engagement research. Studies with younger participants were
clearly the minority, with 63 studies (56.3%) sampling either university students or
adults aged 18 or older. The rarest were studies with participants aged seven years and
younger (3 studies) followed by those with respondents aged 7–12 (8 studies). Fifteen
Hiver et al. 11
studies featured multiple, mixed age groups, while the age of participants was unspeci-
fied in 7 studies.
Although we expected equal representation of a variety of research contexts in the
study pool, as Table 3 shows, foreign and second language learning contexts accounted
for 100 studies (89.3%) of the total. Other research contexts were only minimally pre-
sent, such as bilingual/multilingual language contexts (4.5%), and a mix of several of
these within the same study (2.7%). Various instructional settings were also part of this
pool. In addition to the 56 studies (50%) which took place in conventional instructed
language settings, our pool showed that the next most frequent instructional setting was
online, app-based, or a virtual learning environment (19.6%). Only a handful of engage-
ment studies have been conducted in immersion environments, in study abroad contexts,
Table 1. Report pool summary.
Category Explanation / definitional description
(k = 140)
This study relates to a generic notion of engagement as participatory
action within broad social or learning contexts that are exclusive of or
tangential to language learning. Examples of this include:
civic engag*
community engag*
cultural engag*
social engag*
international engag*
literacy engag*
engag* in communication
engag* with first language (L1) speakers
engag* in technology use
Ambiguous L2
report (k = 73)
This study adopts a generic notion of engagement as participatory
behavior of any kind within language learning contexts with no additional
focus or elaboration on its substantive meaning. There is ambiguity or no
specific information regarding how that engagement is conceptualized,
operationalized, and/or measured. There is a low bar concerning what
forms of learner participation/behavior are indicative of ‘engagement’ or
‘engaging’. Examples include:
‘. . . students in this study engaged in reading for two hours per week.’
‘. . . the learners engaged with the app in the online interface.’
‘. . . engagement with others in groupwork was mixed.’
‘. . . engaging with the text was seen as important by participants.’
Bona fide L2
report (k = 39)
This study examines the amount (quantity) and/or type (quality) of
learners’ active participation and involvement in a language learning
task/activity, whether in a classroom setting or other instructed setting
(online, study abroad, etc.). Additionally, this study adopts a specific
definition of engagement as deliberate attention to and volitional action
for language learning that is operationalized and measured through
(among others) behavioral, cognitive, affective, or social indicators. This
engagement is directed either to language learning tasks/activities as the
process or vehicle for learning (e.g. task engagement) or to language itself
as the outcome of learning (EWL).
12 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
in content-based language classrooms, language for specific purposes classrooms, or
with a combination of these. Furthermore, only 3 studies investigated engagement in
untutored, naturalistic language learning.
Participants also represented various first language (L1) backgrounds and target L2s
(Table 3). We categorized roughly 20 different L1s here based on their geographical
origin for the sake of parsimony (i.e. some studies featured multiple languages). The
majority of L1s were languages of Asian origin, followed by European and Middle
Eastern languages. An additional 22.3% of studies we reviewed included participants
Table 2. Participant characteristics.
Sample size:
1–5 15 13.4
5 < N 20 21 18.7
20 < N 50 28 25
50 < N 100 17 15.2
100 < N 500 20 17.9
N > 500 6 5.3
Multiple samples 3 2.7
Unclear sample 2 1.8
Young children (< 7) 3 2.7
Primary school (7–12) 8 7.1
Secondary school 16 14.3
University (18+) 48 42.9
Other adult (25+) 15 13.4
Multiple, mixed age groups 15 13.4
Unclear 7 6.3
Note. Largest sample size in pool is N = 43,468.
Figure 2. Studies filtered from initial search by year of publication.
Hiver et al. 13
with mixed L1s (25 studies), and 1 study did not specify participants’ first language(s).
When it comes to target languages being learned, far fewer languages were featured.
Among these, what stands out is the dominance of L2 English, accounting for just over
Table 3. Contextual characteristics under study.
Foreign language 68 60.7
Second language 32 28.6
Bilingual/multilingual 5 4.5
Heritage 0 0.0
Mixed 3 2.7
Unclear 4 3.6
Instructional setting:
Generic instructed setting 56 50.0
Online/app/VLE 22 19.6
Language for specific purposes (e.g. EAP) 13 11.6
Immersion 4 3.6
Uninstructed setting 3 2.7
Study abroad 3 2.7
CLIL 2 1.8
Mixed 8 7.1
Unclear 1 0.9
Participant first language (L1):
Asian languages 40 35.8
European languages 38 34.0
Middle Eastern languages 8 7.1
Multiple/mixed 25 22.3
Unclear 1 0.9
Target second language (L2):
English 79 70.5
Finnish 1 0.9
French 4 3.6
German 4 3.6
Icelandic 1 0.9
Japanese 2 1.8
Latin 1 0.9
Norwegian 1 0.9
Russian 1 0.9
Spanish 6 5.4
Swedish 2 1.8
Multiple/mixed 6 5.4
Unclear 4 3.6
Notes. k = 112. The multiple/mixed category includes additional languages including Czech, Dutch, Hungar-
ian, Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Portuguese, and Swahili, among others. VLE = virtual learning environment;
CLIL = content and language integrated learning; EAP = English for academic purposes.
14 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
70% in the pool. Though we only included reports written in English, this imbalance is
perhaps not surprising given the global importance of L2 English (Dörnyei & Al-Hoorie,
2017). It also stands in contrast to the relatively low frequency of other languages that
are, arguably, equally widespread and important target languages. Spanish was the sec-
ond most represented L2 in our pool (5.4%), while some world languages were featured
in just a single study. Six studies featured learners of multiple and mixed languages, and
4 studies did not specify the target language in question.
As mentioned earlier, one point of interest in this study was to examine the conceptual
definitions and operationalizations of engagement adopted in empirical reports across
various domains of language learning. Having excluded 140 reports from the initial pool
(see Table 1) due to their use of the term engagement as a non-specific catch-all or syno-
nym for activity in language learning – i.e. with no additional focus or elaboration on its
substantive meaning – we expected more precise and focused definitions in the remain-
ing 112 reports. However, Table 4 shows that 65.2% of reports in this pool (73 studies)
adopted a generic notion of engagement as participatory behavior of any kind within
language learning contexts. Notably, there was a low bar concerning what forms of
learner participation/behavior were indicative of engagement such that nearly any desul-
tory student behavior counts as ‘engagement’ or ‘engaging’. These reports featured
ambiguity or no specific information regarding how that engagement is conceptualized,
operationalized, and/or measured. The remaining 39 studies (34.8%) adopted a specific
definition of engagement as deliberate attention to and volitional action for language
learning. These studies examined the amount (i.e. the quantity) and/or type (i.e. the qual-
ity) of learners’ active participation and involvement in a language learning task, whether
in a classroom setting or other instructed setting. In these studies, engagement was
directed either to language learning tasks/activities as the process or vehicle for learning
or to language itself as the outcome of learning.
Table 4. Definition and domain of engagement.
Clear, focused 39 34.8
Generic, ambiguous 73 65.2
Operational domain of engagement:
Cognitive 23 20.5
Behavioral 59 52.7
Emotional 24 21.4
Social 4 3.6
Language domain-specific 13 11.6
Engagement with language (EWL) 4 3.6
Language related episodes (LRE) 6 5.6
Disengagement 3 2.7
Unclear 17 15.2
Notes. k = 112. Number of studies for Operational Domain may not sum to 112 because multiple domains of
engagement were coded in several studies.
Hiver et al. 15
We additionally coded the operational subdomains of engagement adopted in all
reports. In line with generally accepted definitions of engagement as action, the behav-
ioral domain was featured most often (52.7%), followed by relative parity between the
cognitive (20.5%) and emotional (21.4%) domains of engagement. A handful of studies
explored the social domain of engagement (3.6%) and language domain-specific aspects
of engagement (11.6%) applicable only to a particular domain of language learning (e.g.
oculomotor engagement, shared reading engagement). EWL and LREs were featured in
3.6% and 5.6% of reports respectively, and were coded as separate categories given that
these each combine several operational domains of engagement. Disengagement was the
explicit focus of very few studies (2.7%). Finally, in over 15% of reports, we were unable
to ascertain which operational domain(s) of engagement had been adopted or were the
area of focus. This finding, coupled with the very large number of reports (65.2%) that
did not feature a clear definition and/or operationalization of the construct itself in the
first instance is a genuinely puzzling state of affairs, one that we will devote more atten-
tion to in our discussion.
Returning to study design characteristics (Table 5), we looked at the general approach
to study design as well as the method adopted in the reviewed studies. Nearly two thirds
of reports in the pool (55 studies) were observational cross-sectional studies. More than
15% of studies (17 studies) adopted longitudinal observational designs, and an additional
14.3% were quasi-experimental. The overall approach to study design was ambiguous in
the remaining 24 studies. Examples of these include studies of machine translation-
assisted editing of student writing, pedagogical priorities in a flipped classroom, learn-
ers’ use of metalanguage in interaction, and graduate student writing in a community of
practice – all presumably legitimate topics of focus within the rubric of student engage-
ment, but accompanied by inadequate detail about the overall approach or study setup.
Table 5 further shows that choice of method was split across qualitative (35.7%), quan-
titative (37.5%), and mixed methods studies (26.8%). Our review showing this near pro-
portionate split and the prominent adoption of mixed and multi-method studies may
mirror growing trends in the field to value multiple methods as equally productive and
integrate methods as an innovative way forward (Hiver, Al-Hoorie & Larsen-Freeman,
Table 5. Study design.
Quantitative 42 37.5
Qualitative 40 35.7
Mixed 30 26.8
Cross-sectional 55 63.4
Longitudinal 17 15.2
Quasi-experimental 16 14.3
Unclear 24 21.4
Note. k = 112.
16 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
Turning now to the study aims and the purposes for which the engagement construct
featured in studies (Table 6), we found that many studies (33%) adopted engagement as
the outcome of interest or as the dependent variable (e.g. in quantitative designs). The
next most frequent study aim was found in studies (25.6%) examining engagement as a
predictor of language learning and use; also analogous to the independent variable in
quantitative studies. A further 23.2% of studies investigated the dimensions and make-up
of engagement in a more descriptive way. Although theorizing on the topic plays a clear
role in driving empirical work and the operational domains adopted in respective studies
(see Table 5), this exploratory strand of work on the composition of engagement remains
prominent in the report pool. Only 9 reports had as their aim to study the processes and
mechanisms of developing engagement. By itself, this seems to signal a preference in
most studies for viewing engagement as a product rather than a process. Finally, in 46
reports engagement was coded as being incidental to the study aims. This is cause for
some concern as it means that 41.1% of engagement studies were self-labeled as such but
were not actually doing engagement research per se. Examples of this include studies in
which engagement was listed in the keywords and abstract or reviewed as part of the
background literature or theoretical framework but did not subsequently feature in data
elicitation, data analysis, or the presentation and discussion of results. We return to this
finding later when reflecting critically on our research questions. Finally, Table 6 shows
that the unit of analysis in these studies was split across the group-level (56.3%) and
individual-level (28.6%). The remaining 16.1% of studies adopted texts as their unit of
Closely related to the study design characteristics we reviewed above are the choices
of data elicitation methods and data analytical strategies. We found that a range of indi-
rect and direct measures and techniques for data collection were present in reviewed
studies (Table 7). The techniques most frequently adopted were surveys or question-
naires (42 studies; 37.5%) and interviews or focus groups (34 studies; 30.3%), both
forms of self-report. Other commonly used data elicitation methods included lesson
Table 6. Purpose of study.
Study aim:
Engagement as predictor of learning/behavior 29 25.6
Engagement as the outcome of interest 37 33.0
Dimensions and make-up of engagement 26 23.2
Process of developing engagement 9 8.0
Engagement incidental to study aims 46 41.1
Unit of analysis:
Individual 32 28.6
Group 63 56.3
Texts 17 16.1
Notes. k = 112. Number of studies for Study Aim may not sum to 112 due to studies employing the con-
struct of engagement for multiple purposes.
Hiver et al. 17
observations, tasks, tests, analysis of written samples of learner language, and oral lan-
guage/interaction samples. Other data sources used more sparsely included field notes,
stimulated recall, journals or diaries, and think-aloud protocols. Nine studies featured
other types of data elicitation tools such as samples of student academic work or class
artifacts, screen captures, or chat logs. The fact that studies generally do not rely on a
single form of data or adopt exclusively indirect (i.e. self-report) measures of engage-
ment is a promising finding, and one future work should build on.
Looking also at analysis techniques, it was not surprising – given the large number of
studies that were qualitative in design or that adopted qualitative data collection tech-
niques – that qualitative coding and analysis methods were employed in roughly half the
reviewed studies (55 studies; 49.1%). This included qualitative data analysis techniques
such as inductive thematic coding, grounded theory analysis, conversation and discourse
analysis, or ethnographic analysis. Examining other data analytical strategies further
revealed studies that relied on descriptive statistics (16.1%) and studies that adopted
conventional inferential statistical analyses (30.3%). These included analyses such as
chi-square tests, parametric and non-parametric correlations, t-tests and analyses of vari-
ance (ANOVA), and linear regression analysis. A handful of other advanced multivariate
Table 7. Analytical strategy.
Data collection:
Survey/questionnaire 42 37.5
Interview/focus group 34 30.3
Lesson observation 24 21.4
Tasks 23 20.5
Tests 22 19.6
Written language sample 19 16.9
Oral language/interaction sample 18 16.1
Stimulated recall 6 5.4
Journals/diaries 5 4.5
Field notes/memos 5 4.5
Think-aloud protocols 3 2.7
Other (class artifacts, screen capture, chat logs) 9 8.0
Unclear 5 4.5
Analysis technique:
Qualitative coding/analysis 55 49.1
Descriptive statistics 18 16.1
Conventional inferential statistics 34 30.3
Advanced multivariate statistics 14 12.5
Other (microgenetic, Bayesian) 5 4.5
Unclear 9 8.0
Notes. k = 112. Number of studies for Data Collection and Analysis Technique may not sum to 112 respec-
tively due to many studies eliciting multiple forms of data and adopting multiple techniques for analysing
those data.
18 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
statistical analyses were used (14 studies) including factor analysis, Rasch analysis,
mixed effects modeling, and latent variable modeling (i.e. SEM). We also found a num-
ber of instances (9 studies; 8.0%) in which the data analysis technique was either unclear
or unspecified – examples of this include unintuitive descriptions such as ‘data were
identified and coded’, ‘interviews were transcribed and analysed’ or ‘data analysis was
conducted recursively.’ The finding that such key design details remain ambiguous in a
number of studies is again cause for concern, and one we will return to below in our
Research question 2: Operationalizations of L2 engagement
The current report pool was also informative regarding the measures or indicators used
to assess student engagement (Table 8). As previous reviews show (e.g. Finn & Zimmer,
2012) studies of student engagement often tend to include a range of obfuscating ante-
cedents, indicators, and facilitators, at times collecting, analysing, and reporting data on
these measures simultaneously. Here we focused specifically on indicators of the various
subdomains of engagement included in studies in this pool. This included indicators
measured through direct and indirect means.
Indicators used to assess the cognitive domain relate to deliberate, selective, and sus-
tained mental effort on the part of learners. Included here are indicators that reference
mental activity more broadly such as focus (7.1% of total pool), attention (5.6%), and
self-regulation (3.6%), as well as those marked by the quality of such mental activity
including depth of processing (2.7%), negotiation of meaning or form (2.7%), and men-
tal elaboration (4.5%). Additional indicators related to higher-order mental effort
included monitoring (0.9%) and metacognitive capacities (1.8%). Several indicators
used to tap into cognitive engagement were unrelated to the type and quality of learners’
mental effort in the process of learning. Some were either too narrow in focus (i.e. build-
ing linguistic knowledge), tangential in nature (e.g. motivational intensity), or a conse-
quence resulting from cognitive engagement (e.g. understanding/comprehension).
Turning to indicators of behavioral engagement, many were related to the degree
learners were actively involved in the learning process and the quality of their participa-
tion more generally. This includes indicators such as active participation (11.6%), effort
expended (8.9%), task completion (18.7%), and time on task (9.9%). Other indicators
were specific to individuals’ involvement in language learning such as interaction and
language use (23.2%), number of spoken turns (4.5%) or written texts/posts (3.6%), out-
of-class language use (3.6%), or instances of practice (2.7%). As with the other domains
of engagement, several measures used as indicators of behavioral engagement were
ambiguous and fell outside the scope of the engagement construct (e.g. learner agency
and vocabulary learning).
Indicators of emotional engagement included general affective responses (1.8%) and
positive appraisals (1.8%), as well as dispositions such as interest (3.6%), satisfaction
(0.9%), and enthusiasm (1.8%). Several studies adopted discrete emotions such as
enjoyment (3.6%) or emotional responses such as laughter (0.9%) as indicators of emo-
tional engagement. This domain, however, is marked by the greatest number of ambigu-
ous and extraneous indicators. This includes indicators that tap into qualitatively distinct
Hiver et al. 19
Table 8. Comparison of indicators of engagement included in operational definitions.
kPercentage Sample studies
Alertness, focus 8 7.1 Tragant & Vallbona, 2018
Attentiveness, attention 6 5.6 Park & Warschauer, 2016
*Building linguistic knowledge 2 1.8 Yang, 2011
Elaborating and clarifying content 5 4.5 Lambert etal., 2017
Extent/depth of processing 3 2.7 Storch & Wigglesworth, 2010
Mental activity 3 2.7 Lee, 2020
Meta-cognitive behaviors 2 1.8 Andujar etal., 2019
Monitoring 1 0.9 Zhang, 2016
*Motivational intensity 2 1.8 McEown etal., 2014
Negotiation of meaning/form 3 2.7 Newton, 2013
Strategy use/self-regulation 4 3.6 Andujar etal., 2019
*Understanding/comprehension 3 2.7 Zhang, 2016
Active participation, involvement 13 11.6 Huang, 2011; Stroud, 2017
Attendance 1 0.9 Cheng & Lee, 2018
Effort expended 10 8.9 Fouz-González, 2017; Matthews &
O’Toole, 2015; Wang etal., 2019
Goal-directed behavior 1 0.9 Henry & Thorsen, 2018
Interaction/language use 26 23.2 Huh & Suh, 2018; Kibler etal., 2017;
Sauer & Ellis, 2019
*Learner agency 1 0.9 Knight etal., 2017
Number of speech repairs 1 0.9 Qiu & Lo, 2016
Number of submissions, posts, or
4 3.6 Gelan etal., 2018; Yang etal., 2016
Number of turns/quantity of
5 4.5 Aubrey, 2017; Lambert & Zhang, 2019
On-task behavior/task completion 21 18.7 Balaman & Sert, 2017; Friðriksdóttir,
2018; Moore, 2013
Out-of-class language use 4 3.6 Macis & Schmitt, 2017
*Out-of-class learning 1 0.9 Lai etal., 2015
Persistence 1 0.9 Lambert etal., 2017
Practice 3 2.7 J.S. Lee, 2020
Time on task 11 9.9 Cho, 2019; Rienties etal., 2018;
Stengers etal., 2016
*Vocabulary learning 1 0.9 Arndt & Woore, 2018
Affective response 2 1.8 Cho & Castañeda, 2019; Lopez etal.,
Enjoyment 4 3.6 Oga-Baldwin & Nakata, 2017
Enthusiasm 2 1.8 Qiu & Lo, 2016
*Experience of flow 5 4.5 Cox & Montgomery, 2019; Liu etal.,
20 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
kPercentage Sample studies
*Feelings of autonomy 1 0.9 Kearney & Ahn, 2014
Interest 4 3.6 Lo & Hyland, 2007
*Intrinsic motivation 1 0.9 Thorne, 2003
Laughter 1 0.9 Hasegawa, 2018
Positive appraisals 2 1.8 Llinares & Dalton-Puffer, 2015
Satisfaction 1 0.9 Fox etal., 2014
*Sense of meaningfulness 1 0.9 Henry & Thorsen, 2018
*Sense of purposefulness 2 1.8 Kearney & Ahn, 2014
*Willingness to engage 4 3.6 Kearney & Ahn, 2014
Sense of community/belonging 1 0.9 Fox etal., 2014
Supportiveness of others 1 0.9 Kearney & Ahn, 2014
*Peers’ motivation contagion 1 0.9 Tanaka, 2017
Affiliation in discourse 1 0.9 Lambert etal., 2017
Language domain-specific 13 11.6 Huh & Suh, 2018; Jalkanen & Vaarala,
2013; Krulatz etal., 2018; Niu &
Helms-Park, 2014; Shapiro & Waters,
2005; Suvorov, 2015
Language-related episodes (LREs) 6 5.6 Edstrom, 2015; Fortune & Thorp,
2001; Storch, 2008; Zeng &
Takatsuka, 2009
Engagement With Language (EWL) 4 3.6 Svalberg, 2012
Disengagement 3 2.7 Allen etal., 2014; Andujar etal., 2019;
Newton, 2013
Notes. Full references to the studies cited in this table are listed in the supplementary material. k = 112.
Number of studies across indicators may not sum to 112 as studies included multiple indicators. Number of
studies within a domain may not correspond with numbers in Table 4 as studies included multiple indicators
of a single domain. * Indicators marked with an asterisk are ambiguous and fall outside the scope of the
engagement construct; for completeness, we have classified these in their nearest domain.
Table 8. (Continued)
constructs such as flow (4.5%), intrinsic motivation (0.9%), or autonomy (0.9%).
Emotional engagement should be manifested in learners’ personal affective reactions as
they participate in target language-related activities or tasks. This is why the use of
indicators that relate to antecedents or outcomes of emotional engagement like a sense
of meaningfulness (0.9%), a sense of purposefulness (1.8%), or the willingness to
engage (3.6%) are ambiguous at best.
Only 4 studies in the entire pool investigated social engagement. The indicators
adopted here included a sense of community/belonging (0.9%), one’s supportiveness of
others (0.9%), and affiliation in discourse (0.9%). In this domain too, seemingly unre-
lated indicators were found (i.e. motivation contagion). Language domain-specific indi-
cators (11.6%) were those related to a specifically circumscribed area and only applicable
to that domain of language learning (e.g. oculomotor engagement or shared reading
Hiver et al. 21
engagement). LREs (5.6%) and EWL (3.6%) are listed as separate categories here given
that these indicators each combine multiple operational domains of engagement.
Disengagement indicators were rare (3.6%) and were coded as a separate category here
because they include measures from multiple domains (e.g. boredom, apathy, and frus-
tration = emotional disengagement; avoidance = behavioral disengagement).
VII Discussion
Having described prominent design and analytical choices from engagement studies in
the field as well as the conceptual definitions and operationalizations of L2 engagement
adopted in these empirical reports, we turn now to a discussion of the areas this review
has highlighted for improving engagement study quality, which relates to our final
research question.
1 Methodological issues
One positive trend in studies we reviewed was the inclusion of multiple measurements
and complementary data sources to tap into domains of L2 engagement. Such studies
have provided a valuable understanding of the nature and function of the various dimen-
sions of engagement and their role in learners’ development, particularly at the aggregate
level. The fact that studies generally do not rely on a single form of data or adopt exclu-
sively indirect (i.e. self-report) measures of engagement is a distinct strength, and one
that future work should capitalize on by continuing to supplement indirect measures with
direct measures of the relevant domains of L2 engagement (Zhou et al., 2021). Going
forward, there will be clear value in increased use of skill- and domain-specific measures
of engagement as well as measures that allow the dynamics of engagement (e.g. how it
is sustained and how it deteriorates) to be investigated. Areas not yet explored in this
report pool include implicit measures of engagement that can tap into the subconscious
side of engagement and technology-driven real-time, authentic data (i.e. big data) that
can be used to test hypotheses and the effectiveness of different interventions. Advancing
the measurement of engagement has potential to open entirely novel avenues of research
and increase the depth of insights obtained from this research.
Secondly, the sample size characteristics of the studies reviewed, in combination
with several other design characteristics, highlight the prevalence of group-based and
cross-sectional designs in existing L2 engagement research. Capturing general profiles
in L2 engagement or studying the tendencies and patterns of groups of learners has
shown where teacher practice is likely to have an immediate and sustained impact.
Operational and design choices in L2 engagement research can have an important
impact on the research-practice interface that results from work on the topic. Here too,
there is potential for more individual-based work that looks beyond isolated aspects of
student engagement, pooled across participants. The level of granularity in a study’s
sample, unit of analysis, and design can be fine-tuned by varying the agent (the indi-
vidual student vs. a group), the task (individual L2 tasks vs. a course of learning), and
the time (a momentary timescale vs. an ongoing developmental timescale) (Symonds
et al., 2019). Individual-based designs that examine intra-individual variation can shed
22 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
light on the more proximal processes of engagement that are specific to momentary
language learning such as those involved in particular learning tasks (e.g. attention,
processing, retrieval, reconstruction) and provide new insights that complement
advances already made in the field.
Third, from our review we found very little work either assessing the malleability of
engagement, investigating the dynamics of its development, or focusing on re-engaging
disengaged and disaffected students. Student engagement is not static or immutable – it
can change. How it is dynamic, under what conditions, and for whom remains unclear
from the current body of work. Our analysis shows that student engagement is most often
conceptualized as a desired outcome, and this is a sound design choice in many instances.
With some small design modifications, however, it is possible to take more explicit tem-
poral considerations into account and contribute to an expanding picture of this topical
area. This can be done, for example, by investigating the role of teachers, peers, and
learning tasks on the development of engagement over time, and examining how class-
room learning opportunities, assessments, and extramural interests and experiences
influence learners’ engagement. There are also other means through which engagement
can be studied to foreground the ways in which it is dynamic and emergent. Engagement
can be studied as the process or activity through which development occurs, as a vehicle
to better understand how learners’ achieve success, or as a mediator in the mechanisms
of learning and development. These are all in line with the growing trend of taking time
and change into account in research designs (Hiver, Al-Hoorie & Evans, under review)
in order to reflect the way learners develop in interaction with the environment syn-
chronically and diachronically.
2 Operational and definitional issues
First and foremost, our review has shown that the issue of definition needs further atten-
tion in L2 engagement research. Engagement models can be used to inform pedagogy
and bolster student performance only to the extent that engagement itself and its compo-
nents are well defined and clear for researchers and practitioners to understand. As our
analysis shows, fewer than 35% of studies reviewed featured a clear definition and/or
operationalization of the construct itself. If further work is to contribute substantively to
this domain, this is a concern that must be addressed. Put in a larger context, the aims of
the studies might also shed light on these definitional concerns: a large number of reports
(41%) were self-labeled as engagement studies and included engagement in the key-
words and abstract, or mentioned engagement in a review of background literature. On
closer scrutiny of these reports, however, engagement did not feature in any data elicita-
tion, data analysis, or the presentation and discussion of results. If engagement is inci-
dental to nearly one in two reports in this pool, it should not be surprising that such a
large number of studies adopted such generic, unfocused, or potentially ambiguous oper-
ational definitions of engagement within language learning contexts.
Looking more closely at definitional issues, our review showed that a range of subdo-
mains were featured in reports, with behavioral engagement the most frequent and social
engagement the least frequent. However, coding these specific domains was not always
straightforward given the lack of explicit detail and transparency in the operational
Hiver et al. 23
descriptions across many reports. For example we had to extrapolate from notions such
as students’ preparation, text reconstruction, linguistic sensitivity, and sense-making
which domain of engagement was being targeted (if any) in reports. Ultimately, in over
15% of reports, we were unable to ascertain which operational domain of engagement
had been adopted or was the area of focus. In addition to domain-specificity, our review
also showed that even when combining EWL and LREs with other L2-specific defini-
tions only roughly 20% of the measures adopted were skill- or language learning-spe-
cific. The issue of whether domain-general (i.e. academic participation) definitions are
adequate for the field or if measures should be skill- and language learning-specific
straddles both conceptual and methodological territory. More focused measurements are
often more informative psychometrically and reflect a more mature and sophisticated
theoretical framing of a construct. However, like the early work on student engagement
outside our field (for one review, see Reschly & Christenson, 2012), many of the studies
we reviewed seem to suffer from conceptual haziness and lack of focus.
With regard to measures and indicators of engagement adopted more specifically, our
analysis revealed that many indicators used by studies in the report pool were ambiguous
and fell outside the scope of the engagement construct. For example, our earlier review
of the literature makes clear that engagement functions as a precursor to learning.
However, several indicators in the cognitive and behavioral domains did not distinguish
engagement from learning or comprehension/understanding, confusing a necessary
antecedent with a desired outcome. Indicators in the domain of emotional engagement in
particular were also marked by imprecision regarding their intensity. Some indicators
were more prosaic (e.g. satisfaction) or categorical (e.g. interest), while others equated
qualitatively and functionally distinct notions such as flow, a supercharged mental and
emotional state that emerges from engaging in an activity, with emotional engagement.
Many indicators also featured overlapping notions and invited unnecessary complexity
into the accompanying conceptual definitions. As just one example, goal-directed behav-
ior is an indicator that combines goal-setting (a cognitive indicator) with strategic pursuit
(a behavioral indicator).
There were also lingering issues with murkiness in many reports regarding the dis-
tinctions between engagement and constructs such as motivation, agency, autonomy,
and strategy use. In many cases these were used as indicators or proxies for engage-
ment. To elaborate on just one comparison, action is key in distinguishing engagement
from motivation. Motivation represents initial intention and engagement is the subse-
quent action (see Noels et al., 2019). The ways in which learners engage in L2 learning
are no doubt linked to their initial intent to participate in learning. Still, the consensus is
that motivation is meaningfully distinct from engagement in the sense that the intensity
and the quality of student involvement in the learning activity or environment (engage-
ment) differs from the forces that energize and direct that behavior (motivation) (Martin
et al., 2017). These concerns may strike some as merely semantic in nature, but such
imprecision in thinking no doubt affects study design and methodological choices, ren-
dering results and conclusions potentially invalid. It is no doubt also the case that appli-
cation to classroom-level research and practice is near impossible unless theoretical and
conceptual boundaries are both coherent and consistent in the field. Our review, there-
fore, highlights the importance of specifying the boundaries of the engagement con-
struct and its indicators to increase clarity in this body of empirical work.
24 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
3 Pedagogical implications
The reports we have reviewed pointed out some pedagogical implications which we
review here. First, because engagement is at the core of all language learning, we feel
there would be a meaningful return on investment for fundamental work in establishing
clear definitions and toolkits for assessment that help practitioners better understand how
the various dimensions of engagement interact with one another, and whether there are
phenomenological differences in how individuals experience engagement across various
settings (see also Dao et al., 2019; Egbert, 2020; Z. Zhang, 2020).
Second, it is clear that language pedagogy must sharpen its focus on the necessary
conditions for engagement. Language instruction must also attend to issues of what
makes language learning engaging for students both inside and outside of classroom set-
tings, what conditions are part of an engaging instructional context, what makes for
engaging language learning tasks and how these differ across groups of culturally and
linguistically diverse learners with varied levels and learning objectives (Nakamura
et al., 2020). Many reports point out the importance of task characteristics in generating
engagement, whether these relate to the level of support provided, challenge built into
tasks, or choice, sequencing, and focus of the task (see also Dao, 2019, 2020; Lambert
et al., 2017; Lambert & G. Zhang, 2019; Phung, 2017).
With regard to the ways teachers can build language learning environments that are
engaging, it seems that many of the pedagogical implications to come out of our review
have to do with technology. For example there are interesting suggestions about engag-
ing students using video games, synchronous CMC tools, authentic social media and
web-based uses of language, and other affordances to establish rapport and increase L2
interaction during online exchanges (see, for example, Henry, 2019; Henry & Thorsen,
2020). Similar suggestions include connecting learners with both L1 and L2 speakers of
the language to raise their awareness of the different varieties of the language through
cross-cultural communication. These ideas seemingly blur the lines between classroom
language learning and extramural language development, and although they may be
unstructured in nature they reflect more meaningful purposes for language use while also
stimulating learner engagement (Mercer, 2019).
Finally, identifying disaffected learners and disengaging learning environments is an
important way to shed light on the policies, practices and contextual influences that pro-
vide a disincentive for active learner involvement and meaningful participation. Engaged
language learners develop further and faster, and benefit from many desirable ‘side-
effects’ such as deeper interest, greater motivation, and stronger self-efficacy and persis-
tence (Egbert, 2020). By comparison, chronic disengagement and lack of interest in
language learning can lead to passivity and feelings of alienation from teachers and peers
in the learning environment, unfocused and wasted attention and effort for learning, and
poor persistence and commitment to learning more broadly. This highlights the impor-
tance of targeted interventions that can help disengaged learners recapture their energy
for action and rediscover their appetite for meaningful involvement in language learning.
Doing so should also include an appropriate focus on student voices and perspectives and
encourage an upward trajectory towards personal investment in language learning (see
also Aubrey et al., 2020; Mercer, 2019; Mystkowska-Wiertelak, 2020).
Hiver et al. 25
VIII Conclusions
Engagement is a dynamic, multidimensional construct comprising situated notions of
cognition, affect and behaviors – including social interactions – in which action is a req-
uisite component. Our review of the past 20 years of work in this area has been revealing.
The purpose of our review was to take stock of empirical work in the field and draw
conclusions across the subdomains of language education (e.g. classroom settings, tech-
nology assisted learning), based on the totality of this research. In particular, we exam-
ined the methodological characteristics of previous empirical L2 engagement research as
well as the conceptual definitions and operationalizations of engagement.
While engagement research has avoided some of the pitfalls of other instructed SLA
and psychology of language learning domains (e.g. general language motivation
research), notably the overreliance on self-report measures and leap to pedagogical
claims that are not substantiated by empirical evidence and hypothesis testing, there are
still areas to be addressed in future research. Examples include increasing the use of
longitudinal and individual-based investigations uncovering the dynamic nature of
engagement as well as interventions targeting disengaged and disaffected learners. Work
is also needed to enhance the conceptual and definitional precision of engagement and its
different subdomains. The definitional/conceptual issues that are persistent across the
studies reviewed raises the question of whether engagement represents a concept too
broad to be meaningful or if it is in fact a helpful construct. We believe it is meaningful,
and suggest that future success in researching the construct be reflected by greater opera-
tional/definitional transparency in empirical studies. We look forward to scholars in the
field taking up the call to clarify definitional concerns in order to broaden and sharpen
our understanding of how engagement connects to other aspects of language learning
and teaching processes in diverse settings. Future work on L2 engagement, whether it
privileges an exploratory or experimental paradigm, will no doubt build on the field’s
understanding and advance the quantity and quality of work, opening up new avenues of
research that will lead to a richer, more informative and more diverse range of studies in
language learner engagement.
We would like to thank Hyejin An and Dr. Samuel Reid for their assistance with coding the report
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this
Phil Hiver
Ali H. Al-Hoorie
Joseph P. Vitta
26 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
Supplemental material
Supplemental material for this article is available online.
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30 Language Teaching Research 00(0)
Appendix 1. List of journals.
Applied Linguistics
Applied Psycholinguistics
Bilingualism: Language and Cognition
Computer Assisted Language Teaching
English for Specific Purposes
English Language Teaching Journal (Oxford)
Foreign Language Annals
International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching (IRAL)
Journal of English for Academic Purposes
Journal of Second Language Writing
Language Assessment Quarterly
Language Awareness
Language Learning
Language Learning & Technology
Language Teaching Research
Language Testing
Modern Language Journal
Studies in Second Language Acquisition
TESOL Quarterly
... L2 researchers in general (see Plonsky and Gass, 2011) and psychology in language learning (PLL) researchers in particular (see e.g. Al-Hoorie et al., 2022;Hiver et al., 2021b) tend to favor linear modeling. Therefore, the distributional characteristics of the data collected via the instrument were also assessed, since normal distributions tend to result in satisfying the residual assumptions of the general linear model (Field, 2018;Glass et al., 1972). ...
... were under the threshold of 3.29 (Kim, 2013), thus there was empirical evidence to infer that distribution was normal. These results support the use of this instrument with the linear inferential testing approaches that L2 researchers, as well as PLL academics, tend to prefer (see Al-Hoorie et al., 2022;Hiver et al., 2021b;Plonsky and Gass, 2011). ...
... The descriptive results and inferential testing of normality addressing RQ3 suggested that the instrument also had the potential to construct a latent variable suitable for the linear models favored by quantitative PLL researchers (Al-Hoorie et al., 2022;Hiver at al., 2021b). However, one should be mindful that there is nuance in creating aggregate scales from Likert indicators (see Shao et al., 2022) and that there are alternatives to the averaging process employed in this current study. ...
Full-text available
Self-efficacy has emerged as a popular construct in second language research, especially in the frontline and practitioner-researcher spaces. A troubling trend in the relevant literature is that self-efficacy is often measured in a general or global manner. Such research ignores the fact that self-efficacy is a smaller context-driven construct that should be measured within a specific task or activity where time, place, and purpose domains are considered in the creation of the measurement. Task-based language teaching researchers have also largely neglected the affective factors that may influence task participation, including self-efficacy, despite its potential application to understanding task performance. In this report, we present an instrument specifically developed to measure English as a foreign language students' self-efficacy beliefs when performing a dialogic, synchronous, quasi-formal group discussion task. The instrument's underlying psychometric properties were assessed (N = 130; multisite sample from Japanese universities) and evidence suggested that it could measure a unidimensional construct with high reliability. The aggregate scale constructed from the instrument's items also displayed a central tendency and normal unimodal distribution. This was a positive finding and suggested that the instrument could be useful in producing a self-efficacy measurement for use in the testing designs preferred by second language researchers. The potential applications of this instrument are discussed while highlighting how this report acts as an illustration for investigators to use when researching self-efficacy.
... Another type of engagement is emotional engagement, which frequently shows up in learners' subjective feelings as they engage in activities or tasks using the target language (Hiver et al., 2021). When it comes to language, related learning tasks, and peers, emotionally engaged learners are described as having a "positive, intentional, willing, and independent disposition" it also affects those . ...
... The term "cognitive engagement" describes the effort and energy that students put forth when learning (Hiver et al., 2021). Students eventually retain and learn what they think about since active thought is what creates memories (Willingham, 2008). ...
... Students eventually retain and learn what they think about since active thought is what creates memories (Willingham, 2008). Cognitive engagement covers topics like verbal displays, peer interactions, students' questioning, hesitancy, and repetition, as well as areas like presenting solutions, sharing ideas, giving feedback, giving instructions, informing, and explaining (Hiver et al., 2021). Another illustration of a learner's cognitive engagement is completing a task or assignment on time, responding to challenges in the classroom, doing their homework, or making a clear effort to learn (Zhang, 2020). ...
Full-text available
Technology-mediated task-based language teaching (TMTBLT) has garnered more attention from educators over the past fifteen years. Although some teachers have exercised its effectiveness in language classes, little-known studies have centered on students' perspectives and their learning engagement with technology-mediated task-based language teaching (TMTBLT). The present study aims to investigate students' perceptions and engagement in technology-mediated task-based language teaching (TMTBLT). Thirty students from a management program at a university in Indonesia were interviewed using a semi-structured interview. Thematic analysis was performed using Braun & Clark's (2006) Sevan steps. The analysis resulted in five main themes: positive perception, negative perception, motivation, learning awareness, and classroom interaction. The participants felt that the use of technology helped them learn English easier. They also reported that discussing with peers and teachers became more enjoyable, and they gained greater self-confidence in learning. It was also revealed that all four types of engagement were basically interconnected. The findings show that most students show positive attitudes toward TMTBLT and increased their behavioral, emotional, social, and cognitive engagement
... Research shows that "multifarious benefits occur when students are engaged in their own learning, including increased motivation and achievement" (Sinatra et al., 2015, p. 1). Hiver et al. (2021b) stress that learner engagement is strongly embedded in the paradigms of communicative and constructivist language learning and teaching, which emphasize the importance of language use and interaction in facilitating language development. Thus, the development and mastery of L2 are not possible without genuine L2 learner engagement. ...
... Teachers are good judges of student engagement "since they observe its various aspects on a daily basis and, being on friendly terms with their pupils, might have access to emotion and cognition underlying active participation and involvement or its absence" (Skinner, 2016, p. 158). Hiver et al. (2021b) have called for more research to investigate L2 learning engagement in different sociocultural contexts "to gain a fuller picture of how such engagement is enacted and lived in a range of contexts" (p. 1). In Saudi Arabia, research on university EFL learners' engagement has started to receive growing attention, with a particular focus on the factors that contribute to student engagement in English as a foreign language (EFL) course (e.g., Alkhannani, 2021;Alqarni, 2023;Alzaanin, 2023;Asif et al., 2021). ...
... From a sociological perspective, engagement is grounded in constructivism, highlighting that knowledge is actively constructed in the student's mind (Piaget, 1968). Within the context of L2 learning and teaching, Hiver et al. (2021b) define engagement as "the amount (quantity) and type (quality) of learners' active participation and involvement in a language learning task or activity" (p. 2). ...
Full-text available
Second language (L2) learner engagement has been a key theme in applied linguistics over the past two decades; however, teachers' voices have been largely absent from L2 learner engagement research. In addition, little is known about what learner engagement means to L2 language teachers. Through semi-structured, in-depth interviews, this study aims to capture the conceptualizations of learner engagement and the perceptions of the factors facilitating or hindering learner engagement in L2 learning in a Saudi university context, as expressed by 12 English as a Foreign Language university (EFL) teachers. The data analysis method used was inductive thematic analysis. The findings revealed that, for the participating teachers, learner engagement is a multifaceted concept, although it was commonly seen in terms of the behavioral and affective dimensions. Teachers' perceptions of the factors that facilitate or hinder the promotion of learner engagement were also explored, and among these, the most salient factors were learners' attributes and behaviors, teachers' pedagogical practices, student-teacher rapport, social context, institutional policies, and broader educational system. This study underscores the urgent need to acknowledge the importance of L2 teachers' perceptions of learner engagement within and beyond the EFL classroom. It emphasizes the crucial role of continuous professional development in empowering teachers to enhance their skills in engaging learners and effectively addressing the challenges they face.
... The impact of learner engagement on students' achievement and motivation when using flexible and varied online resources has drawn scholarly attention (Dahalan et al., 2012). As a result, the learners may then have the chance to engage in active learning through their own practice and experience (Barkley & Major, 2020;Hiver et al., 2021;Lambert et al., 2017). In this context, the construct of learner engagement has gained more importance during the COVID-19 pandemic. ...
... Although learner engagement has been extensively investigated in various educational settings and different learning (traditional and online) delivery modes (Carroll, 2021;Martin & Bolliger, 2018) over the past decades, most studies have investigated the different types of learner engagement, the indicators of learner engagement (using and testing various scales), and the correlations between the levels of learner engagement and the learners' academic achievement and motivation (Prince et al., 2020). Many studies have also investigated the different dimensions of learner engagement including the cognitive, behavioral, social, and emotional dimensions in the online environment (Carroll et al., 2021;Hiver et al., 2021;Martin & Bolliger, 2018;Omar et al., 2021). However, there seems to be confusion among researchers when it comes to researching the factors that influenced learner engagement in various contexts as they measure engagement indicators (e.g., Ogunyemi et al., 2022;Ray et al., 2021), rather than engagement facilitators. ...
Full-text available
... As with other methodologically-orientated systematic reviews (e.g., Hiver et al., 2021;Liu and Brown, 2015;Plonsky and Gass, 2011), this study employs quantitative data collection and analysis methods, centred on a deductive analytical scheme to code conceptual and methodological features of empirical metadiscourse research. The scheme was developed iteratively and recursively by identifying values, variables, and categories of interest with reference to influential metadiscourse studies (e.g., El-Dakhs, 2018b; Gillaerts and van de Velde, 2010;Tse, 2004, 2005;Intaraprawat and Steffensen, 1995;Lee and Deakin, 2016;Yoon, 2017), defined as featuring in the top 40 most cited studies on Scopus with the term 'metadiscourse' in the title, abstract, or keywords. ...
... The scheme was developed iteratively and recursively by identifying values, variables, and categories of interest with reference to influential metadiscourse studies (e.g., El-Dakhs, 2018b; Gillaerts and van de Velde, 2010;Tse, 2004, 2005;Intaraprawat and Steffensen, 1995;Lee and Deakin, 2016;Yoon, 2017), defined as featuring in the top 40 most cited studies on Scopus with the term 'metadiscourse' in the title, abstract, or keywords. Additionally, systematic (e.g., Hiver et al., 2021;Plonsky, 2013) and methodological reviews in other areas of applied linguistics/language education (e.g., Liu and Brown, 2015;Plonsky and Gass, 2011) were consulted. The draft coding scheme underwent piloting by one researcher involving 50 metadiscourse studies, whereupon revisions were made in response to consistency issues, particularly with variables that required greater researcher interpretation, variables that had not been foreseen in the initial literature review, and feedback from two members of the project team, one based in England and another in Qatar. ...
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A means to control how writers mark their presence, negotiate knowledge claims, and engage with their audience, metadiscourse is one of the most prominent approaches to analysing academic writing. The present systematic review attempts to take stock of the existing literature by investigating how metadiscourse has been researched in academic writing by analysing a sample of 370 high-quality empirical studies published between 1990 and 2021. Studies were coded for their conceptual frameworks, research designs, data sources, study contexts, writers, texts, corpora, and reporting practices. It was found that over 80% of research involved cross-sectional descriptive corpus-based analysis, drawing on intercultural rhetoric. Owing to its impact, ease of application, and study comparability, most research adhered to the ‘broad’ tradition in metadiscourse. Representative of this approach, Hyland’s interpersonal framework and models of stance and engagement were prevalent, although difficulties in undertaking a ‘thick’ analysis of such a wide variety of features coupled with publishing constraints meant that many authors narrowed their focus to a few select features (especially hedges, boosters, and self-mentions). Approximately 37% of corpus-based research followed the ‘thin’ tradition, with an emphasis on marker frequency counts over contextually-bound interpretations. Corpora of English texts, notably, research articles, were prominently studied, with little research taking place outside of university contexts or recruiting human participants as informants. We discuss avenues to advance research in metadiscourse, through identifying possible future inquiries and improving study quality.
... Cognitive engagement happens when one is adequately, mentally challenged, and absorbed in one's work. Hiver P. [4] conceptualized language engagement as the degree that a language learner is mentally or physically involved in doing a language learning task. ...
... Building on this, an insight from the study concerns how relevance is a complex and multifaceted concept. Further, it expands on previous studies of engagement, where for the last 20 years, the role of interest has been a major research focus (Hiver, Al-Hoorie, Vitta, et al., 2021). The present study illustrates that if English teachers in vocational programmes mainly draw on vocationally interesting topics to create engagement, they are likely not utilizing all the potential embedded in relevance. ...
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The study investigates the relationship between Bangladeshi English as a Foreign Language(EFL) learners’ mindfulness and their engagement in online learning context due to Covid-19. Langer Mindfulness Scale (LMS) and Online Student Engagement Scale (OSES) were employed to gather data from 215 male and female Bangladeshi university students on a voluntary basis. Descriptive and regression analyses revealed that there was no significant relationship between mindfulness and online student engagement. Thematic analysis of respondents’ interview data collected through open-ended questions revealed that more than 80% of Bangladeshi EFL students preferred in-person classes due to unreliable internet connection, stress, anxiety, and lack of interaction with teachers and peers. The study suggests that policy makers should prioritize promoting internet access and reliability to facilitate effective online classes, which could alleviate stress and anxiety among students and provide a platform for learning-friendly interactions between students and teachers.
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The purpose of the present analysis was to investigate the impact of altruistic teaching, i.e., teaching with selfless motives (a concept in positive psychology), on the students' task engagement in English essay writing. To this end, the present study adopted two designs, i.e., an experimental (comparison group, pretest-posttest) design to investigate if the learners' altruistic teaching affects their task engagement statistically significantly in the short and long run by using a task engagement questionnaire, and a mixed-methods sequential explanatory design to explore how it affects their task engagement by using reflective frames and semi-structured interviews. The participants were 122 Iranian EFL learners with an intermediate level of English language proficiency. The results of quantitative and qualitative analyses showed that altruistic teaching enhances the students' task engagement in the short and long run by creating in them a sense of enjoyment, self-verification, responsibility, bonding and group learning, less anxiety, self-confidence, progress in learning, finding out about strengths and weaknesses, and more enthusiasm to learn. The paper ends with theoretical and pedagogical implications for research and practice in second language acquisition (SLA).
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A quarter of a century has passed since complex dynamic systems theory was proposed as an alternative paradigm to rethink and reexamine some of the main questions and phenomena in applied linguistics and language learning. In this article, we report a scoping review of the heterogenous body of research adopting this framework. We analyzed 158 reports satisfying our inclusion criteria (89 journal articles and 69 dissertations) for methodological characteristics and substantive contributions. We first highlight methodological trends in the report pool using a framework for dynamic method integration at the levels of study aim, unit of analysis, and choice of method. We then survey the main substantive contribution this body of research has made to the field. Finally, examination of study quality in these reports revealed a number of potential areas of improvement. We synthesize these insights in what we call the "nine tenets" of complex dynamic systems theory research, which we hope will help enhance the methodological rigor and the substantive contribution of future research.
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Flipped learning has become a popular approach in various educational fields, including second language teaching. In this approach, the conventional educational process is reversed so that learners do their homework and prepare the material before going to class. Class time is then devoted to practice, discussion, and higher-order thinking tasks in order to consolidate learning. In this article, we meta-analysed 56 language learning reports involving 61 unique samples and 4,220 participants. Our results showed that flipped classrooms outperformed traditional classrooms, g = 0.99, 95% CI (0.81, 1.17), z = 10.90, p < .001. However, this effect had high heterogeneity (about 86%), while applying the Trim and Fill method for publication bias made it shrink to g = 0.58, 95% CI (0.37, 0.78). Moderator analysis also showed that reports published in non-SSCI-indexed journals tended to find larger effects compared to indexed ones, conference proceedings, and university theses. The effect of flipped learning did not seem to vary by age, but it did vary by proficiency level in that the higher proficiency the higher the effects. Flipped learning also had a clear and substantial effect on most language outcomes. In contrast, whether the intervention used videos and whether the platform was interactive did not turn out to be significant moderators. Meta-regression showed that longer interventions resulted in only a slight reduction in the effectiveness of this approach. We discuss the implications of these findings and recommend that future research moves beyond asking whether flipped learning is effective to when and how its effectiveness is maximized.
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In this chapter, our objective is to explore the past, present and future of measuring the construct of engagement. We first introduce some of the more prominent approaches to measuring student engagement from general education, including student self-report, experience sampling, teacher ratings of students, interviews and observations (Hofkens & Ruzek, 2019). We describe how each approach has been applied to measuring engagement, examine their validity and reliability and discuss the strengths and weakness of each measurement approach for L2 researchers. We also examine several widely used self-report measures in student engagement research with reference to their operational definitions, use, samples and psychometric properties. We elaborate on considerations related to the measurement of engagement in L2 learning, such as the differentiation between L2 engagement and related constructs, the variety of purposes for measuring L2 engagement, and measuring general versus domain-specific L2 engagement (e.g. task- and skill-specific engagement). Finally, we summarize the limitations of currently available instruments for eliciting engagement data and discuss directions for future development in the field.
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Learner engagement is crucial for ensuring the quality of learning experiences, and yet the study of ‘task engagement’ has received relatively little empirical attention in the language education domain. This article reports on a study exploring the factors contributing to learners’ engagement and disengagement during task performance in an English as a foreign language classroom. Thirty-seven learners performed 10 different speaking tasks implemented over a 10-week period in a Japanese university task-supported classroom. The participants’ engagement was measured using a post-task questionnaire on perceived levels of anxiety, confidence, focus and desire to speak. Learners’ written self-report reflections revealed complementary in-depth qualitative data about the underlying factors behind their engagement or otherwise during speaking tasks. The results revealed a variety of learner-level, lesson-level, task-level and post-task-level factors contributing to learners’ engagement and disengagement in tasks. Findings indicate that certain task features such as the nature and purpose of the tasks, task repetition, familiar and easier task topics led to successful engagement. On the other hand, lack of social cohesion and motivational baggage were reported as primary factors in determining learners’ silences and disengagement in tasks. The authors offer pedagogical implications for teachers on how speaking tasks can be better implemented to enhance engagement in foreign language classrooms.
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Researchers in the field of second and foreign language (L2) education have an abiding concern with the ways and means by which learners actively devote effort and attention to L2 learning. This is because learners’ interest and desire to engage with learning opportunities, and expenditure of effort while learning, are crucial conditions for L2 development. In addition to the constructs of motivation and interest, two concepts that provide a framework for conceptualizing L2 learners’ meaningful involvement and expenditure of effort, as a corollary to such deliberate attention and active participation, are engagement and investment. On one hand, rooted in educational psychology, engagement refers to “a state of heightened attention and involvement, in which participation is reflected” in cognitive, social, behavioral, and affective dimensions (Philp & Duchesne, 2016, p. 3). On the other hand, investment is grounded in poststructuralist social theories and the accompanying perspectives of language and identity. Though also conceptualizing learners’ expenditure of effort and discussing concepts such as interest and motivation, investment emphasizes the intertwined “relationship between language learner identity and language learning commitment” (Norton, 2012, p. 343). The goals of this chapter are to provide a comparative review of the constructs of engagement and investment, with their connections to interest and motivation, and highlight their uniquenesses and commonalities.
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The concept of learner engagement has traditionally been examined in the field of education and it has been found to be associated with positive educational outcomes. While several studies in second language acquisition have looked at learner engagement with corrective feedback, there is a dearth of research investigating its relevance to successful language learners and effective language learning. Through a narrative inquiry, this study reports an individual language learner’s engagement in the acquisition of a second language (L2) – Cantonese. The learner went through three different stages in his learning process, namely the period of silence, the period of early production and experimentation, and the period of continued development and communicative competence. At each stage of learning process, three major types of engagement were observed: behavioural, affective, and cognitive. Individual and contextual factors that influenced learner engagement with language learning were also identified. The findings of this study suggest that the integration of the three types of learner engagement with L2 learning goals, tasks, and context is conducive to effective language learning. The study concludes with some pedagogical implications for both L2 teachers and learners.
This paper presents a systematic review of the literature on flipped language classrooms from the perspectives of theoretical foundations, learning activities, tools, research topics and findings based on an analysis of 34 published articles. The results indicate that various research methods (e.g., tests, surveys, and interviews) were applied in the selected studies and different types of e-tools (e.g., video-watching tools, online learning platforms, online discussion tools, and video-making tools) were used in the flipped language classrooms. The findings also reveal that the flipped language classroom not only improved students’ academic performance and cultivated their learning motivation but also developed their self-regulation, confidence, and higher-order thinking skills. Other research topics in the reviewed articles included the effects of external and learner factors on the flipped learning approach, students’ readiness and technology acceptance, the flipped learning process, students' interactions, and teacher perceptions.
This study examined the effect of choice on EFL learners' task engagement. Twenty-four Thai university students completed two opinion-gap tasks. In one, they discussed and agreed on three items among given options (+constraint). In the other, they discussed and agreed on three items among the options they generated (-constraint). Spoken interaction and questionnaires were analyzed for behavioral (time on task, words produced, turns), cognitive (negotiation of meaning and form, self-repairs), social (overlaps and turn completion, backchannels), and emotional engagement (anxiety, enjoyment), based on Philp and Duchesne's multifaceted model. The -constraint task had positive effects on all the cognitive engagement measures, but only one of the behavioral measures (turns) and one of the social measures (overlaps). Learners reported higher anxiety and enjoyment in the -constraint task. The findings highlight the interrelated multidimensional nature of learner task engagement while suggesting pedagogical implications and avenues for future research.
The influence of cognitive processing on second language acquisition (SLA), and on the development of second language (SL) instruction, has always been a subject of major interest to both SLA researchers and those involved in SL pedagogy. Recent theoretical research into SLA and SL pedagogy has shown renewed interest in the role of cognitive variables such as attention, short, working, and long term memory, and automaticity of language processing. This volume first examines the theoretical foundations of research into the cognitive processes underlying SLA, and then describes various implications for pedagogically oriented research and for SL classroom practice. The blend of research from the cognitive sciences and applied linguistics make it an excellent introduction to applied linguists and language teachers interested in the psycholinguistic processes underlying SLA.
The concept of learner engagement, widely researched in educational psychology, has recently gained attention of language acquisition researchers (cf. Mercer, S. and Z. Dörnyei. 2020. Engaging Students in Contemporary Classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Mercer, S. 2019. Language learner engagement: setting the scene. In International Handbook of English Language Teaching, ed. X. Gao, C. Davison and C. Leung. Cham: Springer; Philp, J. and S. Duchesne. 2016. Exploring engagement in tasks in the language classroom. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 36: 50–72. DOI:10.1017/S0267190515000094). The study of the construct in connection with language learning appears a promising line of enquiry since it might help teachers understand in greater depth how to promote engagement and prevent disaffection. The present study looks into learner engagement and the lack of it from the perspective of a language teacher. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight language teachers to establish descriptors of both states, possible causes, as well as steps teachers take to counteract disaffection and enhance involvement and agency. As the results suggest, teachers concentrate on the behavioural dimension and have little access to learners’ emotions and less concern for other components of the construct. Some teachers in the context studied (higher education in Poland) tended to believe that changing learners’ attitudes remains beyond their control as they are related to deeply ingrained beliefs and fixed general dispositions, whose origins can be traced back to early childhood, negative school experiences or lack of parental encouragement.