Document Type

Conference Paper


This item is available under a Creative Commons License for non-commercial use only



Publication Details

Paper presented at the Higher Education in Transformation Conference, Dublin, 31st. May - 1st. April, 2015.


In teaching a foreign language, learners are often encouraged to use the target language to communicate with other learners and native speakers. With rapid technology and Internet progression in recent years, a number of communication tools are now available for foreign language learners and native speakers. Social network sites (SNSs) and Chat alike provide opportunities for learners to engage in social interactions. The demand for, and use of, SNS and online discussion forums for educational purposes are rapidly increasing as is evident in the quick growth of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). The Globally engaged means of education such as MOOCs form an online community and create a learning space in ways that are becoming a center of attention. Sociocultural theory (Vygotsky, 1978) can be applied to understand such learning since it emphasizes that the role of social interactions is core to learning. However, the complex issues of learning using a SNS, especially language learning are underexplored. This study investigated learners’ behavior in a virtual learning environment by examining the interactions of Japanese language learners and native speakers using a SNS. Both native speakers and learners assisted each other while they participated in a series of discussion forums on Japanese topics in Japanese language. The interactions were analyzed using a modified activity system (Engeström, 2001; Wells, 2002) created by the researcher called the Online Joint Activity System (OJAS). The OJAS allowed the study to reflect how the participants were influenced by a number of constituent components in their virtual learning environment. This paper discusses a number of factors that influenced development of discussion forums and the importance of roles played by the native speakers and the discussion leader. This paper focuses on two issues from its main findings: role of discussion leaders and discussion topics. By doing so, the paper offers recommendations for future online discussion forums so as to construct active collaborative forums.