Flexible and Mobile Learning

Estoy aprendiendo español.

It started in high school, and even if I was quite successful in my Spanish exams I forgot most of it after a week and everything after a couple of years. My girlfriend and now wife since 15 years is a native Spanish speaker and my children are bilingual. Unfortunately passive learning of languages does not work for me, even though I understand quite a lot. I have realized that for me there is no quick path to mastering Spanish, but there is a fast track to failing: a lack of practice.

Out of classroom language learning is not a new concept but with the introduction of free online programs students have a new tool.

There are obvious advantages to these kind of programs, you can practice and take classes from any location and many of them are self-paced which means you can learn at any time of the day in small pieces. Another benefit is that it allows the student to take as much time as they need to complete the work.

One disadvantage is that the lack of self-dicipline that prevented me to acquire a deeper understanding in high school is in my case still present. But the gamification of many programs including Duolingo, one of the most popular self-paced language programs, is addictive and hopefully prevents the student getting frustrated and give up. In theory learning Spanish becomes an alternative when you want to kill some time instead of wasting time on Candy Crush. A study (sponsored by Duolingo) claims that for a beginner, 34 hours of Duolingo equals the progress for students taking a college semester of Spanish.

I live in Uruguay and English is associated with the privileged class but with the introduction of self-paced mobile learning everybody have a an affordable way to learn basic English. However, I think you need more tools than a free online program to take the user to a full fluency level. To understand the nuances of a language you need the benefits of blended learning with the interaction and help of an experienced tutor. My experience is that individualized online programs designed to mirror classroom courses are almost as expensive as a classic language school.

However, with the massive data these free self-paced learning programs are generating there is a constant technological and pedagogical development that hopefully will help me in my life-long learning process, even though my wife and kids do not believe that it is possible for me to be fluent in Spanish.


  • Stovicek, Helping foreign language learners get the most from self-paced language learning software, Journal of Second and Multiple Language Acquisition, 2014
  • Vessels and Grego, Duelingo  Effectiveness Study, 2012

3 reaktioner på ”Flexible and Mobile Learning

  1. Thanks for sharing this. It gave me some minutes of reflections around ”the third dimension”, the one that you can´t get from reading and listening, the one that you only get from practise. One sentence that remain in my brain: ”there is a fast track to failing: a lack of practice”.


  2. my mum tried to learn swedish when she met my dad and it sounds like she ended up in the same place you are: able to understand a fair amount but otherwise pretty hobbled. or maybe you’re just being modest. i have a friend who lives in copenhagen but is originally from canada, and her danish is also very, very limited because she is almost always able to speak english. however, i also know several people who have learned quite a lot of spanish using self-study apps, spanish which has then been of great use to them in their travels through the spanish-speaking world.

    so maybe the key to good learning in a self-study environment (which, i would argue, is the most flexible of all) is the motivation. maybe you need to convince your wife and kids to never speak to you in english (and to stop telling you you’ll never be fluent – that’s just plain mean, yo). despite the fact that swedish is of no use in canada, i learned it when i was young because my dad made it mandatory if i wanted him to read me a bedtime story (he would even translate english ones into swedish on the fly, if necessary). now we only speak to each other in swedish. maybe students engaged in self-study or other flexible learning environments need to make an effort to create accountability structures or impose their own forms of inflexibility in order to make the most of their flexible learning activities!


  3. Thanks for an interesting blog! Playing around with Duolingo for a short time it´s already easy to see how it can be addictive (rewarding messages and sounds etc). Would be interesting to know if Duolingo can provide more long term learning then a college semester.



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