Exploring the impact of popular song and sources of popular culture on the learning motivation of higher education EFL Students

Helen Stavrou

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Research into factors impacting on the learning motivation of second/foreign language learners in higher education is limited. While a plethora of mainstream pedagogical resources such as textbooks and other learning materials specifically designed for language learning purposes are readily available, the use of alternative sources aligned to learners’ interests and their possible impact on learning motivation remain under-researched. This thesis reports on a five-phase action research study investigating the impact of using sources of popular culture such as popular song, film and TV series as learning prompts on the learning motivation of Cypriot undergraduate students enrolled in English language courses. Phase One of the action research involved an online survey investigating the types of learning motivators (extrinsic vs intrinsic) driving incoming students, student past language learning experiences and student engagement with English popular song and other sources of popular culture. A total of 83 students completed the online survey, with key Phase One findings revealing extrinsic factors such as successful exam performance and becoming more competitive in the job market to be motivators of further English language learning. A high rate of engagement with English popular song, TV series and film during student free time was also found. Informed by the results of Phase One, action research Phases Two to Four were carried out with 30 participants from various degree programs who were registered students in Advanced Academic English courses for the Fall 2020 semester. Throughout the semester, pedagogical practices using a variety of sources of popular culture such as popular song, film and TV series were designed and implemented to align with course learning objectives. The impact of these practices on student learning motivation was systematically observed and reflected upon via student weekly diary entries, online surveys, focus groups and practitioner field notes and observations.
The study’s findings indicated that the use of pedagogical practices that embrace popular song, film and TV series as learning prompts triggered positive emotional responses such as joy and excitement, which appeared to enhance students’ overall learning motivation and engagement. Specifically, the practices employed positively impacted on learners’ spoken and written engagement, enhanced student interest in assessed tasks, and appeared to promote the development of lifelong learning strategies. The RE-AIM framework was applied as a measure of the feasibility and transferability of the study, while the final phase involved reporting findings and barriers to the pedagogical strategies applied. The findings of this action research study led to the creation of the Sustained Motivation in Language Learning Environments (SMILLE) model, which incorporates popular song, TV series and film as learning prompts for in- and out-of-class tasks designed to reinforce course objectives while also sustaining student learning motivation. The SMILLE model can be adapted to suit a variety of syllabi, course levels and teaching settings. The use of prompts aligned to students’ interests and their observed positive impact upon student learning motivation has the potential to lead to the development of new pedagogical directions for English language teaching in higher education contexts while at the same time providing further insights into the relationship between motivational teaching practices, the arousal of emotion and enhanced student learning motivation and engagement.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Munday, Jennifer, Principal Supervisor
  • Hyndman, Brendon, Principal Supervisor
Award date03 Jun 2022
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Grant Number

  • EFL, Higher Education, Second Language Learning, Action Research, Motivation, Self-Determination Theory


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