University of Tasmania
Final Thesis - GARNER.pdf (2.31 MB)

Investigation of an informal personalized one-to-one teaching method for adult ESL students in the online learning context

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posted on 2024-04-15, 02:14 authored by Hester Garner

This study investigated an informal personalized one-to-one teaching approach for adult ESL students in an online learning forum – a one-of-a-kind method used in the past for face-to-face teaching. In this research, the approach entails one-to-one English as a Second Language (ESL) tuition in a highly individualized way, which is geared towards students’ unique starting points and needs. Teaching happens online in hourly sessions over the course of 10 weeks, where ESL is directly taught to adults using a Zoom platform for video communication. Language ability is assessed informally through the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (Global Scale), and continually judged during language tuition. Language in class is informal and learning happens in a familial-type learning environment, aided by academic material - developed and adapted during lessons for each student according to individual needs. Students choose their own language journey and study topics, while the teacher takes a secondary position - a constructivist teaching style. These are the most powerful distinguishing characteristics between this method and other types of teaching.
Eight extremely diverse adult students were interviewed, and academic- and personal information gathered during teaching to investigate experiences and perceptions relating to this teaching approach. Participants came from significantly diverse backgrounds, a wide variety of languages, socio-economic environments, gender and ages. They represented different cultural groups, including Indian, Asian-Australian, Indonesian, Taiwanese, Middle Eastern and South African, and ages ranged from 18 to 60. Academic qualifications ranged from senior school to Bachelor degrees, and English ability from very low to very high intermediate. As a student unit, they were quite distinct from a typical undergraduate student cohort at traditional institutions.
This was an open, exploratory, flexible and comprehensive ethnographic study. It focused on literature that presents an informed view of a qualitative research method design, which was the chosen model to effectively and meticulously gather data. Within this design, research questions were formulated that took into account positive and negative drivers to allow for an in-depth ethnographic investigation. Semi-structured interviews conducted online, and informal discussions were utilized to gather an extensive body of content-rich data from both male and female students who participated in this study. Eight case studies were produced from the data, which was deemed the most appropriate approach. Case studies were analyzed according to a series of themes, with each theme offering key concepts in thesis chapters, its interpretation and the significance of findings.
The teaching approach’s six characteristics - professionally close relationships, personalized focus, individualized learning content, informal style, adaptive on-the-go teaching, freedom of choice - were analyzed to gauge its benefits/disadvantages. Strong teacher/student relationships were formed online, which were shown to equip students with academic- and life-skills. Participants became self-guided and accountable for their own studies when the characteristics acted cohesively to satisfy their needs. They favoured the intensive teacher support to other forms of support, which had not adequately satisfied them in the past. These findings have important implications for the understanding of teaching- and support practices, which would satisfy students’ desire to be looked after personally. Contributions to holistic education were made by expanding new avenues for integrational teaching.
The teaching method’s ability to encourage, support and integrate students socially and academically online, was cast against Tinto’s Social Integration Theory (1975, 1987, 1993). In particular, the role of personalized content and purposely-developed relationships in that regard, was investigated in detail. Data analysis indicated that virtual separation does not play an important role in online integration, and participants needed no external input to experience a sense of community and belonging. Social- and academic integration worked together in the virtual learning space, which is quite significant, as literature of such attempts is limited.
Socially constructed knowledge and how people learn from each other and their environment, were examined by integrating Constructivist Learning Theory and Tinto’s Social Integration Theory principles into the discussion. The socio-cultural aspects of language learning and online loneliness were investigated. Arguments were made that online students are not lonelier than other students, and suggestions offered how to mitigate online loneliness, should it be present. Data analysis revealed no evidence of loneliness among participants, indicating that the teaching approach is well suited to inhibit online student loneliness. Findings further confirmed informal personalized one-to-one teaching’s significance as an efficient constructivist teaching method for ESL. The implications of these findings have bearing on constructivist teaching practices in the virtual domain.
A 10-week ESL program, specifically developed to support informal personalized one?to-one teaching, was used in this study. Its validity and reliability were judged on the ability to improve language and meet student expectations. Participants’ extremely diverse start- and end points in the four major language competencies were considered to assess the teaching method’s ability to teach diverse student audiences. Data analysis indicated positive outcomes across the four macro language skills of speaking, writing, reading and listening. Participants ascribed the program’s success to a focus on their unique starting points and catering for individual language needs, strengths and weaknesses. Findings point to a personalized online class as conducive to second language learning, and established the teaching approach’s efficiency in ESL teaching, These findings have important implications for online ESL teaching.
Common problems in general ESL teaching were looked at as a point of reference. In ESL group teaching, student diversity was identified as a very important issue, while in personalized one-to-one teaching diversity worked to the benefit of students. The teaching method’s flexibility was found to deal with diverse abilities, goals and entry points quite efficiently, because it can identify and hone in on issues as they arise. This is particularly relevant to general ESL teaching, where student diversity is a given.
Reasons why this teaching method has a limited use in the wider education field, was scrutinized. Findings identified cost, time, and operational differences between larger institutions and this teaching method as possible influences on its uptake. Analysis further indicated that the approach has limited uptake because it is an expensive way to study, but it was found to save time by clarifying problems in the moment, is effective by targeting issues as they arise, and thereby shortens programs. For the group of ESL students that participated in this research, my personalized instruction was quite cost-effective, because they came in with such diverse start- and end points, expectations and different study goals. I could design my teaching quite efficiently to suit their individual needs and cater for differences in learning style. Although one-to?one tuition is an expensive form of teaching, in this particular case it could be seen as quite cost effective and shortened participant’s language programs. Findings suggest that focused personalized online teaching is particularly successful and efficient in managing diverse ESL students.
The study’s most important contribution to new knowledge is contained in the teaching approach’s ability to strongly support and successfully integrate the adult online student socially and academically. With the growing trend towards online study, these contributions have considerable implications for online teaching practices.



  • PhD Thesis


xvii, 284 pages


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University of Tasmania

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