Key Concepts and Implications for Language Education
At the heart of the AOA is the innovative vision of the user/learner as a “social agent,” meaning someone who exerts agency, or more simply put, acts with intentionality to accomplish tasks (Bandura, 2001) within a social context. This signalled a major shift in language education, moving it away from a linear process focused mainly on language structures to one organized around completing real-life, collaborative tasks whose primary focus is not language (Council of Europe, 2020). With the AOA, users/learners don’t merely learn about the language, they live the language.
Seeing users/learners as “social agents” puts them at the centre of learning. It implies actively involving them in the learning process and allowing them to use all their resources to accomplish the task. It also requires recognizing the social nature of language use, in which meaning is co-constructed, and the interaction that occurs between the social and individual dimensions in the learning process (Council of Europe, 2020).
The AOA brings the descriptive scheme of the CEFR to life.
The descriptive scheme provides a common language to talk about overall language proficiency, outlining what is present in real-life communication. In a communicative situation, general competences are combined with communicative language competences (i.e., linguistic, sociolinguistic, and pragmatic). Users/learners draw upon their competences under various conditions and constraints to engage in language activities while using strategies to accomplish tasks (Council of Europe, 2020). Language activities and strategies are presented under four modes of communication in the CEFR: reception, production, interaction, and mediation.
Each of the modes of communication – reception, production, interaction, and mediation – has illustrative descriptors organized into scales. These descriptors exemplify what a user/learner can typically do at the different levels of the CEFR (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2), thus bringing an asset lens to language education. For this reason, descriptors are often referred to as “can-do” descriptors. They are open-ended and incomplete examples and are not meant to be mandatory nor to provide an exhaustive list.
Descriptors are central to the creation of a task, serving as a reference point for building content.
As described above, in the AOA, users/learners act (i.e., take action) to complete tasks. Below are key elements found in an AOA task:
- Learners are seen as “social agents” acting in real-life, authentic, meaningful learning situations
- Action is purposeful, with real-life application
- There is a final product or artifact
- Learners process authentic, real-life texts and experiences
- There are conditions and constraints
- There is collaboration
- Learners draw upon and develop all of their resources
- Learners make choices, thinking and acting strategically (Hunter et al., 2019)