The Learning Experiences of Undergraduate EFL Teacher Educators in Spain: A Holistic and Ecological Perspective

  • Meltem Eski

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


The Learning Experiences of Undergraduate EFL Teacher Educators in Spain: A Holistic and Ecological Perspective

This study investigates the content, processes, and contexts of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher educators’ learning by exploring their cognitions and the social contexts in which their learning occurs. Situated within individuals’ social experiences, learning is conceptualised in this study as a “fundamentally social phenomenon, reflecting our own deeply social nature as human beings capable of knowing” (Wenger, 2009, p. 210) and is accepted to be “complex, contextually specific, autobiographically grounded and informed by
socio-political realities” (Goodwin, 2010, p. 30). By exploring ELT teacher educators’ learning and development experiences, the knowledge and skills they acquired and the mediating factors they experienced, the present inquiry aimed to explore the opportunities and content of teacher educator learning and uncover influencing factors conducive to professional development. As Smith (2003, 213-214) argues, “professional development of teacher educators is too important not only to teacher education but also to the educational system
as a whole, to be left in a virginal state regarding research and documentation”.

To this end, a qualitative approach was adopted. The data collection approach drew on organic and ecological approaches to gain a holistic, comprehensive, and contextualised understanding of participants’ professional learning experiences. Data were collected from a sample of three EFL teacher educators in Spain in three phases. In the first phase, autobiographical accounts were gathered by implementing a self-reflective tool, Tree of Life, to identify participants’ personal, educational, and professional backgrounds and the factors that shaped their cognitions and experiences. Following this, retrospective learning episodes were collected, and follow-up semi-structured interviews were conducted to allow the participants to reflect on significant past learning experiences, explore what they had learned from these experiences, and look at the challenging and facilitating factors mediating these experiences. The final phase entailed collecting weekly learning episodes from the participants for five weeks and conducting follow-up semi-structured interviews to explore their learning experiences as they happened in their day-to-day practice and lives. Thematic analysis was employed to analyse the data.

The findings suggest that the participant teacher educators engaged in various forms of formal and informal activities, which challenged them in many ways and offered personal and professional learning opportunities. The findings offer insights into 1) the learning activities the teacher educators engaged in, 2) the knowledge and skills they acquired, and 3) the combination of contributing and challenging factors that had an impact on their learning experiences. Moreover, the study presents significant implications for ELTE practices and professional development experiences of teacher educators, particularly in EFL contexts.
These implications call for more effective research practice opportunities and the
establishment of a research culture in higher educational institutions and opportunities to generate critical and collaborative professional learning opportunities and mentoring by more experienced colleagues. Morever, it is vital to regard teacher educators as ‘whole people’ (Yuan et al., 2022) with exceptional characteristics, challenges, and limitations, which are moulded by their work and life experiences.

Moreover, this study offers valuable contextual and empirical implications for teacher education research in Spain or within similar contexts and for participants with similar experiences to those in the current study, which will help critically examine the current professional development policies and plan new initiatives for teacher educators to increase their professionalism and
ultimately improve the quality of teacher education. It is hoped that this study will help develop more effective learning and development opportunities for and with teacher educators and be helpful for professionals who oversee "the facilitation of the professional development of teacher educators (management), those who develop and guide it (mostly expert-teacher educators) or validate professional learning (e.g., those involved with certification)” (Dengerink et al., 2015, p. 93). Moving beyond solely improving teacher educators' theoretical knowledge towards conceptualising their learning and development as a 'whole person development' by recognising the impact of cognitive, affective, and contextual elements as the approach adopted in this study will contribute to how EFL teacher educators can be supported to advance their professional expertise, practice, and mental well-being while they mediate the changing EFL and
higher education contexts and empower them to be scholars who can critically tackle power inequalities and eventually transform their social realities.
Date of Award11 Oct 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorSantiago Sanchez (Supervisor) & Ioannis Costas Batlle (Supervisor)


  • Teacher Education and Development
  • Teacher Cognition
  • Qualitative Research

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