The current study attempts to explore how low-achieving learners of English deal with difficulties faced and their use of online learning strategies on a distance learning environment. In recent years, schools in Taiwan have used the standardized English proficiency tests (SELP) as a graduation benchmark to access students’ English abilities. In the present study, participants were low-achieving learners of English, as indicated by the fact that all participants failed to meet the requirement of English graduation benchmarks. For those who did not meet this requirement, the school offered an on-line course entitled “English Tutorial”. Also, Moodle, a free, open-source management system was utilized during the semester.
Data collection in the qualitative research included classroom observation, participants’ responses on the Moodle discussion boards, e-mails, online learning questionnaire, and interviews. A total of 166 students enrolled in an 18 week course participated in the study.
Results of this study showed that low-achieving learners of English most encountered the following five difficulties: (a) technical problems, (b) problems related to English, including vocabulary, grammar, culture issues and, listening skills, (c) problems with finishing homework on time, (d) difficulties with following the instructor’s online assignment instructions, and (e) frustrations from lack of interactions between teachers and classmates. Also, a total of four online learning strategies used include (a) use online translation softwares, (b) post and respond to questions on the discussion board, (c) e-mail to the instructor and the TAs, and (d) seek for peer assistance. It is indicated that online students need more help from teachers and should be provided with additional learning resources. The current study hopes to provide a clearer picture for teachers to understand the real needs of students, and then be able to provide beneficial instructions in distance learning course.