Online learning - ELT

Edudemic recently identified The 5 Biggest Education Technology Trends To Know About.

The 5 trends are:

  1. Online learning
  2. Alternative credentialling platforms
  3. Tablets and smartphones
  4. e-textbooks
  5. Learning Management Systems

That’s great, but the angle is very much focussed on US higher education and K-12. So, in this mini-series, let’s have a look at what they mean in the world of ELT.

1. Online Learning
In higher education, this has been the year of the MOOC. They’ve received massive attention, and are spreading faster than I can keep up with. The ‘old guard’ MOOCs, like Coursera, edX and Udacity are going from strength the strength. In the UK, we now have FutureLearn, which already has a number of universities signed up to provide courses, as well as organisations like the British Museum and the British Council (are they going to offer English course perhaps?). The MOOC field is broadening beyond higher education, too – CrunchU, a joint venture between tech blog TechCrunch and Udacity, provides practical courses on web development, entrepreneurship etc. CrunchU is also, conspicuously, not free, with courses costing up to $250. In that case, how is it different from the vast range of e-learning courses that have already been available for years? Simply that it’s delivered through a MOOC platform and is riding on the MOOC bandwagon, and that it’s strangely more attractive and newsworthy as a result.

What’s this got to do with ELT, though? Well, it’s only a matter of time before someone is teaching English via a MOOC – either delivering courses through the existing platforms or creating an ELT MOOC (honestly, why has no-one actually done that already?). The really important thing is that the MOOC phenomenon is normalising online learning and making it more likely that students will take it seriously as a genuine alternative to studying at a school or university. Now that sounds like something that could have a big impact on the ELT world as we currently know it. The perception of online learning is in the process of being transformed right now by the fact that the world’s major universities are providers.

Of course, there’s already a lot of online learning available in ELT. We posted recently about Open English, which provides general English and exam prep and claims to have 100,000 students. In business English, there’s the huge (and Pearson owned) Global English. Really, if CrunchU can be called a MOOC, then why couldn’t you describe Open English as one? Is it just because they don’t deliver their courses via Udacity or Coursera?

All of the main ELT publishers have some kind of big online learning solution – Pearson’s MyEnglishLab provides online homework for pretty much every Pearson ELT course. Macmillan’s venerable (and recently facelifted) Macmillan English Campus is still going strong, and provides a vast bank of generic supplementary online learning materials. And Cambridge have the massive Touchstone Blended Learning whose online version can either completely replace the classroom experience or be blended with it in any way a school wants [disclosure – I work on this course myself]. We can expect all of these and more to grow. The publishers are moving their investment from creating new print courses to turning their existing series into richer online and blended products. The success of these courses shows that the demand is there, but those products haven’t been part of the core mainstream of ELT provision. We’re at a tipping point now, though, and I expect that to change rapidly over the next couple of years.

For language schools and universities, the rise of online learning means either developing your own online course (as EF have done with English Town), or adopting a blended or online course from a publisher. Some are driven to this in order to be able to compete in a world where students feel they can learn just as well online; others because they want to provide language teaching with fewer teachers, to more students, or to a dispersed student population.

For young learners, the pace of change is somewhat different. Kids expect to learn online, but of course there’s much less opportunity for them to do so instead of studying in schools.

Online learning is rapidly becoming part of the mainstream of ELT. New-ish companies will be taking chunks of the market; language schools will either be providing it in some form or going out of business; and the publishers will be more about online than they are about books. And that’s a bigger change than it sounds, since it means they have to become as much providers of technology and services as they are of content.

In the next post, we’ll have a look at trend number 2, Alternative credentialing platforms.

Photo credit: Martin Gommel / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND

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