Practical information about e-learning: future plans and ideas

05-Oct-2012

In the fourth and final part in this series about practical information on e-learning, I am going to talk about future plans and ideas. What always makes me smile and I particularly enjoy reading in ESL books, are chapters about future technological developments, especially if it is an old book and the year in which certain things were predicted to happen (and did not) had already passed. Therefore please allow me to be a bit more philosophical and less concrete, as sketching up the future of an industry is always a tricky business.

There is more money invested in English language teaching than in any other language. The market is vast – and because its size sometimes it reacts slowly to changes. By now the ESL market started to embrace e-learning methodology and gradually moved to develop and issue the relevant software and books. Some publishers reacted faster, some slower but nearly all major companies have or are about to come out with a VLE (Virtual Learning Environment) that links with and at this point complements their books. The main difference between the VLEs is the extent of learner autonomy and teacher involvement.

In my previous essays I have advocated teacher involvement in e-learning as a way of keeping up learner interest and thus achieving better results. I believe VLEs will be successful if they are capable of involving teachers in the e-learning process in an obvious and user-friendly way that does not put extra load on teachers. If driving cars was as complicated as driving space ships, we would have the same number of drivers as astronauts. 

However, teachers using VLEs as naturally as cars is still a few more years away. Note how strong our conservatism is towards learning styles: even though in e-learning learners spend more or less half the time studying alone in a VLE, books are still considered irreplaceable. Paper-based workbooks seem to have changed into interactive CDs, but this is yet another evidence of lagging a step behind events: Compact Discs are increasingly being replaced by other forms of digital distribution and storage, such as downloading and flash drives, with audio CD sales dropping nearly 50% from their peak in 2000.

In a way the rather traditional approach to learning is like a dam that tries to hold back the rapidly increasing number of learners who demand a fresh approach and the use of e-learning tools and technology. Learners communicating with each other on Facebook during class, rather than sending paper notes to each other is certainly a sign. As hand held devices become part of our everyday life the location of learning also changes and is not limited anymore to the classroom. If one fancies, there is ample time to read the relevant chapter on the commuter train or do a few language exercises after lunch in the mess hall. The types of exercises will become shorter and the pace faster – just like in other aspects of our life. With light-speed internet connections the old-fashioned classroom will become even less important. Learners already have the option to interact with each other and the teacher via video chat or Web 2 surfaces. With better connections this will become increasingly more comfortable.

If you want to facilitate this change or at least want to be part of it, ask yourself the question: What can I do to promote e-learning in my (language)school? First of all, talk about it, demystify it! Make sure everybody in the staffroom is aware of its presence. And make sure your boss knows about its advantages too! There should be e-learning related materials in your library and trainings held regularly about the methodology and practice. If you have not used a VLE before, start experimenting with one – for language teaching and for other subjects too. Try to access blogs and online materials, join interest groups on the web about e-learning, perhaps start a new one yourself inviting staff members from your school to share ideas and make it the forum for discussions.

The above align with other developments which aid towards building a positive approach to e-learning. For instance a new web-site, online (not digital, but online, real-time) administration all help. These all create a familiarity with new technology. In a way this is like switching from typewriters to computers. 

If you have read all four parts of my series (including the rather dull one about the importance of statistics) you might say that I might be too much of an optimist about e-learning in terms of usage and popularity. The reason I am is that the changes in methodology, teaching and learning styles I talked about are bottom-up demands that come straight from the learner. In other words you do not have to push the learner, they will pull you. If demands like these meet a good supply the success in learning will be outstanding.

Thank you for reading my notes. Should you be interested in getting in touch with me, do not hesitate a moment longer. Drop me a line at belaltth@gmail.com and I will be happy to answer!

Béla

 

 

 

Additional articles in the ‘Practical information…’ series can be found here:

Introduction

Recruitment and training

Course building

Statistics and reports

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