The internet has brought a world of potential information and learning to our fingertips. The booming EdTech sector is testimony to people’s hunger for this.
In the diverse, globally spread English language teaching marketplace, nowhere is this truer. With around 1.5 billion English language learners worldwide, the demand for accessible learning resources is phenomenal and the developments in EdTech and e-learning have been game-changing.
EdTech simply means using any kind of technology to facilitate learning. As such it is a pretty comprehensive term including everything from teachers using computers in class to virtual reality simulations. In language learning, it has opened many opportunities for students with a range of approaches and resources. EdTech is not just putting existing information online, although it may include this, but it also includes creating new content, improving interactivity between learner and materials and allowing for responsive materials that respond to the learner’s input. It can create a diverse and engaging learning environment.
What are the benefits of learning English via e-learning?
Learning English can be incredibly important to many peoples lives opening up educational, travel and career options or improving day-to-day relationships. E-learning is noted for democratising education; it makes learning more accessible to many people. Companies such as Perfectly Spoken offer free lessons as well as their more advanced paid options and have been looking at the wider issues and benefits of e-learning themselves. Such courses can be accessed from almost anywhere and at any time that suits and fits around other requirements. Compared to undertaking traditional teacher-led classes with all the associated overheads, e-learning offers an affordable, adaptable choice.With a large number of different courses available if offers more choice and tailoring, so that students can follow an individual programme based on their specific needs, and at a pace and speed that suits them.
Are there any disadvantages?
If you are directly comparing e-learning and EdTech solutions with a classroom setting, then there are clearly significant differences and of course, areas where the traditional environment excels. The precise point is that they are not the same thing, and one will not replace the other. They meet different needs.
One of the main problems with e-learning can be people’s unrealistic expectations of how much and how quickly you can learn. You manage your own time, but you need to allow enough time to absorb learning. It can take a while for knowledge to embed and it will need practice and perseverance to stick.
Whilst there are forums, apps and tools that encourage learners to work more collaboratively, e-learning is essential a solitary experience. There is no one to measure how much you are taking in or how distracted you become. It’s also easy to skip ahead, miss bits out and even ‘cheat’ the content. As EdTech advances it continues to address its issues and London EdTech Week this June saw over 40 events happening in the London looking at all aspects.
The issue of online assessment
If you are using e-learning for a high standard of qualification, then there will be some examination or testing process at the end. There are still questions about how this can be measured online with the same accuracy, certainty and security – knowing people are who they say they are. Where the results have higher stakes for the individuals, so too will they for the reputation of companies determining and awarding grades. In some areas, online courses offer self certification. Whilst this works for particular professional development areas, it is less trusted with more academic subjects. In the ELT world, whilst you can study and prepare online for leading qualifications including the IELTS and Cambridge exams, Cambridge Assessment English who govern the exams require them to be taken in person.
Online qualifications and the workplace
Within the workplace there seems to be a growing acceptance of online educational qualifications. With more quality providers and improving technology this only looks likely to continue. Organisations like FutureLearn are bringing together reputable educational institutions and a whole host of learning across all subject areas. Although traditional qualifications are a long way from being surpassed, employers look favourably on those who independently pursue extra training. Indeed there are many companies sprouting up that help businesses to develop their own in-house courses and learning.
No one is saying that you can or should base all your English language learning through technology. We all know what practice makes… But e-learning is a great start. It can give many the confidence and root knowledge on which to build and if it opens up opportunities to those that may not otherwise have them, they it has to be a positive force. Edtech is only going to grow and offer more learning experiences. More ways to learn is a good thing.