Learning English Via Computers is Inferior

teachingTechnology3 Learning English Via Computers is InferiorIn the course of running my language business, Premiere English, I’ve been asked by more than one client whether or not I could ever offer web-based English language instruction so that their foreign expatriate workforce could take classes according to when each employee has time rather than having to try to organize a time when they could take the classes in groups with a live teacher sent out on-site.  They are always surprised when I respond that I don’t want to offer such a service.  I wonder if it makes me look a little “behind the times”.  I’ve long thought about writing an article about my whole perspective on attempts to exclusively utilize technology to provide language instruction versus the “old school” method of using a live teacher to teach students in person.  Well, the time has come.

Now let me first preface my comments on this debate by stating that I am not technologically ignorant nor am I a technophobe.  Quite the contrary.  I actually consider myself a huge technophile, relatively speaking of course, as I am not a tech professional by any means.   That being said, I’ve been enamored with technology since the days of the Windows 3.1 operating system back in the early 90’s.  I have developed my own websites (including both this blog site and the main Premiere English site), can work with Flash, have built my own computers, installed and reinstalled operating systems, work with the Adobe suite of development applications, etc.  I love technology’s ability to make mundane tasks that we do more intuitively efficient.  I do, however, feel that the application of technology to improving and making more efficient the day to day tasks in our personal and professional lives can have serious limitations in terms of how effective it actually is.  The case of e-learning and e-training (with particular emphasis here on e-learning-based language instruction) is one such area where I feel that our blind and dogged pursuit of finding a way that technology can “make our lives better” has blinded us to using our better judgment as to how honestly effective such a mode of learning actually is.

So why does a self-professed technophile refuse to jump on the technology bandwagon and start developing an e-learning based business model for delivering language instruction?  There are actually several reasons but the primary underlying reason is that I believe artificial, simulated, static experience is a really poor substitute for genuine, authentic, organic experience.  To me it’s like the difference between watching a Travel Channel show about Thailand versus having the authentic experience of actually going to Thailand.  I’ve done both and I can honestly say that watching the show doesn’t even come close to the real experience.  That’s not to say that I think that the show has no value at all because you can indeed learn something about Thailand conceptually but I feel that you really don’t meaningfully know anything about Thailand until you have been there and have had a real experience with it.  I believe learning language is the same.  You can learn something about language using an e-learning model but language is something I strongly feel a learner is better served by literally rubbing noses with it.  You can’t really rub noses with language through a computer because a computer isn’t alive and cannot really replace what actually happens when two people bump into each other on the street and start a random conversation.    In part two of this series, I’ll delve deeper into this topic and my arguments for why I feel e-learning language instruction models are not as effective as traditional teacher-based models.

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2 Responses to Learning English Via Computers is Inferior

  1. patty harlan says:

    Amen! There will never be an e-learning experience that will compare to the face-to-face or nose-to-nose experience of discovering language at the moment it unfolds. Looking into someone’s face, ‘reading’ the eyes, ‘watching’ those cerebral gears engage as the student transitions from his native tongue into English is one awesome experience. There is a guaranteed joy in the journey of language for both student and instructor. The only thing that can top this experience is when an e-mail is opened or a phone call received sharing the beautiful things taking shape in the life of someone who, once, was your ESL student. Please know that the mutual friendship established is, of course, all scripted in English! E-lessons will never supplant the spontaneous,creative flair of a ‘live teacher’ .

  2. Alex says:

    This article was written back in 2011, but I think attitudes towards e-learning are changing. I have taught face-to-face for 12+ years at both language schools and universities. I now do all of my teaching online. Although there are key differences between the formats, the e-learning model does have its own advantages over classroom teaching, especially in one-to-one language tuition. Having worked in ESL for my entire career I am now questioning the effectiveness of group tuition as a model as it does not address the individual needs of each student, but instead focuses on the general needs of the group. Some students are active communicators, while others are shy and hesitant. In group classes each student has little individual speech practice and error correction with the native teacher. This is not ideal when trying to improve spoken fluency in the language. There are clear pluses to the traditional classroom model, but I think with time we will see some shift towards e-learning as people try to save time and opt for self-study combined with individual training. I penned a blog article on this topic some time ago: http://onlineteachersuk.com/en/traditional-vs-online-english-schools/. There’s certainly scope for more debate on this topic. Thanks for the post.

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