In part one of this series regarding my argument for why e-learning language instruction models can never replace traditional teacher-based models of language instruction, I discussed the severe limitations of technology and their abuses. I also posited my fundamental belief that e-learning models fail to create anything approaching what real experience with language is actually like. Communication between two people is incredibly unpredictable and random and e-learning models can never replicate that. In part two, I will go into further detail about why e-learning language instruction models are ineffective.
By its very nature, the e-learning language model contradicts the very way that language was meant to be used and learned. Language is alive. It’s organic. It’s been the way humans have communicated since humans came into existence. When you try to teach language using something that is sterile and impersonal, it’s inherently unengaging and it’s largely disconnected from what that learner’s real experience will be when he meets a real person who natively speaks the language.
The unintended and ironic side effect of all of our technological, time-saving advancements has been a progressive erosion of meaningful, personal, human interaction. I’m sure most would agree that we live in an increasingly smaller world due to technological and communication advancements. The huge distances that used to separate humans from each other have now become essentially insignificant with the technologically driven development of advanced forms of transportation and communication. Now, we can communicate with people on the other side of the globe virtually instantly by clicking a mouse button to send an email or taking out our iPhone (which is what I use) and sending a text message. We can hop a plane and be in London in a matter of hours which is a trip that used to take weeks if not months to make. Yet despite these advancements, one might make the argument that the quality of our communication has regressed in equal measure. We have more means for instantly connecting to humans than at any point in human history and ironically, we are probably more disconnected from each other than we’ve ever been. We are losing our ability to have social perspective in our communication because so often, it isn’t personal anymore. It’s been sterilized of its naturally organic characteristics by being reduced to cold, digitized form. This is also what happens to the language learning process when we try to deliver it in digitized form. It is essentially denatured and stripped of its organic qualities. It ceases to be engaging. As I recently heard author Jim Hollis remark, “We must take care not to mistake information for knowledge.” We are overwhelmed by a sea of information but are we actually learning anything from it in an authentic way?
A prime example of what I regard as a wonderful technological tool that can be incredibly useful in enhancing the quality of communication that is horribly misapplied in epidemic proportions is Microsoft’s Powerpoint presentation application. From my perspective, it’s a phenomenal tool that used properly, adds a wonderful visual dynamic to a presentation. However, if you look at how it’s actually used (and any degree holding professional has likely seen countless numbers of Powerpoint presentations dating back to college), they are largely used to replace the presenter rather than being an enhancement tool for him. How many times have you seen a Powerpoint presentation where the presenter is hiding behind a lectern in a darkened corner essentially reading what’s on the screen to the audience? Even what’s on the screen is typically not put together in an imaginative manner. A lot of Powerpoint presentations kind of take on this formulaic appearance that everyone just copies from everyone else. This to me is good technology being absolutely abused and actually degrading whatever message is trying to be communicated. What could have been a really interesting use of technology is reduced to a glorified reading time for adults harkening back to our kindergarten days. Technology has gotten in the way of the message. There is no human connection. No one is being engaged. Add to that the fact that most of us are probably suffering from technology fatigue in that we spend large amounts of our time every day staring at a computer screen in the course of doing our work or connecting to people via email, Twitter, or Facebook that it’s just too hard to find the energy to spend even thirty minutes more of our time taking an e-learning language lesson. Part of the reason traditional teacher-based language learning models can be so effective is simply because it affords technology fatigued people a much needed break from sitting in front of their computer monitor. It is an opportunity to go into an environment that prizes genuine and active connection to other humans (at least according to the approach that I have adopted at Premiere English with our language learning model).
In the next article of this series, I’ll talk about the critical role of fear in the learning process and why I feel e-learning language learning models cannot take advantage of it.