The Future is eLearning

It’s official – my eLearning platform is alive and online:

Osborne House

I had a vision of creating courses where excursions are the foundation stones as opposed to ‘extra-curricular’ treats. I wanted to liberate the learner (and trainer) completely from the artificial shackles of the four-walled classroom. I found my solution this past Christmas in Moodle, and have been learning and experimenting with it ever since. What you see on the platform now is the product of that work – a fully blended eLearning solution.

The reading, writing and listening practice is covered through fully online activities based solely on real articles and videos from the internet. The speaking practice occurs in video conference lessons and excursions, again where materials and objectives are strictly real. In paid courses, one excursion underpins the selection of materials and activities for the rest of the course. For example, the “Cooking in English” course is based on a live cooking class with an American chef. In that course, lesson themes are all around cuisine, recipes and cultural habits, with each part focussing on vocabulary or sub-skills that will be practised and consolidated in the penultimate task – the excursion itself.

The key to this whole experiment is the approach to the online method. Up to now most online ELT platforms are essentially static stores of information and activities – the digital equivalent of just giving the learner and textbook then leaving them in a room for an hour. I’ve learned two key things from my experience of the industry of successful online learning:

  • Instructor participation at every level dramatically increases attendance and motivation.
  • Gameification, that is, adding game elements to activities, taking cues from video and board games, also has a dramatic different on learners’ motivation to progress in a course

The first point makes it sound like the learner would be better off in a classroom. Surely online learning is there to allow more independence and autonomy, not to still have the teacher peering over their shoulder? It is true that online learning can offer the student immense freedom thanks to the vastness of the internet in terms of content, and there are many apps at their disposal to engage them with online content. The problem is that leaving a student to their own devices without live trainer feedback has been shown consistently to reduce motivation and attendance dramatically within the first stages of the course.

The key is to have some regular participation from a live trainer – as simple as a short private message on your platform saying “Hey, good job on lesson 2!” or “Hey, it’s been a while since lesson 3, is everything ok?” This kind of supportive nudge keeps learners conscious that their platform is not a static resource store, but a live community which is constantly monitored. It’s as close as we can get to compensating for the loss of face-to-face interaction.

In my courses, each self-study part has at least one production task associated with it, and that only becomes available to students after completion of the self-study tasks. This not only embeds trainer interaction into every activity, but adds a gaming element to completion of the isolated study part. I believe this will drive students’ motivation to complete otherwise impersonal activities with the reward of real interaction with a trainer.

Further gameification exists on the platform in the form of badges. This simple reward system is an integrated Moodle plugin that can programme specific, pictorial awards to be given upon meeting certain conditions, for example completing an activity or course. I want this system to reinforce students’ feelings of achievement after completing a speaking activity, for example, and to make a bigger deal about overcoming live communication anxiety.

The excursion courses are only available in France at the moment, but I’m constantly seeking out new partners to supply the excursion part of future international courses. If you feel that this approach speaks to you, please get in contact and give me your ideas and feedback at contact@osbornehouse.net

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Innovation

With the Innovate ELT conference coming to a close, I’m (like many others I’m sure) excited at the prospect of some new ideas and talks being shared online. I’m always excited about innovation, but perusing Twitter feeds and blogs often leaves me with a feeling of frustration.

There are several innovation bandwagons rolling at the moment, namely Flipped Classrooms and edTech, as well as the classics such as more natural approaches to teaching. I fear that as these well-founded ideas gain traction, too many cheerleaders are hopping on and taking focus away from the practical implications of the proposed changes in the ELT world.

For example, here’s a short, paraphrased summary of a conversation I participated in today on Innovate ELT’s twitter:

Innovate ELT : What’s wrong with ELT course books? Attend Mr. X’s talk on to find out.

Mr. Pink : What’s wrong with them? Everything! When do we want change? Now!

Mr. Blue : Will your talk propose realistic alternatives for 100s of millions of YLs around the world using course books?

Mr. Red : Just because millions of people do something doesn’t mean it’s good

Mr. Blue : Very true. But reality of huge classes/unconfident teachers often with poor English, what’s the alternative?

Mr. Red : CHANGE!

I’ll stop there, as for me that was enough to see this phenomenon of the bandwagon unfolding. The rest of the conversation was similar – people calling for revolution, giving their vocal support for change, but not proposing one solitary hint of an idea for how that change might be brought about.

Russel Brand is famous for this phenomenon, as he caused a stir last year with eloquent rhetoric regarding the total overhaul of political and financial institutions. This populist argument, which I’m sure seemed sweeter when the royalties from his book began rolling on, dredged up a Twitter army of bandwagon-riders, ready to shout their support for change from the rooftops, despite not having the faintest idea how to bring it about,

Such phenomena by no way indicate a lack of credibility in the original argument, but they certainly undermine its potential for real tangible results. Voices of feckless cheerleaders drown out those with practical, actionable ideas which could potentially lead to the change sought in the first place. This unfortunate situation seems to have fallen upon many of the important drives for change in the education profession, including ELT.

I’m writing this post not just out of frustration, but in support of people in the world who have real ideas that could lead to positive changes in the education sector. Don’t let your voices be drowned out by the bandwagon. Keep innovating, and never let your efforts be undermined by the occasional onslaught of populist rhetoric.

Things to AVOID when learning a foreign language

So our brains are constantly trying to take shortcuts when learning a new language. Even a glimpse of a familiar cultural image can affect our fluency in our new language.

I feel like this is a call for experiments with classrooms in the dark, or possibly blindfolding… might need to get the lawyers in on this one.

AIYSHAH'S ENGLISH PAGE

….Just to warn you listeners first, this guy has some VERY interesting points to make, but does speak really fast, so replay it if you need to.

elit laugh 1

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THINK OUTSIDE the BOX to learn English faster

I love a good call to break out of the traditional boring classroom lesson!

AIYSHAH'S ENGLISH PAGE

box

(Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1aUlNCw)

Whenever I hear someone say to me to think outside the box I always imagine myself going outside and standing on my head.  It’s a great place to start. It shakes down all those ideas that were blocking the top of your head to the bottom and the ones that were stuck at the bottom can trickle up to the top.

Nice way to look at it.

But basically this title of ‘thinking outside the box’ is really all about being creative, trying something new and not being afraid to fail.

So let’s first look at what is ‘thinking inside the box’:

  • Taking a course
  • Doing your homework
  • Getting a one to one teacher

As you can see I have only written 3 and that is because ‘thinking inside the box’ is incredibly limited. … That’s why we recommend thinking outside the box.

So…

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My one-to-one student just wants to chat

Recipes for the EFL Classroom

So, after planning a lesson tailored to the needs of the individual student, all they seem to want to do is have a chat. You start to wonder if it is worth planning the lesson at all.   Then there’s an occasional pang of guilt when you think about how much the student is paying just for ‘a chat’.

This is, I’m sure, a familiar situation for many an EFL teacher. A one-to-one lesson naturally lends itself to a less structured approach. The teaching situation, in fact conforms very much to the three tenets of Dogme teaching (Lessons are Conversation Driven, Materials Light, and focus on Emerging Language).

But what about that nagging thought? What would the student say they learned in that lesson? Are they making progress? Are they aware of the progress they are making?

What this lesson would benefit from is a good amount of…

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