In this blog, I talk to ESL thought leader and co-founder of English Attack!, Paul Maglione, about how language education is changing around the world.
English Attack! offers a new approach to learning English, developed by media and video-gaming experts in collaboration with researchers in cognitive neuroscience.
Paul, how is language education changing around the world?
There’s a lot of interest among teachers in new technology, new software, and in mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.
Another big topic is gamification, which involves applying game-design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging.
Are schools and language institutes dealing with this appropriately?
They’re starting to realize that they need some sort of digital dimension to justify their existence.
What are teachers doing about this?
The more tech-inclined of the teachers are taking the digital revolution one step further with the Flipped Classroom movement.
At the same time, you see the exact opposite: teachers who support the Dogme approach with its emphasis on face-to-face interaction away from the distraction of materials.
There’s a lot of experimentation and a lot more willingness to realize that learners have changed. Therefore, teaching needs to change.
How does China fit in?
With the largest population of EFL learners anywhere, China is the focus of a lot of attention. It’s home to dozens of new commercial language-learning initiatives and some large-scale entrepreneurial initiatives in this field.
Where do you see the ESL industry 10 years from now?
The whole notion of a linear approach to learning – chapter one, lesson one, review questions and exercises at the back of the book – is no longer in synch with the way people learn about things.
Take, for example, new technology: do you think anyone under the age of 50 reads the user manual for an iPad?
What digital technology platforms do is make available to teachers an incredibly large and diverse range of modern materials to use in conjunction with good old learner interaction, pair work, group discussion, and other face-to-face teaching methods.
This can give learners the best of both worlds, improving language-learning outcomes in ways we are only starting to understand.
Abandoning linear teaching takes some getting used to as there is some degree of comfort for the teacher in the structure of the traditional textbook.
And there is a definite learning curve for teachers in terms of integrating technology into their curriculum and lesson plans.
Can we say goodbye to textbooks?
I think the idea of a single textbook or workbook for the learner is already rapidly fading away, and will not necessarily be replaced by a digital equivalent.
Will robots be taking control of the classroom anytime soon?
Absolutely not. Teachers should never feel that legitimate e-learning platforms are trying to find a way of replacing teachers.
Learning a new language is one of the most useful and powerful things a person can do. As educators, we owe it to our learners to keep exploring new ways to make the learning process faster, more enjoyable and more accessible to anyone, anywhere.
That is true progress, and the teacher will always be central to that.
Ok. So where to from here?
ESL industry players of the future will need to abandon their classroom-framed, teacher-led paradigms and come up with approaches that allow learners more freedom and support.
We’ll probably see a lot more specialization as well, as the English language becomes fragmented into ‘sub-languages’ (compare academic English to the language tweens and teens use on social networks).
Learners will seek those service providers that are most closely aligned with their learning needs at that specific moment, whether it be business English, medical English, or the kind of English you might need to ‘fit in’ during a study abroad year at a Californian public high school.
Where do you think the ESL industry is headed? Please comment below.