In recent years we have seen an increase in online learning. This is due to a number of factors, not least of which is the fact that learning online is more time-efficient than attending a face-to-face course. However, from a practical point of view, which model is the most efficient, and why are we choosing one over the other?
Online learning can be very easy to incorporate into one’s work schedule, since it is the trainer who will need to accommodate the learner’s time zone, and is an excellent way of continuing one’s learning after a face-to-face course has ended. Many learners find that after they have completed a course, and return to their everyday working environment, they tend to forget to use the knowledge they had previously acquired. This would not be the case if a learner opts for an online learning course in the interim between actual face-to-face courses.
Another popular use of online learning is that of getting a trainer to check one’s work before a document is submitted (an annual report or a University assignment, to give just two examples). The trainer could not only correct the work, but could also talk to the learner and show him/her what mistakes were made and how these could be avoided in the future. By analysing our mistakes, we are also further improving our linguistic skills. The technology available nowadays allows for short-notice (almost on-the-spot) support, that is to-the-point and allows for learning to take place at the exact moment in time when it is needed.
At Elite Learning we also get quite a few requests from people who are preparing for an important presentation. It is not a language course that these people are after, but linguistic support so that they can deliver their message in the clearest, most error-free way possible. Doing a dry-run of a presentation with a trained language professional will also help to instil confidence in the presenter. One can immediately see that the online option in these scenarios makes sense, since it saves time and is economical.
I have outlined a few uses of online learning, and how we can use the technology available to us, to our advantage. However, we can add that a lot of learners are choosing to go on less face-to-face language courses, for a number of reasons (time constraints being the most important), and are opting for online courses instead. From my experience I feel that online learning can be very effective, especially if the one-to-one model is adhered to. On the other hand, I have found that one can never replace the trainer, especially when it comes to focusing on pronunciation. Voice recognition software, where one’s pronunciation is tested against a machine, is never as accurate as a real live trainer…there have been times when I, a native English speaker, have tried out various software, and I’ve been told that my pronunciation is below standard, for the simple reason that the programme only supports a handful of varieties. Language trainers will never have a similar problem. Also, they can explain where the learner has gone wrong, and it is through these explanations that the bulk of the learning takes place.
This all said, face-to-face language training still remains the ultimate goal. No amount of microphones and cameras can take over from the proven effectiveness of the human contact. When we work with a trainer face-to-face, the body language and the fact that we are in the same room, in the same context, will ensure that learning is faster and the retention level is higher. There is a good case to be made for online learning, but it is only effective in certain situations. This is why the blended-learning model is taking over the language-learning world by storm: let’s keep our personal contact with our language trainers, but extend learning outside the training room, by means of online training sessions.