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The future of language learning

Three mega trends are currently shaping the future of second language learning.

 

  • The digital leap

 

The advent of digitalization came with a three-fold promise from the very onset: increased reach, decreased cost, and enhanced learning outcomes. The first two were pretty obvious. By going online, learning content could reach anyone with an internet connection and would be accessible at a fraction of the cost of traditional education. MOOCs (massive open online classes) were born – although the great initial expectations would later give way to some disappointment.

But even greater was the revolution leading to enhanced learning outcomes. Its basic principle laid in personalization: teaching to the learner’s individual needs. Long gone was the age when personalization merely amounted to choosing subjects and electives or to self-pacing one’s progression. In its most sophisticated form, powered by a heavy dose of technology and science, personalization came to be known as adaptive learning: when a machine could identify the learner’s strengths and weaknesses along the journey and subtly adjust the learning pace and content accordingly. Elusive at first, it is slowly rising to stardom due to its elegance and considerable impact on learning effectiveness.

 

  • The comeback of (great) teachers

Amidst the initial craze for education technology, many were quick to herald no less than the end of teachers. This notice of termination was at best very, very premature – and most likely completely erroneous. Within a few years, emerging from the hangover, technology resumed its role as a very valuable supplement to teachers, rather than a replacement of them. Teachers are indispensable in their ability to guide and motivate their students. In the case of language learning for young learners, research has shown that social interaction is a prerequisite to learning.

Teachers will remain central in providing social interaction until bots powered by artificial intelligence can deceive language learners in this new avatar of the Turing test. This leaves teachers, say, at least one generation. However, emerging tools are already replacing teachers for increasingly sophisticated tasks. To stay on top, teachers need to embrace a continuously evolving role, reinforcing their strengths in “humanness” to establish a strong rapport with their learners, mastering new technologies and tools, upgrading to higher value-adding tasks, and seizing new opportunities at their disposal. In a word, teachers will need to reposition. Less skilled teachers will disappear and great teachers will thrive. Interestingly, very little is done to guide teachers through this transition, whereas they should be cherished by their employers for the determining role they play in education and the irreplaceable value they bring to the table.

 

  • The rise of outsourcing

Ask any school principal and they will tell you at length how difficult it is to recruit competent language teachers, especially outside of large, sought-after urban centers. Once recruited, it is equally difficult to keep their skills current and equip them with the right tools. To top it all off, after proper training comes the biggest challenge of all retaining them. This should not come as a surprise. Teaching languages to young learners requires scale, expertise and resources that are easier to attain for a limited number of global-expert providers than for a large number of schools. This is why the outsourcing of language learning has already started amongst the most progressive schools on all continents.  We foresee that it will develop into a massive trend.

Sound unlikely? Look around. Until the late 90’s, all IT departments were entrenched within the walls of companies and it appeared to be the only way.  Yet over a relatively short period of time, it became apparent that many things could be done more effectively and efficiently outside than in-house. This led to massive outsourcing of manpower and services, culminating in large-scale web services.

 

We will be discussing these three topics and their repercussions further in our upcoming posts: the digital leap, the comeback of the great teacher and the unstoppable rise of outsourcing. In the meantime we want to hear your thoughts!

 

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