It may seem like a novelty, but distance learning and, more specifically, online learning have been around for a while. The first fully online course was offered by the University of Toronto (UofT) in 1984. The University of Phoenix became the first to offer both bachelor’s and master’s degrees online in 1989.
My first contact with the Internet was in 1996 in Australia. It was kind of flimsy as there were not many other people in the world with access to the world wide web and there wasn’t much out there in terms of content.
In the past 25 years much has changed, so much so that it is almost impossible to imagine a world where information isn’t at our fingertips. And yet, in spite of our familiarity with the Internet, online education had never seemed to be in the centre of the debate. Online shopping? Absolutely. Entertainment? Definitely. The future of music, literature and dating has been widely discussed. And still, learning seemed to be relegated to the fringes of the discussion.
The world today
Faced with the Coronavirus pandemic, schools were forced to close their doors and all classes were transposed to online platforms. While it is true that online learning did not need to be invented in 2020, it was still all but an afterthought to many learners and educators.
Now that most of us have dipped our toes in the waters of online learning, what should we expect from it?
Well, it definitely is here to stay and here is why:
- It costs less – as students (and schools) don’t have to bear the brunt of property rental, maintenance, taxes and so on.
- It saves time – as it cuts on the commute time. Need I say more?
- It allows you to study anywhere – as you are no longer bound by your geographical location. If you wish to take a course that would otherwise require you to travel to another country, well, now you can do that without the added cost (and stress) of visas, insurance, airfare, accommodation, etc.
- It is safe – social distancing and all.
- It is more flexible – you can actually set your own pace.
However, online learning is no bed of roses. Firstly, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea – and it is absolutely fine. Secondly, it comes with its own hurdles along the way:
- It requires Internet access – with good bandwidth.
- It requires access to a computer – which can run the softwares needed for class.
- It needs some level of digital literacy – enough tool usage and troubleshooting when needed.
- It demands self-discipline – as there will be nobody to push and motivate you.
- It needs organization – as you are the one in charge of your studying schedule.
- It may be lonely – which may be a problem for the social butterflies.
What you need to know before you choose
If you are thinking about giving Online Learning a go, here are a couple of things you might want to keep in mind:
- Is it a ‘prefabricated’ course?
Cost wise it might be a good option as these ‘ready-to-go’ online courses and platforms serve a great number of people, but they are, usually, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ kind of thing. Some examples are Duolingo, italki, Lingoda, Busuu, etc.
- Do I get to meet my tutor?
Sometimes there is no interaction between learner and tutor at all. Sometimes learners only interaction with a tutor will be in the form of feedback. Sometimes each class is taught a different tutor. Before committing to a course, make sure you know and are comfortable with the learner-teacher relationship.
- Are there tests?
Different types of tests provide different views on learning and performance. It is important to understand how, why and when you are writing tests. But it is even more important to have access to feedback.
- Does the course match my needs?
A general English course will not cover test preparation needs nor will it prepare you to communicate in a business environment. Before choosing a course, it is important to have it clear how it will help you achieve your goals.
Now, should you opt for a private tutor, a number of different aspects must be considered – besides the ones above:
- How will classes be delivered?
Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp, Google Classroom, FaceTime, YouTube… There are many tools available nowadays so it is important to determine which will be used and make sure you have access to it.
- What kinds of materials will we use?
Am I required to purchase a textbook? Will I be provided with any materials? Do I need a PDF reader?
- What are the teacher’s qualifications?
What kind of training does the teacher have? What kind of experience? In general, having a teaching certificate such as CELTA or TESOL is a good start.
If you are not sure what you are looking for, there is plenty of free content online that can help you get started. Feel free to browse our blog and check our social media for tips on learning English.
And if you need a hand, don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
Dudeney, G., & Hockly, N. (2019). How to teach English with technology. Harlow, Essex: Pearson Education Limited.