We can’t deny that some aspects of face-to-face language training are irreplaceable. In an ideal world, connecting with trainers and classmates in person has intrinsic value. But how does this value rank among other factors when building a business case for training? This insight looks at the advantages of virtual language training, and how these can actually surpass the fully immersive experience of face-to-face corporate language training in their ability to meet business objectives.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to the future of language training in terms of how it is delivered. There are those that suggest that there can be no alternative for corporate face-to-face language training as it is the closest approximation to creating a contextual environment.
What makes virtual training more impactful?
- Flexibility: it answers the needs of today’s learners: study where you want, when you want
- A richer, wider diversity of trainers that specifically answer the learner’s training needs and learning style(s).
- Personalization: it is a chance to personalize the learning journey only afforded in expensive one-to-one classes in F2F learning
- Authenticity: online language resources updated daily help ensure that course content is relevant and interesting for learners
- A safe environment: for learners who may feel shy, the anonymity of the internet can feel like a safe space where it’s OK to make mistakes
- The best of both worlds: far from existing as an alternative, virtual language training actually brings good teaching and learning to learners via the portals and paths they regularly travel
Agile learning experience
A well understood architype of online language learning is that it allows for a more agile learning experience: the learning comes to the learner, not the other way around.
Furthermore, imagine language training where you can log in to your account and choose your own trainer, based on what you want.
It is a chance to explore different learning styles in order to find one that suits. It is a chance to listen to different accents and grammatical nuances from around the world and not need to follow the same learning path as everyone else, go to different language schools, or travel anywhere.
The learning comes to the learner, not the other way around
In the past, even those that could afford one-to-one tuition, had to adhere to a school’s often inflexible timetable, were limited to the trainers on offer and classes used up time completing exercises rather than practicing learning objectives in context.
The cheaper end of the scale for one-to-one classes meant going to an unqualified teacher to attend classes that probably didn’t have a structured learning path.
However, online learning allows for a greater offering and more flexibility in terms of time, learning styles and frequency with which one can engage, along a language learning journey.
A good platform will also offer a myriad of authentic materials, ensuring that the cultural element of learning a language is contemporary and topical.
Another positive element of online rather than physical face-to-face learning is that learners who may be shy and not comfortable in experimenting with a new language in a traditional classroom-setting, are able to feel safer and therefore are less likely to let anxiety hinder their progress.
In a classroom without walls, learners have a safety blanket.
A good provider of online language solutions does not reject good teaching and exemplary pedagogical approaches. On the contrary, online platforms can allow for a greater range and enhanced teaching and learning opportunities.
Maintaining the human connection
The usual drawback that people highlight is the lack of social interaction. How can one possibly feel truly connected to the language and culture? And what about the pronunciation?
Language training platforms have moved on from where they were a decade ago. Applications or platforms that rely purely on repetition, use only online flashcards or simply provided an uploaded textbook have long been proven to not engage learners.
Today’s language learning platforms now encompass various styles of learning (whether audio, visual, kinesthetic, etc.), allowing learners to choose how they want to deal with errors and progress.
Many platforms even offer pronunciation practice through AI capabilities. Add in a blended approach to language learning and this increases learner engagement further.
To overcome the feeling of detachment in the online learning context, there are providers that offer online group classes, akin to traditional corporate face-to-face language training but in the Cloud.
Take that a step further, and unlike traditional language schools, online classes allow learners to choose the session time that best suits them. No longer do learners have to turn up for class at the same time each week and if they cannot make a class, they don’t need to lose out.
Measuring learner engagement and progress
Another criticism that is attributed to the flexibility of online learning is that it means some learners will quickly drop off.
The paucity of structure (i.e. the same class, the same time each week) and a need for discipline to complete tasks outside of class alone, mean that after an initial honeymoon period, many don’t feel engaged.
On the contrary, whilst that may have been a valid criticism in the past, numerous online language providers find innovative ways to keep the learner engaged.
For example, bite-sized learning allows learners to do the parts of their program as and when they want, meaning they can complete their vocabulary exercises on their daily commute or with their feet up in the garden.
With a flipped-classroom approach, trainers ensure a complete loop in learning topics. By setting work before the class, then engaging with the learner in a live session, then following up with feedback and short tasks, learners feel engaged and that they are progressing.
Equally, some providers even offer a drop-in service, where learners can hang out in an online class without having to schedule the session. These sessions are usually informal, although still structured.
Many learners prefer these sessions to corporate face-to-face language training, as they don’t feel so vulnerable.
Furthermore, allowing the learner to move between units and levels as they desire, doesn’t impede or interrupt the language learning journey. Rather, it allows the learner to find elements of the language that particularly interest them or that they feel they need to improve on.
There is nothing worse than being stuck in a class where you either cannot keep up or you are way ahead of your peers in one area of learning.
What about feedback?
Studies have shown that the paucity of feedback is one reason that some learners prefer face-to-face language delivery. However, this is a matter of functionality and process and quality providers have found innovative ways to address this.
Errors can be programmed to reappear (through flashcards for example) to ensure learners are reminded about them. The platform may also give learners the chance to repeat areas of difficulty and trainers can observe which areas learners struggle with and can offer feedback.
Furthermore, in well-engineered platforms, learners can feedback on their activities and sessions in the online world continuously and without fear up upsetting anyone.
Even after a synchronous session, trainers can follow up with a summary of the class.
It means no more filling in questionnaires handed out by the trainer and expecting learners to complete it in front of them or learners filling in an end-of-course survey that will unlikely take into consideration particular pedagogical methodologies or activities.
One current drawback is that there is no accreditation in the world of online language learning, unlike in many physical language schools, where quality is assured through accreditation schemes like the British Council (the UK), International House’s Affiliation scheme (global), QQI (Ireland), CEA (United States).
As yet, there are no assured parameters for online language learning quality, although eminent providers will still pledge qualified language teaching professionals, data safety (such as ISO 27001, SCORM compliance, GDPR compliance), clear pedagogical approaches (with clear learning outcomes) and good customer service.
Blended is best
There is a place for corporate face-to-face language training study and although it may not be as popular as it was, it still suits certain types of learner. For example, the retired who see language school classes as a social option, for those that are new to an area or for those that are interested in study travel.
However, for those that need to balance acquiring a new skill with a busy lifestyle, a good online pedagogical approach, such as with those providers that use interactive platforms there is a clear option.
A blended approach, bite-sized learning and content aligned to the learner’s aims, allows for better language acquisition.
Moreover, the additional soft skills that are acquired when learning a language (increased memory skills, better listening skills and better problem solving) are mirrored in online options, as well as the increased ability to work virtually, get accustomed to technology and interact with people around the world.
These are all skills that are increasingly vital in today’ educational and professional spaces.
The old reproach that online language learning doesn’t help with fluency is no longer valid. Whilst there is a way to go for AI to develop enough to replicate a face-to-face teacher, the teacher no longer must be within the same room. Moreover, developing a good working relationship with a tutor is not lost through the utilization of an online platform, but can be just as rewarding.
Digital training for digital natives
Given that learners are increasingly digitally native, and that one-to-one learning is no longer the preserve of the abundant training budget and given that metrics and progression can be easily mapped and actually further engage learners, the future for online language learning is certain.
So where does this leave traditional corporate face-to-face language training? It might not be dead and there will always be an argument for immersive learning in context and for those that wish to do it for sociable reasons. However, the question is no longer about why you would participate in online learning, but why you wouldn’t! The classroom just got more global, more agile, more relevant and more exciting.