This is a summary of Nik Peachey‘s talk titled “Learning a language online – How we can ensure quality?” where he focused on the challenges of learning and teaching online for the IATEFL LTSIG OLLReN web conference on Oct 7, 2016. The conference presented research into how teachers use technology.
Online learning and teaching are topics that often get discussed in terms of the challenges they pose. However, rarely do we get to hear robust solutions that respond to these challenges. In his talk on ensuring quality in online language learning, Nik Peachey presented challenges both from the perspectives of teachers and students and followed them up with some ways of mitigating them by sharing initiatives that he has supported or led at English Up, a 100% online school.
With online learning, students face a range of challenges, including the double-edge of experience where poor previous online learning experience can affect their perception of the course they are taking and those who are completely new to this mode of learning may lack the technical knowhow to navigate the course. Staying focused and motivated over a longer term may be challenging for students who believe the online format translates to quick results. Lastly, the online environment can be very isolating.
It’s interesting how the challenges faced by teachers mirror those of their learners, pivoting on the very same double-edged sword of experience. Teachers who are often used to working within a larger physical space with the freedom to walk up to their learners, may feel constricted by the fact that they have to do all that and more seated in a chair. Rapport and paralinguistic behaviours operate differently in the online environment. Teachers may also lack the technical toolset to be successful online and like their learners, feel cut off from their both students and other teaching professionals.
Nik placed the human element firmly at the heart of his solutions (Nik called this ‘human on board’). He suggested that early and direct teacher-student contact, learner training, and structured support through goal setting and period reviews could motivate learners to stay focused. He highlighted the first three months as a critical period for these pastoral conversations when students are most likely to drop out. For teachers, he proposed mentoring and peer support, regular sharing of anonymised student feedback, group action points derived from video observations, facilitating an online community for teachers, and providing training and development using the very same online platforms.
Using clean, simple, elegant slides Nik compellingly made the case for building a cohesive online learning community of teachers and students. These genuinely seem to be practical solutions because they leverage the affordances of the online environment, rather than resist them.