I don’t know what it is but we at eltjam are feeling a little nostalgic. It might be that we’ve met our 500th follower on twitter this week. It might be the spate of glorious weather that the UK is revelling in. Who knows? Either way, it’s at times like this that it makes sense to look up from the doleful glow of the computer monitor, open a blind or two and take stock of a few things. One such thing that we’d like to reflect upon in the giddy glow of this English summer is what we’ve learnt since we launched the eltjam site back in April this year.
Since the inception of the site we’ve been conducting regular micro-interviews with a colourful range of contacts from across the ELTosphere. The format is simple: there are ten questions and each question has a 140 character limit. The idea is to encourage the interviewee to reduce their thoughts, ideas and predictions down into a potent, prescient broth. The contributors represent every aspect of the broad edu-publishing spectrum; teachers, trainers, designers, publishers, editors, writers, edtech evangelists. Effectively, those who care for, comment on and create educational materials. So far we’ve proudly posted these communiques as they’ve been coming in, but what a perfect time to start collating all those responses to see what we’re able to learn from all the micro-interviews we’ve conducted; what patterns emerge? What predictions feature most commonly? Here’s a brief summary of the answers to each question; it’s quite remarkable what emerges when these are condensed down …
What’s the most interesting thing happening in ELT right now?
A definite theme that emerges in these responses is the evolutionary force of the internet and the enabling capabilities that it represents: Teachers are connecting with each other in self-organising communities of interest. Change in education is being driven from the grassroots as opposed to the traditional top-down approach as long-established roles in edu-publishing are being challenged and reassessed. Teachers are increasingly becoming content creators rather than consumers, whilst publishers are (or should be) becoming more education-minded in their behaviour and operations. There is increasingly a blurring of the real and virtual worlds in the content that is being introduced in the learning environment.
What do you think the developments in EdTech mean for learners of English?
Again, there are some key ideas and interpretations that come to the foreground with this question: Learners are able to lead the way when it comes to their learning experiences, preferences and objectives. Learning will become more personalised and will increasingly become integrated into daily life. Learners can liberate themselves from the entrenched ‘one size fits all’ classroom models. EdTech will engender and promote flexible and diverse modes of learning. However, learners will need to be more discerning in order to filter the quality content from the con. There are always empty promises and exploited learners in EdTech learning environments, as well as the unnecessary undermining of the vital role of an actual teacher when it comes to effective, meaningful learning.
What do you think the developments in EdTech mean for teachers?
Interestingly, the perception of EdTech’s impact on teachers is less positive: Teachers will be under pressure to work with the new tools. There will be an increasing pressure put upon educators to be perceived as being a ‘tech-savvy’ teacher as opposed to an inspirational one. New platforms and products will require more work and attention that will need to be diverted away from actual learning opportunities. However, it is a necessary disruption that will help teachers to develop and grow as professionals. Change is inevitable and they need to move forward towards a potentially liberating and rewarding paradigm shift. Teachers will need to ‘up-skill’ and engage their own critical thinking skills.
What do you think the developments in EdTech mean for publishers?
Our interviewees had some strikingly similar things to say about the fortune of publishers in the EdTech age: Publishers must change or die. Revenues will be lost and redundancies will be made as companies make mad dashes to restructure. Publishers will need to seriously rethink their strategy and pedagogical approaches as focus will move from brand names to the actual quality of the materials. However, it’s a ripe time for small companies that are able to pay attention to the developments and innovate. Innovators will be the victors. Self-publishers are going to be taking the ‘old boys’ on at their own game.
Gamification: Fad or future?
A cheeky question intended to split opinion but one that actually, remarkably, generated the most consistent responses: Gamification will become a mainstream option over time. Publishers will need to be informed experts in the strategy (rather than wagon-chasing opportunists) in order to get any meaningful return on their attempts.
How will mobile learning transform ELT?
This was another question that generated similar responses and revealed a surprisingly frank take on the longevity of the classroom-based learning experience: Mobile learning won’t necessarily change anything; classrooms will always have students and teachers. Tech is for outside of the classroom, whereas classrooms are for real and meaningful interactions. The underlying principles of language learning will remain unaltered by mobile devices and their applications, although it may present itself as a viable homework option. More favourable commentators view it as a way of encouraging learners to access learning opportunities anywhere, at any time. There is a the ability to take learning into the real world and the real world into the language learning classroom.
What next for online learning?
As expected, we got some great responses. Check back in a couple of years to confirm how prescient these were: There are opportunities for augmented reality, ebooks, more advanced LMS platforms, On Demand courses tailored to a learner’s requirements, non-linear, blended MOOC-type courses, mobile platforms, globally inclusive courses accessed through a smartphone. Furthermore, there will be the stabilising influences of HTML5 as well as the dominance of the Tin Can API. However, there will be the ubiquitous ‘snake oil’ solutions peddled by opportunists. Teachers will need substantial training and support to make the online space more collaborative and effective.
How will ELT be different 5 years from now?
There was a strong commonality between the responses to this question and one that (again) reveals how vital the ‘basics’ of language learning are perceived as being: There will still be classrooms and teachers and students working together inside them. These classes won’t necessarily be any more communicative, but perhaps tech will be more integrated. Grammar and vocab will still be required (Grammar In Use projected directly onto your glasses? *shudder*). There will still be tension within the ELT as it tries to keep up with tech. However, the more integrated use of tech will help to provide more individualised learning pathways and autonomous learners. There will be better online materials and a more effective, seamless convergence of online and real worlds. We may see the rise of crow-sourced publishing initiatives and the major publishers (or those that remain) adapting their strategy to mimic that approach.
And there we have it; a run down of the what the our micro-interviews uncovered over the last few months. Watch this space for a new round of questions that will hopefully get the collective ELT consciousness visualising the next step in ELT’s relentless evolution.