What’s changing in English Language Teaching?

Cambridge University Press’s Better Learning conference this summer brought together ELT influencers and decision-makers from around the world to discuss issues facing students and teachers today and the trends we can expect to see in the near future. José Antonio Mendez, Cambridge’s Director of Global Market Research gives us a summary of the outcomes.

The Better Learning conference

CUP Better Learning conferenceThe Better Learning conference took place in Cambridge across three days. It offered ELT professionals a programme of plenaries and break-out sessions delivered by industry experts, designed to provide insights, content and inspiration, with the aim of helping the profession improve results both inside and outside the classroom. We had 75 delegates from 23 countries, ranging from influential teachers in large language chains in Turkey, to members of government education boards responsible for setting a national agenda. They were also joined by research and academic professors from countries as far reaching as Mexico to Japan.

After much discussion and debate, we emerged with a consensus on how the needs of ELT educators are likely to change over the next five years. Personalised learning for both instructors and learners emerged as the recurring theme across Primary, Secondary, and Adult.

Key trends identified for Primary

CUP Better Learning conferenceAssessment for Learning and Differentiated Instruction dominated the discussion. Differentiated Instruction is based on the idea that learning is an ongoing process, and should be adaptable to students of varying skill levels, interests and backgrounds. This should mean the teacher is always setting a level of challenge for each student which is at the optimum level.

How can they do that?

While there is a strong sense amongst primary teachers that a one-size-fits-all approach won’t address the needs of mixed-ability classes, implementing Differentiated Instruction in a way that is relevant, fluid and engaging is not an easy task – unless you have the supporting materials to back it up.

Teachers often tackle students’ varying needs with their own ingenuity, but differentiated learning as an integral part of published materials will become increasingly important. We’ll begin to see scaffolded approaches embedded more firmly into the course materials themselves.

How will that work?

It could take the form of different pedagogical features in textbooks and digital courses – simple approaches like signalling to highlight a particular element of the course material means students who need an extra hint have it ready, but those who are familiar with the material already are unlikely to be influenced by signalled content.

Trends for Secondary

Laura Patsko at the Cambridge Better Learning conferenceWe all know that secondary schools are working under tight budgets and increasing demands from families and government programs, and lean teaching will only become more of a priority – by which I mean teaching which improves the perceived value of secondary education and, for private schools in particular, shows the parents and guardians paying the fees that they are getting good value. This will mean it’s ever more important to provide professional development materials and programmes which improve the skills of teachers. As the world grows more digital, this could mean better training to integrate digital resources into day-to-day teaching, which in turn will help them to address the knowledge gap between instructors and students in the use of digital resources, and become more effective in using the growing body of digital curricular and assessment materials. There is also a high demand for differentiation and personalisation in teachers’ professional development materials, which will help them address the specific demands of the setting where they work.

Secondary teachers are also increasingly being asked to teach bilingually, something which has been widely employed in international schools for some time, but will likely soon be taken up in the Secondary curriculum more broadly. An ever-increasing number of secondary schools are being tasked with implementing a CLIL approach with adolescents and young adults. This will mean greater demand for tools which help teachers identify the parts of their curriculum where instructional English can be improved, or new training strategies which address the difficulties of using English in a specific, sometimes technical, context – ultimately focused on how using English in cross-curricular contexts can help their learners succeed.

Trends for Adult

Personalised learning and the coexistence of digital and “traditional” content dominated the discussion, with a clear need for programmes which provide flexible learning in order to address the needs and interests of learners from different fields of work and study. In line with this, we expect to see a lot more materials which support English for Specific Purposes (ESP) in ELT by 2020.

As with learning in schools, there was also a call for digital resources with the potential to facilitate individualised learning – though not for the same reasons that primary teachers require them. Adult classrooms likely have a broad range of students, whose interests range from law, to business, to science, and they will use their immediate English skills in a wider range of contexts than younger learners. Materials and resources which support ESP and can be adapted by students and teachers alike will become a key offering for adult learners. This should help ensure that learning is contextualised at a local level, and adaptable to the needs of different institutions.

One feature that teachers of adult learners hope to see emerging is supporting materials for teaching EAP, with a particular emphasis on teaching the language of critical thinking for students to incorporate into their assignments at university level. This adaptive and personalised approach also applies to professional development programs for instructors.


Jose Antoni MendezJosé Antonio Mendez has been working in ELT for over 20 years, with most of his experience devoted to market research and intelligence. Jose Antonio holds a BA in Linguistics and Education and a PhD in Linguistics. He is currently the Market Research Director at Cambridge University Press, and he’s based in New York.

2 thoughts on “What’s changing in English Language Teaching?”

  1. How far can we adapt new English methods in a context where teachers have only a data show material and use videos and audios in listening skills to develop students abilities and create motivation in learning.Is a data show sufficient enough,how can we introduce more efficient methods to modernise aour teaching ?

  2. Interesting post! I think that when we look back to the past to review our predictions of the future, they’re almost always wrong! I hope that your predictions, especially the one about the importance of differentiation in the classroom turns out to be true. Whatever changes happen to ELT in the future are going to be big and are going to happen fast! It’s an exciting time to be a teacher.


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