There’s a lot of chatter about how Edtech is going to revolutionize learning. Fancy terms like ‘personalized learning’ and ‘adaptive learning’ get bandied about as if Edtech was a panacea for everything that’s wrong with education. But I find it curious that what’s often missing from these conversations are “specifics”. When I hear Edtech, I wonder, is it going to help ALL of education and ALL subjects in the SAME way?
Are the effects of Edtech for sciences going to be the same for social sciences? For the arts? How about language learning?
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to know that biology is different from trigonometry, and both are wildly different from history and literature – both of which are different from something like, say, learning a language.
At LEARNx, we spend a lot of time thinking about languages, but specifically, the role of technology in language learning. As a team, we’re consumed with questions like:
- Should digital technology be the medium for delivering instruction and knowledge?
- Or should technology serve as a platform for connecting people?
- How much language learning can be learned through digital media?
- What is the nature of ‘language learning’ that makes it different from learning something like ‘math’ and ‘science’?
Through trial and error – probably more errors than we’d care to say – we’ve gained some important insights about language learning and the role that technology plays.
1. English cannot be taught in the same way as Math and Science
If this sounds obvious – it is. Yet, somehow this point is rarely brought up when the promise of Edtech is discussed. Learn Education, our sister company, takes a different approach when using digital technology for math versus biology instruction. The team realized that math instruction needed to be more ‘active’ so they incorporated elements of ‘active-based learning’ where lessons were divided into alternating mix of concept-activity-concept-activity, with heavy doses of in-person group work to compliment the time students spend in front of screens consuming instruction. Biology, on the other hand, required longer explanations of conceptual information that was best delivered through digital animation – thus digital technology is used in longer spurts. To facilitate learning to communicate in English, we realized we couldn’t have learners passively consume media, no matter how well produced our digital content was. Rather, we need to use the digital platform as a means to connect learners with other people – so that actual production of language is encouraged.
2. Digital media encourages passive consumption, but it’s the people that makes learning interactive
This brings us to our second point: digital media, central to many Edtech approaches, encourages consumption of information. This is necessary when animating how certain chemical elements are formed in a science lecture or demonstrating mathematical operations. And, for certain aspects of language learning, like demonstrating phonetic sounds and separating phonemes to teach blending, digital media can be a great help. However, communication is fundamentally an active process; it requires production and interaction, so relying primarily on digital media is incomplete. It’s people that make language learning interactive. Thus, digital tools are better served connecting people.
3. A hybrid mix of online- and offline- works for language learning
While we seek to create an immersive and engaging experience on the LEARNx digital platform, connecting learners with high quality coaches, there’s something about an “in person, in the flesh” experience that heightens language learning. There’s something about being in community with other learners, realizing the same struggle to communicate in a second language. There’s something about connecting with other learners to share experiences and tips in learning another language. There’s something about being in the same room as another learner, communicating in ways, verbal and nonverbal that often gets lost in digital translation. At LEARNx, we seek to connect our learners to rich, interactive and engaging learning experiences, whether it’s at the convenience of their own laptop online or in-person at one of our dynamic workshops.
While we’ve learned a lot about how technology can be leveraged to teach language communication skills, there’s much more we can do. One thing’s for sure, at LEARNx we’ll continue to think critically about the role of technology in language learning, tinkering, testing and trying new approaches along the way.
Still curious? Learn more about LEARNx here: