RELAX AND UNWIND - with online learning
While the advantages of online learning are often written about, I have found myself asking "but why does online work?!" I came up with this little theory, which also tallies with my own need as a teacher: to teach in a manner and environment that is natural, relaxed and friendly.
A Popular Brave New World
Learning online still seems to ruffle the feathers of cynicism in lots of us (myself included, initially) and yet those of us who have braved this not so new world, just can´t turn back. There has to be something in it. In 2013 The Online Learning Consortium commissioned research into online learning in the US. They found 5.5million higher education students already taking online courses and they predict by 2018 more than half US students would be taking online courses. So it´s popular. During my hours of online teaching I have often wondered “WHY?” why does online education work so well? For teachers the obvious and often stated reasons are; the functions, the synchronous components in the class such as video, audio, screen share, break out rooms etc. For teachers and students alike it´s the time saving (no travel), the money saving (no travel!), the anytime, any place, anywhere advantages of online. However I believe beyond all of these reasons, psychologically, online learning makes sense and here´s why;
Most of us have experienced that “sucked in” effect of T.V., Somehow having so much stimulation and activity squeezed into a small screen captivates us and the world around us dissipates into nothingness – much like the sleep state (perhaps those who listen to language courses in their sleep have some reason). An online lesson has that same effect – it´s like being face to face without all those distractions calling to you; windows begging to be gazed out of, fellow students hair does and attitudes, interruptions from receptionists, printer breakdowns...You are left with a simple yet engaging virtual class, a teacher and the student, all but physically in the class. They are relaxed and comfortable whether at their desk, on a train or sitting in their favourite armchair, they are exactly where they have chosen to be, they are in a sense, in control – immediately in a more peaceful state of mind, not panicking about getting back to the office in time, not worrying about what to cook for dinner and not fretting about the traffic jams on the way to collect the kids from after-school club.
Now let´s regard communication during the lessons. There´s the possibility of using the webcam – I use mine, my students don´t have to but often enjoy to. Once again the control is in the hands of the learner, they have the choice and so they are relaxed. The voice connection can be via Skype, landline, or a conference call. Phones do for communication what T.V.´s do for attention, they enable us to fully engage in the communication, all barriers are stripped away. During role-play lessons I notice how given a phone to talk into (even a toy phone) students suddenly become quite animated and more engaged in role-plays. Online classes naturally take on this advantage. Speaking on the phone somehow erodes barriers, boosts our confidence and in turn allows us to speak without fear. Online lessons are exactly the same! Being relaxed, less self conscious and more in control, I always say allows us to be half way towards using perfect spoken language.
The Cafe Effect
These factors contribute to a more balanced relationship between teacher and student. The class is not held in either participant’s office/academy/home/school, it´s a no-mans-land, where everything is shared and owner-less, where personally I prefer to think of myself as a facilitator rather than a teacher. The virtual classroom puts us in more equal positions, we are not so much teacher/student but more friends, as if sitting in a café having a cup of tea (yes, I will definitely have a cup of tea) and a chat.
Get results while Relaxing?
I have seen significant differences between student rates of progress in my class taught lessons when compared to my online lessons. Online proves better. In 2009 research showed the results from online courses produced higher marks than their classroom taught equivalent ( Dobbs, Waid and Del Carmen). With the development and constant improvement of software and platforms – these results we can only assume are still improving and will continue to do so. Online is not just popular it´s also productive, it works! The question arises “Is it the online element that helps or the relaxation?” Perhaps we could conclude that success in learning (languages) is largely based on being relaxed. Great news, a stress-free environment and situation is something we have available with a virtual class; when combined with the engaging and stimulating tools (mentioned above) available literally at our finger tips and a teacher who knows how to get the most from them, it seems obvious why online is becoming more and more popular. We can now all benefit from an enjoyable, productive, quality lesson that feels safe and relaxed – anywhere.
Bridie Jackson is an English Teacher and Cultural Communication Consultant with a BA in Human communications and diverse experience in teaching, coaching and consulting. She works for herself at Teapot English – and has taught over 1,000 tailor made yet fun, online lessons - English you can sit back and relax with ;)