Putting Educational Innovations into Practice.

As the world becomes increasingly connected socially and economically, demand for English language tuition has grown in line with the language's global reach. From business people to students, nurses to diplomats, English is the most widely used 'lingua franca' in international relations, and as such, learning English is a high priority throughout the world. The ability to teach and learn the English language online has been facilitated by the rise of widespread, free to use, high-end video streaming applications and hardware, and the world is turning on to this new method of training delivery.

How does it work?

Merging video streaming software like Skype with the now standard high-spec webcams means that online video conferencing is free, easy to use, and of high enough quality to use commercially. This takes care of the face-to-face needs of students and teachers, and whilst it's not the same as seeing each other in person, the visual cues and biofeedback necessary for communication are there, and the learning process can take place. The online experience has all the same basic characteristics of normal English teaching, with video conferencing taking care of the live classroom aspect, and specially designed websites filling the gap traditionally filled by libraries or study rooms - specially designed resource centres where the student and teacher can communicate about coursework, work on their language tasks and be graded. Together, resource-filled websites and video conferencing provide all the elements necessary for English to be taught and learned and, in many ways, this personalised experience can be more efficient and targeted than traditional on-location language tuition.

What are the benefits?

With an individual login and profile space on the resource website, a student can work through language tasks set by their teacher, and with the interactivity of the modern internet, tasks can be made interesting and fun, with reading, writing, listening and comprehension skills tested thoroughly in exercises created specifically for the sites. Grammar can be taught in a variety of ways, and the amount of resources available far outweigh anything a teacher could physically bring in to a classroom - the student can work as much as he or she wants, with their progress guided by the teacher, who logs into the same website and follows his or her student's coursework, tracking their progress along a pre-defined syllabus. One of the compulsory elements of learning English is practice writing skills. That is why often you have to write an essay. To do this, there are many online services (one of them ) that help you to understand the structure of the essay, the main theses or phraseologisms that are appropriate to use in your essay. When fluency or pronunciation are being taught, video conferencing can provide the guidance and practice needed, while consolidating the language skills already learned. It's a very efficient system, and people around the world are starting to make use of it as an alternative, or complimentary aid to their traditional studies.

Why it's a growing trend...

Learning English typically meant travelling to a place where English was either natively spoken or at least in widespread use by the local population. Holidays were merged with studies as language-tourism boomed, and entire resorts became known as language centres where summertime students would turn up in their droves to enjoy the sea, sun and an immersive language experience. Whilst this is fundamentally an efficient system, still in full swing and providing first-class tuition to hundreds of thousands of students each year, a niche was left for those who couldn't afford, either because of time or money, to take the time needed for such an education. It's a busy world, and jetting off to the Mediterranean for four weeks isn't practical for everyone. In some cases, employers will fund the travel as employee-development, but for many, the sort of time-windows enjoyed by those in their late teens and early twenties are a thing of the past. This is one area where online tuition becomes a really useful option, as used either exclusively, or in conjunction with a shorter trip abroad, it's completely flexible, fitting into the time slots the student defines for his or herself. You can literally have lessons in the comfort of your own home with work being completed whenever you can find the time - an attractive proposition for those already juggling with their responsibilities. When time's not the problem, the sheer expense of travelling abroad - accommodation, food, expenses and the course itself can prove prohibitive, and distance learning becomes an ideal solution enabling studies at a fraction of the cost.

What's next?

The language school is far from threatened by the online revolution, as the desire to travel and immerse yourself in the language or just enjoy the social aspects of studies will always be around. Distance learning is, instead, and excellent accompaniment to traditional studies - a fact characterised by the myriad of correspondence courses which have worked for so many years, and have found their full potential thanks to the digital progress of the last decade. The interactivity once missing in correspondence is ably addressed by online resources and video conferencing, providing a vibrant new option for those wishing to learn the dominant, and increasingly global language.

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