First of all I would like to thank Bernhard Niesner and Adrian Hilti of busuu as well as the team at IE Business School who took the time and made the effort to set up a survey and then shared its results with the public.
Data is still a scarce resource in education 2.0 and getting some from one of the most successful startups is really valuable. So, let’s take a closer look on the outcome.
The busuu.com Language Barometer 2011 survey was filled in by 16.000 busuu community members coming from over 150 countries. Therefore we ought not forget but have to keep in mind that by nature the data is biased.
As busuu members are already learning via the Internet and also filled in the survey on their computers it should be quite obvious that the classic methods like books, classrooms and CDs don’t come out as winners, right?
The classic methods of language courses abroad 32%, traditional classes 4%, books 2% and CDs 3% still take home 41%. If we then add the 11% of the personal teacher, classic methods are still seen as being most efficient by a total of 52% of their learners.
Remember, it’s not a survey amongst people from Mainstreet with various different backgrounds, it’s a survey amongst busuu members. I find this pretty astonishing.
On the other hand, even busuu was too modest in its analysis, saying that 37% of the users preferred online learning. Looking at the chart I can see at least 44% of busuu’s users preferring online learning plus an additional 4% who learn mobile which would sum up to 48% of the learners prefer to learn online / mobile.
The 11% who prefer learning with a teacher could also be part of the online “coalition” although this might be covered in the 7% video chat / Skype already.
Breaking the numbers for online / mobile learning down we have
- 24% Web 2.0 / Interactive Online Learning
- 13% Individual Online Learning
- 7% Video Chat / Skype
- 2% Mobile Apps
- 2% Podcasts
What I find very interesting is the fact that only a mere 24% of the busuu users think, learning in a web 2.0 environment, e.g. services like busuu, is an efficient manner to learn a language.
Now there are different possible interpretations for all of that. One is of course that busuu users see the service as an additional service to their overall effort of learning a language. Next, we have some aspects that are actually part of the busuu community like 7% Video Chat, 2% Mobile App and 2% Podcasts which would add up to 35%.
Still, that is far away from being the most efficient method and only 3% more than the 32% of users who said that Language Courses abroad are still the most efficient method to learn a language.
Self paced / individual learning with 13% and learning with a personal teacher with 11% are also pretty interesting. That basically means a surprising 13% don’t care about the community aspect of busuu and prefer to learn on their own with flashcards and courses provided by the service. 11% still prefer the personal guidance of a teacher, I think this could be interpreted as 1o1, not group lessons.
To sum this first part of the survey up, only 48% of online learners believe that learning on the Internet or using mobile devices is the most efficient method to learn a new language. 52% of online learners see learning on the Internet as a part of their overall efforts but see classic methods like learning abroad or with a personal teacher as more efficient.
Adding a grain of salt to finish this post off. Communities seem to attract a certain, balanced mix of demographics.
In this survey specifically
- 35% of the participants are between 16 and 25 years
- 22% between 26 and 35 years
- 36% between 36 and 60 years
- 8% are 60 years and above
Let’s say the total of 101% is due to nonchalant rounding.
As a result we basically get the same almost 50/50 ratio between the younger and older busuu learners as you can see in the different preferences of web based and offline learning methods. As the older users grew up learning with those traditional methods it might influence their verdict and we can find the reason why they consider the traditional methods as more efficient.
The nagging question that came up for me is actually a sociological one. Do we tend to prefer learning using the tools and methods we grew up with? Or even a back in the olden days things used to be better mindset?
Taking one of my use patterns as an example. I still prefer buying cook books in their paper version because I can touch and smell the paper. Sure, I grew up with books and yes, every time I move I freak out packing all those books in boxes. It would be more logical to take the recipes from blogs and watch videos and get a lot of that stuff completely for free. Still, most often I see an interesting book I buy it.
I don’t want to say that cooking is quite the same as learning. On the one hand, cooking is a sensual experience. On the other hand, I studied abroad twice and it was truly a nice experience. However, more for the social experience than for the learning and I don’t think that it boosted my performance dramatically. At least, I don’t see it as the one and only way to learn a language in an efficient way. But again, I am someone who can learn on their own quite successfully, so a fine self paced course is always an attractive option for me personally.
I think someone growing up now doesn’t have this emotional connection with a traditional book but maybe with his iPad. I keep my affection for books but at the same time I build new relationships with certain devices. Therefore I think in 10 to 20 years surveys around this topic will show a clear preference for online/technology based learning although I think that the percentage of learning abroad might stay pretty stable.
As you can see, surveys like this always lead to more questions than they answer! In the next part of my analysis I will dig into the reasons why people learn a language and how much they are willing to spend.