The Proof that Language Learning Communities are the most efficient way of learning right now

Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning.

This is the title of a report published by the U.S. Department of Education. I think it is a must read for online education companies although it was made for K-12 education in the U.S. because it clearly shows why language learning communities like Livemocha, Busuu or Babbel are so popular and seem to satisfy the needs of their members.

The main question for this report was basically if it would be efficient to implement pure online learning or blended online learning with face-to-face instructions in the K-12 sector. Not so much a decision if the learning results would be better but if the schools could save on their budget this way.

This analysis and review distinguish between instruction that is offered entirely online and instruction that combines online and face-to-face elements. The first of the alternatives to classroom-based instruction, entirely online instruction, is attractive on the basis of cost and convenience as long as it is as effective as classroom instruction. The second alternative, which the online learning field generally refers to as blended or hybrid learning, needs to be more effective than conventional face-to-face instruction to justify the additional time and costs it entails. Because the evaluation criteria for the two types of learning differ, this meta-analysis presents separate estimates of mean effect size for the two subsets of studies.

Nevertheless it is a really great read an I recommend to go through it in its entirety but I will focus on the main points in this blog post.

Online learning has become popular because of its potential for providing more flexible access to content and instruction at any time, from any place. Frequently, the focus entails (a) increasing the availability of learning experiences for learners who cannot or choose not to attend traditional face-to-face offerings, (b) assembling and disseminating instructional content more cost-efficiently, or (c) enabling instructors to handle more students while maintaining learning outcome quality that is equivalent to that of comparable face-to-face instruction.

This finally explains the growth rates of language learning communities like Livemocha, Busuu, Babbel and others. They are delivering what the market is looking for. Remember, Livemocha has 3 million members now, Babbel 300.000 and Busuu 130.000.

Different technology applications are used to support different models of online learning. One class of online learning models uses asynchronous communication tools (e.g., e-mail, threaded discussion boards, newsgroups) to allow users to contribute at their convenience. Synchronous technologies (e.g., webcasting, chat rooms, desktop audio/video technology) are used to approximate face-to-face teaching strategies such as delivering lectures and holding meetings with groups of students. Earlier online programs tended to implement one model or the other. More recent applications tend to combine multiple forms of synchronous and asynchronous online interactions as well as occasional face-to-face interactions.

In addition, online learning offerings are being designed to enhance the quality of learning experiences and outcomes. One common conjecture is that learning a complex body of knowledge effectively requires a community of learners (Bransford, Brown and Cocking 1999; Riel and Polin 2004; Schwen and Hara 2004; Vrasidas and Glass 2004) and that online technologies can be used to expand and support such communities. Another conjecture is that asynchronous discourse is inherently self-reflective and therefore more conducive to deep learning than is synchronous discourse (Harlen and Doubler 2004; Hiltz and Goldman 2005; Jaffee et al. 2006).

Again, this is exactly the system of language learning communities. Asynchronous learning on the platform with vocabulary flashcards, discussion in the forums with other members and synchronous learning through live chats with other members or tutors.

Typically, in expository instruction, the technology delivers the content. In active learning, the technology allows students to control digital artifacts to explore information or address problems. In interactive learning, technology mediates human interaction either synchronously or asynchronously; learning emerges through interactions with other students and the technology.

On language learning platforms the student can decide which course, quizz or flash card set  he wants to take. Exercises are corrected by other community members.

Many other features also apply to online learning, including the type of setting (classroom, home, informal), the nature of the content (both the subject area and the type of learning such as fact, concept, procedure or strategy), and the technology involved (e.g., audio/video streaming, Internet telephony, podcasting, chat, simulations, videoconferencing, shared graphical whiteboard, screen sharing).

This would mean that Virtual Classroom instruction is only a feature, not the keystone for the learning process. That makes you think, well, it makes me think at least.

In examining a different set of studies, Zhao et al. (2005) found that studies of distance-learning applications that combined synchronous and asynchronous communication tended to report more positive effects than did studies of distance learning applications with just one of these interaction types.

Again a clear plus for language learning communities over language teaching platforms which are focused only on the video conferencing / whiteboard part.

The clearest recommendation for practice that can be made on the basis of the Category 3 synthesis is to incorporate mechanisms that promote student reflection on their level of understanding. A dozen studies have investigated what effects manipulations that trigger learner reflection and self-monitoring of understanding have on individual students’ online learning outcomes. Ten of the studies found that the experimental manipulations offered advantages over online learning that did not provide the trigger for reflection.

Language learning communities are build around that fact. They offer tests after each section or flashcard set in one way or the other.

My conclusions:

1. As soon as those communities will implement virtual classrooms with experienced teachers in their offers they will have a huge lead on the market. Time to buy some stakes in those companies ;).

2. 1o1 or group classroom teaching on the internet is not a market itself, it’s a niche or a complement to other online or offline learning products. And if taken the fact that it is a niche it only confirmes my conviction that this particular has to be premium.

This means that language learning platforms have to set another focus and offer more interactive content and courses to fit the needs and demand of their clients. This could be done by partnerships between them and the communities or, the hard way, by developing their own interactive courses and materials.

Right now Myngle offers a Spanish course from Cervantes and a forum that fits into this scheme although the forum is mainly used by a couple of teachers.
eduFire offers a forum, flashcard sets and teachers are able to upload lesson material and articles.
WiZiQ lets the teacher build exercises and tests and has also a library where content can be shared and WiZiQ now has Ning inspired discussion forums.

None of them offers interactive content the way the language learning communities do, though.
In my opinion this report reaches out in the exact right direction by giving us the answers to some nagging questions. Why is language learning using a platform system so relatively unpopular compared to community based language learning. And the main reason cannot be the price only!
On the other hand this report gives learning platform a huge chance by showing these a possible solution to their problem and how to adapt their service / products to the needs of the customers.

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  • annehodg

    Dear Kirsten,
    Very important study and post. I like blended learning concepts. I usually use my Moodle platform for courses I deliver to students who find me the conventional/ more traditional way, but am intrigued by the marketing possiblities of learning communities. I wonder if the relationship that learners build with a teacher in f2f and the commitment that creates will translate to virtual communities.

    I'd like to expand my skills as an online teacher – and keep my standards very high, which is kind of why I've hesitated to venture online – and would go for more training, but need to test the learning environment first to see whether it works for me. I have yet to experience Livemocha, Busuu, Babbel, or Myngle. Are they all shades of the same thing? Can you recommend one of them for me to start with?

    Thanks for any pointers!

    Anne

    • http://www.theenglishteacheronline.com Aniya

      Hi Anne, sorry to butt in ;) I think Kirsten will agree wherever you chose to start your online teaching will come down to personal preference, what you feel comfortable with and the community you become part of, then the rest is up to you, the important part is to animate your lessons and attract the student's attention giving him/her your own individual teaching qualities. All the best, Aniya

  • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

    Hi Anne,
    welcome to this blog. If you decide to test drive the online sector first I agree with Aniya, it will be a question of your personal preference.

    If you want to start with building up a business or revenue stream online it gets more complicated.

    Right now there are two “camps”: the language learning communities like Livemocha, italki, Babbel, Busuu etc and language teaching platforms like Myngle, eduFire and WiZiQ.

    What I think we will see in the near future is a move to the middle from both camps. The communities will add online teachers to their offer and the platforms will offer more asynchronous content. Another possibility might be partnerships between communities and platforms.

    Then you have to take a look where the most part of the users come from. Livemocha is very strong in South America, India and Arabic Countries, WiZiQ in India, eduFire in the US etc.

    So it basically depends on which languages you want to teach, do you want to teach 1o1 or classes etc.

    About the relationship I can say it is the same as offline. I have students who learn with me for over 2 or 3 years now, week per week.

    Talk soon,
    Kirsten

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  • AnneHwang

    Hi Kristen,

    First, Thanks for giving me your blog. You do have lots of relevant information here which answers some questions I have. As I'm new to the online teaching industry. I was referred to by a friend to Myngle. I have everything ready there, but just hit the wall with finding students. As you had mentioned on the forum over on myngle about other platforms, I'm very much interested.

    As you were asking me about niche, I mentioned South Asia and South America just because I already have some experience with these group of students, but I'm more than willing to try other target groups.
    It seems as though with Myngle, the hardest part right now for me is finding the students and with the pricing taking into consideration currency issue.

    Anyhow, I want to explore the online route and would like to get more info of options out there. With your experience, is there one that you would recommend?

    BTW, you had mentioned learning community and teaching platform. What's the different between the two.

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Hi Anne,
      welcome to my blog :) glad to have you here.

      If you are thinking about South America you should check out Livemocha.com. Right now they are more a language learning community but they are switching to a model where teachers / tutors will be able to give paid lessons. Nevertheless it is a great place to make contacts to potential students. And they have over 3 million members. With Livemocha you also cover the indian market.

      For Asia it would be italki.com. They are one of the oldest platforms and there is a lot going on there right now. I will post some news about italki tomorrow.

      Then you should definitely check out edufire.com. With the new SuperPass they offer there is a huge potential on that platform for language teachers.

      The difference between learning communities and teaching platforms is that communites like Livemocha.com, italki.com, Busuu.com and Babbel.com are build around content like flash cards. The student learns alone but can connect with other students who will correct the exercises or chat with each other / language exchange. But this segment of the market is changing right now into an implemented teaching approach.

      Teaching platforms like Myngle.com, edufire.com and WiZiQ.com focus on the teaching in a virtual classroom, offering one on one or group lessons, paid or for free. The platforms are now changing, too moving into the direction of the communities. So in the next couple of month we will meet in the middle ;).

      Otherwise I suggest to read this blog. I covered most of these topics and if you have any question, feel free to ask.

      • AnneHwang

        Thank you kristen! I'll look into the sites you mentioned. It's great to get updates on this industry from an experienced person like you! I really appreciate your help cause I had lots of question but didn't know where to look to for answers.

        • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

          Thank you Anne. It's always great to know that people actually can take something out of this blog.

          Yo should also join the E-Teachers Conference next monday. It's free and some of the leaders of the education industry will be there and discuss about lesson slides and virtual classrooms. The link is http://etcon.eteachersacademy.com

          • AnneHwang

            Thanks Kristen! I registered already! Just wanted to make sure. What time is the conference US pacific standard time?

          • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

            Should be 11am your time.

  • http://www.englishtutorials.net/ Russ

    Englishtutorials.net is a newly launched language community via Skype.

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  • Jamie

    Kirsten

    Great blog, you've hit the nail on the proverbial head! I better get operational soon then, no? Ha :)

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      Absolutely :). Wow, one year ago… thanks for resurfacing this one!

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  • http://www.facebook.com/flavebook Herb Wendtland

    Great articel, great blog.

    Regards from spain.

    Herb
    milengua.net