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.
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.