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The education industry has changed profoundly since the Covid pandemic began in 2020. However, the focus of language teachers has not changed: continuing to experiment with new language teaching approaches that make foreign language study engaging remains the priority of language teaching professionals. But how has the world of language teaching changed in 2021?
The education sector, after one year and a half of health emergency
As in everyday life, the pandemic has created a series of profound changes in education. Teachers have had to familiarize themselves with unfamiliar practices and tools quickly. Digital literacy, cyber threats, different approaches to online learning: these are just a few concepts that have become an integral part of the working reality for many language education professionals.
Although the forced transition to distance learning has been a source of stress, given the inherent difficulty of adjusting to a completely virtual learning environment, the education industry has adapted creatively to the post-COVID19 world.
In the face of so many changes, let us try to understand the main 3 trends in language teaching and learning in this complicated year 2021.
1. The final stage of empowering students: Do-It-Yourself Learning
In recent years, one of the most exciting concepts that have emerged in language teaching is that of interest-based learning. The principle behind interest-based learning is simple: when learning, people are motivated by what interests them.
Therefore, structuring a language lesson around topics or activities that interest students is a brilliant strategy for keeping them motivated and ensuring better learning results. Here is where Do-It-Yourself Learning, or DIY, comes in.
In a DIY learning setting, students have blocks of time to focus on a topic or task of their choice. Exercises based on the DIY approach can be carried out either in class or given to students as homework.
A DIY approach grants students a high degree of autonomy in choosing what activities to carry out and how to carry them out. A DIY setting, however, could not function without an accurate planning from the teacher’s side. Instead, the Do It Yourself approach requires careful planning on the part of the teacher.
So, how best to prepare a DIY lesson? By establishing the students' level of preparation and by setting SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) learning goals.
2. Social media language learning
Can Instagram, Tik Tok, YouTube be used for educational purposes? As it turns out, yes, so much so that social media language learning is the second trend of 2021 that we feel it is essential to include in this blog post.
In several circumstances, access to traditional methods of language study is limited and unaffordable for all learners. And that is where social media comes in: free, generally easily accessible platforms full of content that can cater to any learners' preferences!
In a previous article, we already observed the development of a large community of language teachers and language learners clustered around the major social networks. In 2021, social media platforms have consolidated their role as a medium for language learning, as evidenced by the popularity of some hashtags associated with language learning, language learning related accounts and groups.
Being able to access educational content through social media is a great benefit to students. As was noted in the case of English as a Second Language students:
"Social media has bridged the gap between students seeking content in native English and English teachers trying to reach them. It also helps those who can't afford to spend money on classes or private lessons to access English language instruction in morsels that easily fit into their day. It also removes a barrier for those who simply cannot pay for courses or tutors because online payment methods such as PayPal, VISA, etc. are not available in their country".
Therefore, one piece of advice we would give to language teachers is to keep an eye on the language learning communities active on Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok, and other social networks. These are useful tools for enriching students' learning with interactive and accessible content and a great way to get in touch with other language teachers and exchange and receive feedback on teaching practices.
3. Combining something old & something new: The blended learning approach
Blended learning is not a recent concept. The idea of blended learning, i.e., partly face-to-face and partly technology-based learning, dates back to 1960.
Today, blended learning is rightfully a hot topic in the language teaching industry. But what makes blended learning so compelling from a language learning perspective?
First, blended learning allows teachers and students to leverage the advantages of both classroom and self-paced learning. In a blended learning environment, students have continuous access to a learning platform. However, they still have teacher support and interaction with a real classroom, which is crucial for a successful education.
Secondly, blended learning allows students a significant degree of autonomy in defining their language learning path. Therefore, it is essential to emphasise that it is not enough to carry out half of the activities in the classroom and half at home to speak of an authentic blended learning setting.
As the Smithsonian Magazine points out in a blended learning context, the learner's responsibility in defining the various stages of the learning pathway is a key element:
“...to understand blended learning, it's crucial to understand what it's not: doing online worksheets, reading digital prompts or any other technology-related activity aren't examples of blended learning unless they allow a student some control over the pace and content of the instruction.”
In conclusion, if we had to choose one element common to the primary language trends of 2021, we would say that the focus on students’ agency and empowerment is the most important!
In a context where language learning technology makes distance learning increasingly interactive, didactic approaches based on students' interests are the most innovative and functional.
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