Sanako is a Finnish Educational Tech company helping schools and language teachers to improve language teaching efficiency and results.
As education responds to an unprecedented range of challenges, language educators and institutions are under intense pressure to continue teaching and to ensure “business as usual.” Face-to-face delivery in physical classrooms has resumed in some countries and some settings, but online language learning remains prevalent across most of the globe.
This blog post examines which of these approaches is best for language learners and language educators. It also considers if a hybrid solution that combines in-class and remote teaching might be the best way forward. And finally, this post outlines how Sanako products can support educators and institutions to provide more flexible teaching and learning.
Advantages of online language learning
Perhaps the most obvious advantage of online language learning is that it opens up opportunities for more people to get involved. The traditional face-to-face model can limit the number of students who are able to learn because of work/family commitments or because they cannot spare the time or money required. Online channels can be easily and conveniently accessed by learners wherever and whenever they want/are able to learn at a fraction of the cost of face-to-face courses.
Research also indicates that online learning can boost knowledge retention by between 25 and 60%, according to the Research Institute of America. Not only do online learning resources tend to be more visually appealing and interactive for learners, common features such as games, quizzes, and surveys ensure that the materials are highly engaging. Such functionality also makes it easier for students to ask questions and receive feedback online.
Importantly all of these features are highly accessible on any device (including mobile phones), giving students more control over their learning. Part of this control enables students to manage who sees their personal details, allowing students to participate anonymously if they wish. This protects them from harmful comments and maintains their motivation if the results are disappointing.
Finally, online courses also enable language learners to easily get in contact with native speakers in other countries. Students are therefore able to rapidly develop their spoken language skills, build vocabulary, and progress towards language fluency.
Challenges with online language learning
It is, of course, stating the obvious - but online learning doesn’t magically happen for all students. Not all students will have access to a device on which to learn, others may not have an internet connection that’s good enough to access resources or live Zoom sessions. Moreover, some students may not have the basic digital skills to get online and engage with lesson content - if teachers/institutions don’t have the time or resources to address the above, then there is a very real possibility that some students will simply drop out.
This may also be the unfortunate result when students are not inspired or motivated by their online lessons. A key element of any successful learning environment is the educators’ ability to communicate and connect with their students and to powerfully support their learning. Unquestionably, this is significantly harder to achieve through a computer screen than in a classroom, particularly if large volumes of undifferentiated material is being simultaneously delivered to large online groups of students.
Such challenges are inevitably made even more difficult if the teacher does not have the confidence to deliver online instruction. Or if they don’t have the motivation, skills or technology to create the high-quality, interactive learning resources that online lessons increasingly demand.
Advantages of face-to-face learning
At its heart, language learning is an intensely human experience. It is, after all, about the act of communicating with other people and that can perhaps best be done face-to-face in a physical classroom environment. And not just in a classroom - for many language learners, the most effective way of learning a new language is to actually live in a country where their target language is widely spoken. This exposes students to unique scenarios and encounters that could never be achieved online.
In a classroom, students are also able to get the full value of their educator’s expertise and experience. Not only are teachers usually better able to engage and encourage students face-to-face, but the classroom also offers opportunities for students to learn from each other through paired conversations and group work activities.
Lessons in a classroom can also be more carefully controlled/managed than online learning often is. There is no lag, no one is on mute and the connection and sound are not influenced by technical mishaps. In-person language learning also gives students the ability to pick up body language, facial expressions, hand gestures, and a range of non-verbal clues which cannot be easily conveyed or picked up online.
The human and social benefits of learning together can also not be underestimated!
Challenges with face-to-face learning
For some students, learning in a classroom is, however, simply not an option. They might not be able to travel to access their education for reasons of time, cost, or location. They might also have other family or work commitments that make it impossible for them to attend lessons regularly or at all.
Studying a language in a classroom environment might also not be the preferred or optimal learning style for all students. Some learners might be distracted by background noises from other students and strict lesson time limits can mean that only a few students are able to talk or participate. Furthermore, some students also find it difficult to participate in speaking exercises in front of their peers and may find it easier to do them online. Easy access to digital resources also gives learners the chance to repeatedly review content to maximize their understanding.
So what’s best? Online learning or face-to-face?
Ultimately that decision is one for each individual stakeholder (language learner, educator, and institution) to think about and consider. But this commonly-asked question implies that the answer has to be either online OR face-to-face, when the most likely solution to emerge is a hybrid/blended teaching model that combines online AND face-to-face delivery.
This approach will require institutions to offer educators and learners access to flexible teaching tools and systems that can rapidly adapt to changing circumstances and which cater to the needs and expectations of students and teachers. Sanako’s range of web-based and in-classroom teaching technologies are perfectly positioned to support institutions whatever route they follow.
Sanako Study provides a leading classroom-based language lab software for schools that supports efficient in-person language learning and teaching. Educators are able to launch any exercise or language learning activity to students with just a few clicks. Study’s activity-based learning approach engages and stimulates students to learn their target language by doing - it can also improve their results by up to 30%
Sanako Connect on the other hand is a leading browser-based language classroom software, specifically designed for language educators. Connect offers an easy and fast way to set up virtual language classes, which can either be delivered live or left open for students to learn at their own pace. Importantly Connect delivers all of the benefits of a physical language lab online and is accessible from any device, at any time, anywhere.