Breaking the Myths of Online Learning

Despite becoming more and more popular in recent years, there is still a certain stigma attached to online learning. Even in this digital age; the idea that face to face learning is somehow superior to e-learning is a commonly held view. “I much prefer being in a real classroom with other students and a real teacher” is something I’ve heard many people say. The idea that the other students and the teacher are somehow not “real”, seems almost farcical in today’s society, where online social interactions are so commonplace. By that logic, would the interactions that we have on messaging apps and video calls with loved ones in far off places be considered less ‘real’ than communication that happens in a physical space? 

These days there is a proliferation of online language centres and even traditional schools are offering more online lessons and content. This means that the demand for online teachers will only continue to grow in the new decade and teachers increasingly find themselves in a situation in which they may need to develop a whole new skillset. These days there is no reason why learning online cannot be as enriching, rewarding and engaging as studying in a bricks and mortar classroom. I’d like to debunk some myths about online learning and explore some of the advantages of moving English classrooms online.

Myth: Online learning is more passive than face to face learning

Video communication software, such as Zoom can act as a virtual classroom for multiple students. There are features that enable you to place learners in separate virtual “rooms”, so that they can collaborate. That way the teacher can still use a range of interaction patterns from pair work, small group work and whole class activities.  Even in one-one classes you can use the same techniques to make a class interactive. You can also assign projects and tasks to learners and ask them to go away and research something online and then come back to share with the group in a Q & A session. In fact, you can set exactly the same tasks as you would in a face to face, but slightly adapted for an online environment. I have done roleplays, discussions, presentations and quizzes in online lessons and students have enjoyed them just as much as they would have in a face to face setting.

Reality: Online learning can be interactive and employ a variety of methods

Recently I have been studying Mandarin Chinese online with a tutor using a combination of video call and  chat functions of WeChat (the most popular social messaging app in China). My teachers sends me new words and grammar corrections in the chat box in real time during speaking practice tasks. I now have a record of my notes in my chat history that I can refer to on any of my devices at any time. I can also send my teacher short voice recordings as homework, so that she can correct my pronunciation and grammar. Other platforms (such as Zoom) that are used for online classes have a variety of functions, meaning the teacher can share their screen and learners can use the annotate feature to write and draw directly on to the screen. The other learners can see the contributions of their classmates immediately. Teachers can also send files to learners, share videos and play interactive games over the internet.

Myth: E-learning is less efficient than face to face learning because of technical problems and you need to be very tech-savvy in order to use the technology

Of course, we still have technical problems from time to time, but gone are the days of dial-up internet, terrible internet speeds and bad connections. In the developed world at least, most of your learners will be able to access a good internet connection. Furthermore, you no longer need to be a tech-genius to be able to deliver online content. Most software for running online classes is intuitive and easy to navigate for both the teacher and the student. Being prepared and setting expectations for the online classes in terms of what equipment they will need (e.g. web cams, headset etc.) and making sure that both you and the learners have a stable internet connection can alleviate potential issues before they occur. Asking learners to log on early so that they check microphones and cameras is good practice, so that everyone is ready to start on time and disruptions are minimized.

Reality: Enhances media and technological literacy

Learners can also develop other essential 21st Century skills if they are encouraged to do more online learning. In fact, many of the 21st Century skills that are required for success in the 21st Century can be related in some way to the use of technology, such as information and media literacy. Therefore, being able to understand perspectives and detect bias online is an essential skill for students that can be developed during online study. The internet has also changed the way in which we read, listen and do homework online. Being able to multi-task and switch between different webpages and manage the constant bombardment of messages is a skill that our learners need to develop. Studying online can emulate the workplace and help learners to develop vital skills for navigating the web successfully and safely. This infographic from common sense media, highlights some key facts related to digital literacy and emphasizes some of the needs of both teachers and students to be trained in digital literacy skills. 

Myth: The quality of online teaching is lower than face to face teaching

Some people assume that the quality of the course or the teaching is inferior to a face-face program. This all depends on the institution offering the course, the quality of the content and the experience and knowledge of the teachers or trainers. Doing your research is important when selecting any course. You probably visited your university campus before you decided to study at that university and asked questions to previous students and staff. I’m sure you checked out the website, course requirements and testimonials online. The same should be done with any online classes that you sign up for. Check the website, contact the institution to ask questions, check that the qualification is accredited by a reputable exam body and ask them to introduce their online content or demonstrate their learning platform before signing up for a course. In fact, you may find that digital content often looks much slicker and is more relevant than materials used in traditional face-face teaching.

So, don’t believe some of the common misconceptions about online learning. Don’t be put off by that boring online course that you took back in 2009. Online learning has already changed the face of education in the 21st Century and over the next few decades we can only begin to imagine what exciting innovations we are going to see.

Apart from our teaching blog series, English for Asia offers online e-teaching workshops to help teachers transition from classroom based teaching to online learning environments.

If you're new to TESOL teaching, check out our 20hr Online TESOL Starter Course which is a compulsory foundation block of EfA's Trinity CertTESOL Course.


About the Author

Clare Voke

Clare is a teacher trainer and CertTESOL tutor and course director at EfA, with more than 10 years’ experience in various teaching and training roles in the UK, mainland China and Hong Kong. She began her training career as a Regional Trainer for EF in the South of China. Since completing her Post-Graduate Trinity Diploma in TESOL, she has worked as a course director for Cert TESOL courses and is also a Trinity approved internal assessor for the DipTESOL. She has an MA in International Social Transformation and has run courses on inter-cultural communication, as well as presenting on similar topics at several academic teacher forums. Having lived in China for a number of years, she is particularly interested in Chinese learners of English and is a keen student of Mandarin Chinese.

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