Is learning English online here to stay?
Last March when the pandemic struck, local schools all over the world suddenly had to make the transition to online learning, and we at English in Totnes had to do the same. Like many other independent, single centre schools, we'd always meant to start offering online courses but the initiative was often shelved because we had other more immediate issues to deal with - our face to face students, teachers and host families. Then we were suddenly in the midst of an international crisis, and once we'd organised homestays for our remaining long-term students, we then had to turn our attention to how we could teach them at a distance, online. So, from March 2020, online courses began at English in Totnes and it's been a steep learning curve!
Rick, our School Manager, pictured above with his technical arsenal, brought all his skills to bear from his background in heading up IT at a secondary school, to working out what we needed to organise technically.
And Amy, our Academic Manager (pictured below), started work on online resources, teaching methods and all the safeguarding and other concerns that were part of her role for face to face classes and now she was suddenly having to manage for online learners.
And meanwhile, I (Margie) was scanning the internet and talking to our partners and fellow language schools for ideas about what to do, what to charge and who might be interested in working online with us. I attended more seminars than I care to remember, put on by all sorts of industry and tech professionals- a big thank you to English UK for their sessions and help, and we had regular weekly staff meetings -on Zoom- to work out what we could do and offer.
Now, 13 months on, we are fully committed to offering online and hybrid English classes to our students, from 11 years upwards and from all over the world. And though we are definitely looking forward to welcoming face to face students when we re-open on 17th May, we are definitely continuing to offer online English courses.
Why, I hear you say, would you do this? The disadvantages are clear: it's a 'red ocean' uber-competitive market with people offering free, low cost English courses, some with no expertise at all, others with a great deal. Prices are lower than face to face courses and overheads, teachers-wise, for us operating in the UK remain the same. Won't those students who were studying online with us now choose the 'better' option and come and study face to face, thereby gaining all the additional advantages of cultural immersion?
I think some will change back to face to face but for many others, learning online has been normalised by the pandemic and we are all of us now much more relaxed about Zoom calls, Whatsapp and Wechat messages and discussions than we were before. And, because online courses are generally cheaper than face to face, by continuing to offer online English classes, we open up the English language learning world to more people with fewer resources and therefore give more people more opportunities to build their English to do well in exams, get a better job and explore the world. So, here at English in Totnes, we will be continuing to meet our students online and are looking forward to meeting others face to face when we open at the Gate House in Totnes on 17th May.
For some direct feedback as to why our latest group of General English students chose to do the online course, have a look at their video with Rick on our Facebook page. And if you want to join in the discussion about the pluses and minuses of Online English learning, why not join Amy on Thursday 15/02 at 09.30 English time on Facebook Live!
Looking forward to hearing your thoughts....