Online lessons from Tesol

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UK unis can learn from ELT says Melanie Butler

As British universities lobby the government to cover some of the £1 billion in costs of taking their degree courses online, it’s worth taking a minute to consider the history of the ELT-related online Masters featured on the opposite page.

Take the MSC Applied Linguistics for Language Teaching at the University of Oxford, which was the very first online course, offered by Dr Catherine Walter in 2011. As the Postgraduate Diploma in Teaching English Language in University Settings, it became the first distance degree ever awarded by the UK’s oldest university. Now, because of coronavirus, Oxford is delivering all its courses digitally.

And Oxford is a Johnny-come-lately when it comes to ELT-related online Masters. NILE Norwich has had a distance Masters for 20 years. If my memory serves me well, the online Masters at Nottingham and Lancaster, not forgetting Macquarie in Australia, have all been going even longer.

Is there something specific to language and linguistics that makes the subject online friendly? Probably not. But online students undergoing professional training, or enrolled in courses involving explicit teaching and declarative knowledge, do as well as their classroom peers, according to a major meta-analysis produced by the US Department of Education.

A US meta-analysis showed some types of online courses work as well as classroom-based learning

In fact, the US study found no statistical difference in outcomes between online and campus-based courses for adults (though as we report below, under-18s are a different story). Some input from online teachers led to lower drop out rates, which can be 50 per cent higher online.

But best of all for adult learning was the demonstration that a mix of online and classroom learning not only matched the outcomes from traditional classroom-only learning, but surpassed them. This is one reason why online Tesol Masters, like the one at Birmingham, which offer campus-based summer schools, have stood the test of time.

Many British universities struggling to take their courses online might find that their Tesol specialists already have the answers, because they’ve been doing it successfully for years.

Image courtesy of Library