Tuesday, January 25, 2022
Predicting the future is a thankless task at any time. You run the risk of being completely wrong and getting egg on your face. Nobody could have predicted how much the world of English teaching would change in the last 3 years and the challenges we as English teachers would face. But in this blog, we are going to try nevertheless to make some predictions about the future of English teaching. We cannot say with any certainty what the future of English teaching look like, but we can certainly make some predictions based on the way things are going now. So, let’s dive in and see how English teaching is changing and what we think the future might look like for our profession.
It is said that change in education happens slowly. However, as Jeremy Harmer once said; “Change is slow… until it isn’t”. Teachers can resist new technology such as smartboards and apps and stick to their traditional whiteboard, but when all your students are using the app, you may well need to suddenly adapt to the new technology that is available. Every now and again there are big changes in education, and we seem to be in one of those periods at the moment.
What is clear is that the traditional classroom is changing and is going to continue to change. Students have been bringing smartphones to class for several years now and we are starting to see more and more teaching resources intended to take advantage of that. We are also seeing more devices such as smartboards coming into classrooms allowing teachers to plan more interactive lessons and students to interact with the language in new and exciting ways.
With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing many if not all of us to teach online, a whole new world of English teaching has also opened up in the last few years. Many language academies have now started offering online and blended classes (with mixed success) and many students are also opting to have lessons online rather than in a traditional classroom. This looks set to continue with a plethora of websites popping up where English teachers can offer their services. What’s more, there are now apps such as Duolingo which promise students that they can learn a language by practising on their phone in their lunch break. Whether these new methods of teaching and learning can be as effective as traditional classroom teaching remains to be seen.
The option of learning English online means that nowadays students can pick and choose their teachers. If they are not happy with their teacher in their language school or academy, they can simply go online and find another teacher. And these teachers could be anywhere in the world. There are thousands of schools across the globe offering online lessons, not to mention the freelance teachers offering online lessons. Students of English now have more choice than ever before. These online classes offer students greater flexibility and lessons can be done from the comfort of their own home. Students can also take screenshots of their teachers’ presentations and download material and emergent language that comes up in the lesson. Even in a post-pandemic world, these online classes seem to be here to stay.
However, there are also risks attached to opting for an online teacher. While an English school/academy will have interviewed their teachers and checked their qualifications, this may not be the case for online teachers. Students at an institution can therefore be quite sure they will receive lessons from a qualified and competent teacher. Those choosing to study online will have to trust that their teachers are qualified and experienced and may have to try out several different teachers and online schools until they find a teacher that they like. So, it is by no means certain that online classes will replace in-person lessons.
What’s more, there is the risk that something is lost in these online classes. You lose the opportunity to interact with your fellow students, which is an important part of the learning process. There is no small talk before or after your classes – you just fold down your laptop screen at the end of the lesson. You also never get meet your teacher and you can’t have parties or celebrations at the end of term. The in-person classroom, therefore, has plenty to offer that the online classroom can never fully replace.
Another common prediction for the future of English teaching is that we will eventually be taught by machines using algorithms. This is the way that Duolingo works. It adapts based on how successfully you have completed the previous exercise. While this may be a fun way to practise and it might help you learn a few set phrases and items of vocabulary, it is unlikely that this will replace real teachers any time in the near future. Instead, it may be that the material we use becomes more adaptive to the level of the students in the class – and this is what publishers are working on at the moment. However, a teacher will still be needed to guide the students through this material.
We believe that the in-person classroom won’t be going anywhere soon. As we have seen, online classes, although increasing in popularity, will not completely replace in-person lessons. Face-to face lessons allow a level of interaction that online lessons simply cannot offer. That’s not to say there isn’t a place for online lessons. They provide an opportunity for people to learn at a time and pace that suits them, and they are certainly here to stay. Apps such as Duolingo with their algorithms will also evolve and improve. However, these will probably remain as something to complement students’ English lessons rather than replace them. If there is one thing of which we can be relatively certain, it is that the English teacher will remain an important part of the English learning process. Robots aren’t coming for our jobs just yet.