“Is your school a CD or a concert?”

Michael Carrier Talks to ELT NEWS about the Future of Learning

“Is your school a CD or a concert?”

Michael Carrier is managing director of Highdale Consulting and consults a number of educational organisations. He has worked in language education for 30 years as a teacher, trainer, author, and director in Germany, Italy, Poland, the UK, and the USA, and lectured worldwide. Michael has an MA in Applied Linguistics and an MBA, and is engaged in both the academic and management aspects of ELT. He was formerly Executive Director of Eurocentres USA, CEO of the International House World schools network and Director, English Language Innovation at the British Council in London.

Text by: Anastasia Spyropoulou

He has written many ELT coursebooks and professional articles, including the Break into English series, Front Page series, and Business Circles. His area of specialisation is the educational technology and until 2014 he was the Technology Editor of MET Journal.

He is currently serving on a number of boards - as a Trustee of the TIRF research foundation in the US, a Board member of ICC - the European Language Network, and International Students House in London.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a Member of the Institute of Directors, the Society of Authors, and the Oxford & Cambridge Club in London.

  • The burgeoning of knowledge in ELT has made the field almost impossible to manage, as the profession tries to integrate findings from testing, bilingual education, discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, pragmatics, and intercultural communication -just to name a few of the sub-disciplines that enrich ELT. This barrage of new trends has created a sense of unease among language educators. What is your feeling?

“There is a lot to learn about being a language educator, and it's a question of 'lifelong learning - it can't all be contained in one initial training course. This underlines the need for CPD for teachers, so they can continue to learn and feel confident in their knowledge and skills.

At the same time, we mustn't expect every teacher of English to be an expert in more academic disciplines such as pragmatics, etc - classroom pedagogy is the most important skillset to develop. There is a danger of flitting from trend to trend every year, and that should be resisted. The core principles of communicative pedagogy have not changed significantly in recent years, and many so-called 'trends' are unnecessary and mainly aimed at selling books or building someone's profile!”

  • Can a review of current trends and issues fail to address the place of technology in the foreign language education curriculum?

“Technology use, in the form of Digital Learning in and out of the class, is key to a student-centred and student-facing pedagogy - so it must always be integrated into the curriculum. And it's not new - we've been doing this for over 30 years! I published my first computer activities for EFL in 1984…”

  • What skills arising from in-house demands will be necessary to develop in the next decade or so?

“If you mean in-house demands from the students, then I think digital skills are top of the list, alongside 24/7 availability of study support systems. And the ability to constantly assess progress and proficiency so people feel they are making progress.”

  • Will one-size-fits-all educational content for language learning become a thing of the past?

“It depends on what you mean by that. Each individual piece of content - a textbook, an app - has to be designed for a range of learners and can be used with a range of learners at the appropriate level. The teacher knows how to adapt and personalize that content for the individual. And the use of adaptive learning technology will give her more support in that personalization. But Adaptive learning is normally creating new pathways through content, not creating a set of 100% individualized content for each learner - that would be uneconomic.”

  • Will quick assessments for learners who want to know where they are on their learning path at any moment, not at the end of the month, or after they completed a text or exam be a future trend?

“It's already happening. People want a rapid and repeated assessment of language proficiency, language deficits etc, so they can work on self-improvement. There will always be a need for high-stakes exams that rigorously certify your skills to the wider world (eg IELTS, FCE) but adaptive testing and computer-based testing means everyone should be able to get regular tests with immediate feedback as part of their course journey. And automated marking means that this should be inexpensive as well as immediate in feedback.”

  • What do Foreign Languages Schools need to do to remain competitive in what they offer to customers?

“That's a very long answer! But a summary would focus on the need to understand and meet the individual requirements of language learners, to constantly review and refresh the learning content and learning channels (classroom, tablet, TV, at home, on the phone) to provide successful learning experiences. Getting the 'experience' right is the key for a language school.”

  • More and more tutors go online searching for ways to earn money teaching languages thanks to technology and infrastructure which can handle video and audio connections between tutors and students with ease. Is it a threat to Foreign Language Schools?

“No, I don't think it is a direct threat to high-quality schools. A hot dog stand is not a threat to an Italian restaurant - it meets different needs.  You can watch movies on TV with Netflix - but more people than ever go to the cinema because although it's the same film, it's a different experience. No one wants to pay €15 for a CD, but they will pay €75 for a concert ticket to hear the same music - because it's a different experience. So - is your school a CD or a concert?

The secret is to understand what your customer segment is, what they want, what kind of experience and service level they need, and how to make them delighted with your courses. One approach would be to ensure you have your own online tutors available for those that want this support!”

  • Will on-demand sessions and quick help on a specific problem be an interesting service?

‘Yes. Learners want immediate responses, and clever schools will be investing in Chatbot services to provide this for a small fee or as an inclusive service.”

  • Overall, our society is being constantly trained for instant gratification thanks to Google, Amazon, and other web services that get us answers, solutions, or services right away. Will language learners expect faster results and constant feedback in an adaptive learning path?

“Yes, I think they will. Research suggests that attention spans are shorter than before, and people want quick solutions. So the language school/teacher needs to build in a lot more feedback and success reflection.


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