I have just finished reading David Petrie’s bleak vision for 2034 English language learning, and Lizzie Pinnard’s reply to this. David’s vision is of a bleak world (for language teachers at any rate) where learners are totally directed by what is available on the Net and left to their own devices to do placement tests and decide on courses, with no help apart from their computers. Lizzie counters this with her own discussion of how the social side of learning is so attractive to many learners. I was writing my own comment, but as it seemed to be developing into something a bit longer than a comment. I thought I’d share it here as well. So here goes:
Adrift on the story Cyber-waves
As I read David’s provocative piece I felt quite sad for poor Monica cast adrift and at the mercy of the cyber-ocean waves that buffeted her to right and then to left. This all reminded me of the days when, in the nineties, companies tried to jump onto the self access centre bandwagon, or even earlier, when they all wanted to push language labs. The school I was working in in the eighties invested a huge amount of money in its language lab, which quickly became a white elephant, as have many self access centers around this planet. This is probably because learners generally need direction of some kind and if they are left alone like Monica in the blog post their learning will most probably be materials directed which means as Tomlinson said:
‘for many learners their experience of self-access materials has been restricted to basically closed activities requiring a narrow left brain focus and little utilization of prior personal experience, of the brain’s potential learning capacity or of individual attributes or inclinations.’ (Tomlinson 2011 Kindle location 8278-8284.)
Technology combined with Humanity
This is because, as you so rightly say in your title, Lizzie, I think, learning tends to be social and people need to communicate. This is why, when some friends and I recently set up a book club in Verona, and I mentioned it on Facebook, there was an immediate call for a group on Facebook where others could read the books and take part too, even if they couldn’t physically come to our meetings, or even as an added support if they could. This is technology and the Internet at its social best where people support and create learning rather than the bleak predictions for 2034 where learners are left to their own devices with no support or interaction. At the moment social learning sites such as Fixoodle are doing well precisely because people meet up on them and help each other to build their knowledge of language together.
English, holidays, cards and a fifteen-year long relationship
I personally have some learners who have been coming to class for more than fifteen years, and the English is only part of the motivation. They are now very class friends and also go on holiday together and meet to play cards. This is what happens when Holliday’s classroom “small culture” becomes a real “small community”, and what happens in that community is meaningful and socially constructed. A far cry from the $400 dollar online course, and the sad vision of mediators scrabbling for as many students as they can in call centre mode. The day education is reduced to this is the day that I’ll leave it.
Tomlinson, B. (2011) Introduction. In: Tomlinson, B. (ed) Materials development in language teaching. Cambridge: CUP. pp. 1-24.