E-learning in 2018 is about taking the incredible advances in technology and having them augment the personal human aspects of education that can’t be replaced. In language learning, we see “gamification” of apps becoming extremely popular with apps like Duolingo, ChineseSkill, and HelloChinese. This helps organize curriculums (learning plans) into attractive byte size units that show users a strong measure of retained learning while giving a psychological kick to keep going… gain badges… keep the streak alive! It even is a nice way to add up vocabulary words, how well you know each words, etc.
This is fantastic. But as anyone that’s tried learning a language from scratch through one of these apps knows — this doesn’t make you learn enough to confidently speak the language. It’s mostly good for beginners to get started (and discover their spark!) or some other users to “keep in shape” with their fledgling language skills.
So what’s missing? Lots!
- Strong practical application
- Personal feedback
- Native fluency tests
- Improv language places
- Interactive free-flowing conversation
Some people will say that this can also be done with a machine. We’ve seen the rise of ‘chatbot’ learning apps that look to help with this area. One promising one is Eggbun. Learn a language through chatting with a bot, even though the bot is not just a passive answering machine, but a bot that will lead you through its curriculum. WeChat and Microsoft have both experimented with AIs for talking and language learning. They are getting closer and provide another practice channel.
But in terms of having a professional tutor listen to your language skills and help you develop them, there is still no replacement. In fact, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is quick to point out in their fight for equal education that a great teacher is the number of the difference maker in the educationSo to me, the question is not how to replace this aspect of education, but how to stress it while adding in other beneficial technology components.
That’s why at TutorMandarin we design lessons with certain numbers of vocab/grammar points that students can see themselves statistically achieving and marking off. But also, that’s why we use real tutors who leave personal class notes after each lesson and look to work on student’s personal problems with Chinese (usually tones! haha).