As there are so many benefits to studying online, I decided to opt for the magical number seven so as to keep it all in perspective. This short-list can find a home in your working memory and be expanded upon whenever you are ready for more.
1) Enhanced learning experience via technology and multi-media
A professionally designed, multi-media course can be so much more engaging than the four walls of a classroom and some practice tests. Before I started teaching online, I ran my own exams training business for seven years in Greece. I have been teaching English language altogether for 18 years, and I have experienced various school set-ups, private tuition models, and, more recently, online environments.
In Greece, passing the Cambridge or Michigan proficiency in English, IELTS, TOEFL or other equivalent exams is mandatory to getting a good job or applying for further studies abroad. Greek culture prides itself on having a well-educated workforce and I have helped many university students pass the English entry requirements for master’s degrees courses in England or the U.S.A by helping them to excel in these exams.
Now that I am teaching international students online, however, I feel that my work has taken on new meaning. Technology allows me to do even more for students, as I can easily create and customize materials for individual students. Most importantly, however, we are not dependent on practice tests alone. Expensive publications usually just scratch the surface of what students really need or they just rehash the same old stuff.
Most teachers suffer from the pressure of teaching to the test, so much so that they begin to believe that all testing is wrong, and that academia must be shunned in order for true learning to take place. Yet, I have seen how changes are afoot even within established testing arenas. One of the most innovative pages on facebook is that of The British Council/Teaching English which curates teacher-created content to share on its pages. It also organizes competitions and awards for individual teachers who create innovative content or blog about education.
The point is that we can now teach beyond the test without abolishing it. This is what our students want and need. They have ambitions and career goals and they also want some recognition for their years of study. Teachers who have specialized in exams training and are in tune with student needs can have students performing beyond stringent testing standards without being slaves to the system.
There are many reasons why it’s easier to find an expert teacher online. First of all, in traditional settings, you don’t get to choose your own teacher unless it’s for private one-to-one lessons. Even if you choose your own private teacher, your choice will be dependent on who is available in your local area. In small villages there may be no one available and in large cities, finding the right teacher may depend on who you know or whether you can pay premium fees for a teacher with the best reputation.
On the other hand, if you check out the WizIQ online courses, for example, you’ll find many teachers and you can read their profiles and visit their websites before choosing the best course and teacher for you. Many schools around the globe are teaching English language but not providing speaking opportunities for students because they have no access to fluent speakers of English. Online learning has got to be the solution.
The very fact that a teacher is working online in the first place pre-supposes certain levels of expertise. They need technical knowledge and they need to create presentations and courses. Just knowing how to speak English will not get you far when teaching English online. It becomes obvious to students very quickly how much you really know. This is especially true for exams training. Teachers should be able to:
- Create content and customize according to student needs
- Share the best educational content on the web with students
- Have a simple learning management system for them to access course content
- Provide official practice tests and testing conditions for students.
This is not all, but it gives a brief picture of what is entailed in providing excellent quality exams training for students. I have worked very hard at providing all of this and continue to do so.
In traditional settings, teachers can be forced to work with test books alone and have little access to supplementary materials. In these cases, blended learning is the best approach. Anything happening in the classroom can be further enhanced by utilizing what the internet has to offer in terms of educational technology. The level of commitment can be much lower if the system works against teachers.
Online teachers have more freedom in this respect and they have already built up banks of their own resources. I don’t know any online teachers who are not passionate about their work. The level of personal investment and training it takes to do this, as well as the eduprenurial spirit, ensures that your teacher will be someone who has excelled in the areas that concern you most as a learner.
Many online teachers are also bloggers and thought leaders at the cutting edge of education. If you are taking a writing course, it’s nice to know that your teacher is a competent writer and that you can follow his/her blog. Your teacher may also be on YouTube, and you can subscribe to his/her channel. Online teaching is a way of life, a passion and an inspiration, so how could online learning not be effective?
Taking exam courses online is extremely convenient for busy adults. They can join online classes from work or from home at convenient times. They can follow self-paced courses through learning management systems or they can access class recordings. Most of my students started learning online for this very reason. Business people, mothers and university students are my typical online learners. As a busy mother myself, I love having the option of doing self-paced courses.
This year I took on the ‘impossible’ task of following two EVO teacher development courses for story-telling and neuroscience. This was impossible in normal terms as I was fully employed with lessons, writing, blogging and mothering. However, because I could log in whenever I wanted I actually got to engage and learn a lot, as well as build up my personal learning network even further. I also took advantage of self-paced moodle training courses offered by Dr. Nellie Deutsch and Integrating Technology for Active Lifelong Learning (IT4ALL). They were set up inside the learning management system itself, I could log in and work whenever I wanted, and it was a convenient, hands-on way to experiment and learn.
Online learning is wonderful for mothers and others who have many responsibilities and cannot attend regular classes and courses. I have also taught quite a few stay-at-home Moms and Dads who have young children. It is very rewarding for everyone concerned – a mother like me who would otherwise not work and parents at home who would otherwise not learn.
Convenience is enhanced by organization. Attractive digital content can be shared on the cloud, or on one’s desktop. Writing courses that use google docs, for example, provide dynamic, collaborative ways to write, share, edit, and learn. Blogs, wikis, online white boards, voice recording tools, and all kinds of interactive technology make for a combination of live online and asynchronous learning opportunities. In traditional settings you do not telephone your teacher after class to ask for more help. Online you can contact your teacher via chat, forums or skype whenever you want. Your teacher will have time set aside to check for messages and respond to queries. The whole nature of this kind of learning creates unprecedented connectivity between teacher and student.
4) Student-led learning and customisation
As a student you can decide how you want to experience the course. Your teacher can find out if you want to keep it very simple with basic powerpoints and online speaking, or if you want to be more dynamic in your learning by utilizing the web for more autonomous learning opportunites or taking up webquest challenges. Whatever you decide, your teacher will have it organized in such a way that everything will be clear and simple. The best online teachers know that tools are only good if they enhance learning and not the other way around. Personally speaking, my own students value my experience, interpersonal skills, and knowledge more than they worship the tools I use.
When a teacher has a classroom full of students, time management is crucial. There may not be enough opportunity to tune into individual needs. Also, some students are shyer or quieter than others and don’t voice their concerns, fears or questions. When we are connected online, though, shy students can message their teachers and individual concerns can be dealt with asynchronously. Having various channels of communication open facilitates deeper levels of communication between teacher and students to the extent that a student can get plenty of attention even if it’s a large group of online learners on the course.
The learning management system takes care of that. Having the right number of students also helps. For serious exam courses live online I would prefer to have groups of six, but for self-paced writing courses or exams training that’s not live, classes can be larger. The teacher can put course management and interaction into the daily programme.
Another great feature related to time management and personalisation is the ‘break-out room’ experience. All of the major exams require intensive speaking practice, sometimes requiring pair work. Students can be split up into pairs to practice speaking tests in separate rooms and the teacher can move from room to room, monitoring students. This makes group work online not only feasible, but practical, fun and highly effective. Splitting up classes like this obviously helps teachers to give more individual attention also.
6) Catering for computerized examinations.
TOEFL iBT is fully computerized and students need a lot of experience in the authentic testing setting to manage these conditions. A lot of TOEFL iBT is based on integrated skills work, which I believe we can often replicate using academic texts and multi-media. The WizIQ virtual classroom has you tube/mp3 functionality embedded so that we can work with integrated audio/reading/writing etc. By combining virtual classroom with official practice tests online, focused skills development and learning management systems, we can maximize the impact of creative immersion-style exam preparation.
7) Blended learning for exams training
If you are a classroom teacher who wishes to help your exam students beyond the text/test book, you can try blending courses with online technology. There are many ways to do this that I can suggest in my next article. If you are a language learner who is facing exams you would definitely benefit from using online resources or teachers to improve your chances of success.
“Chance favors the prepared mind” ~~ Louis Pasteur
It also favours the prepared teacher, environment and educational playground. Come see what we have prepared for you in the cloud.
“He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” ~~ Victor Hugo
In the case of online learning we can say….
” He who opens a virtual learning environment, unleashes true vision”