Do you know how many people around the world are wanting to learn English? 1 billion.

That’s a staggering number so it’s no surprise physical English language schools and institutes have grown dramatically over the last decade. Even though demand remains high, physical schools have seen their enrolments decline and enrolment period shrink, likely because of the rise of online learning.

Conservative owners of physical schools have often lamented this trend and complained that online self-study courses and language apps are no match for a human teacher.

However, improvements in technology have allowed future focused teachers to still provide a face-to-face service through live virtual classes to complement online study.

What’s the difference between teaching in person and teaching online?

Offline Classroom

Let’s think about it for a second, What is it that a physical classroom helps a teacher do?

  • The classroom encourages learning

  • It’s easier for the teacher to build rapport quickly because students can interact with the teacher directly, ask questions and feel the energy of the teacher.

  • It’s easier for the teacher to explain complex ideas using the whiteboard and access any helpful learning materials

  • It’s easier for the teacher to control the pace of the class, modify the class depending on the student and keep the student’s attention

  • Humans are social creatures and learn better in a social environment.

It used to be that streaming video and audio was expensive, slow and horribly unreliable. That’s changed.

In the last few years the technology has finally gotten good enough to match the in person experience and the widespread adoption of web-conferencing tools like Skype and Zoom has taught students and teachers how to mimic the in-person relationship online.

  • An online classroom encourages learning

  • Face-time video makes it easier for the teacher to build rapport quickly because students can interact with the teacher directly, ask questions and feel the energy of the teacher.

  • The online whiteboard makes it easier for the teacher to explain complex ideas and embed any helpful learning materials directly on the screen.

  • A professional virtual classroom provides the tools to make it easy for the teacher to control the pace of the class, modify the class depending on the student and keep the student’s attention.

  • The video, audio and interactive aspects of the virtual classroom enhance the social aspect of the class.

These advances in technology have closed the experience gap between in-person and live online learning.

Now let’s think about how this affects a student’s decision of how to learn a language. Would they prefer to attend a physical language school or an online language school?

If you use me as an easy example of how exposed most young adults are to technology you can easily understand why more students would consider online education.

I am 33 years old, I live in a major city in the developed world, I’ve had the internet at home for 20 years, I’ve been using Skype to call my international friends for almost 15 years, I’ve been using smartphone apps for 10 years, I’ve been streaming my favourite movies for the last 5 years and now I can face-time any friend from any device through facebook, twitter, my iPhone, Skype and 100 other free tools…

Given my background, do you think I would I feel restricted to choosing a physical school in my city or choose the best school I can access online?

The answer may differ from person to person but it’s very attractive to learn viaa live virtual class where the student can get all the benefits of sitting down with a human teacher but it’s cheaper, faster and so much more convenient.

Most importantly, you don’t have to physically commute to an online school. This is a massive benefit considering students can avoid traffic, congested public transport, bad weather, expensive parking and added stress of commuting. In fact, you don’t even have to leave the house or library.

Student Travelling

For the same reasons, many young and talented teachers are preferring to teach online where they enjoy a more flexible lifestyle. Many young teachers are attracted to the idea of being their own boss or choosing their own hours.

Think about this choice for a second, if I’m a young teacher that has to live a way out of the city and have to commute up to an hour each way and pay for parking or transport just to get to work, that is a lot of cost that I have to consider. If a young teacher can avoid all those time and transport costs they would even be willing to consider a lower wage to do the same job because they would have the upside of comfort, lower costs and much more flexibility.

Finally, smart business owners realise they can be more innovative, be more responsive to customers and out-compete laggard schools by complimenting their physical classes with online classes.

The teaching paradigm has hardly changed since the 1900’s. The vast majority of incumbent language schools use books and print-outs as their main learning materials despite the fact students are watching thousands of hours of on-demand video and can take a free interactive course on almost any topic imaginable. Online can hugely enrich a classroom.

Where teachers in physical classrooms, used to have to setup a projector or play a DVD which would always waste minutes of valuable teaching time, online teachers can instantly access an almost unlimited library of learning materials: audio, video, interactive, games, pdf, google docs, powerpoints...anything through the internet. That’s a game changer that teachers are going to have to adapt to survive in the 21st century and good school principals will want to know what’s working.

When your teachers use a professional online school system to teach students, you can a much better understanding of teacher performance, student satisfaction and of what works. You can easily see which teachers turn up late to classes, which students are no-shows, which students cancel before the cut-off period, what the learning trends are, control for quality and provide options for that allows teachers to teach any hour of the day.

Now, this isn’t to say that there is not a place for physical schools, but physical schools should be seriously considering how they can complement those in-classroom experiences with an online component. A boxer can box with one hand behind their back, but that doesn’t mean they will win.

Savvy business owners are still providing in person language classes but they use live online classes to keep serving students that would otherwise leave them for reasons that shouldn’t actually stop the relationship.

We live in a time where a 20 year old will likely move another 8 times during their lifetime (1) and it used to be that a move was often fatal to the continuation of studies at a language institute. Remembering that the biggest upfront cost for a business is in student acquisition, the longer a school can serve a student, the more profitable the business is. Online live classes do offer an obvious way for a loyal customer to stick with the language teachers they’ve grown to trust and like even when they move to a different part of the city or country.

If you were a student, would you want to choose a language company that was forward-thinking, made learning easy, offered exciting ways of teaching and made it convenient for me to learn wherever I physically was?

You betcha.

So the take-away here is not to be fearful of online trends but to select the ones that make the most sense and allow a business to thrive in a rapidly changing market.

"Technology is there to empower us, not replace us."

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