Every time I read news about e-Learning initiatives being introduced for school students, I feel immensely happy and thrilled. I feel happy for the very fact that students are getting to learn subjects through or with the assistance of technology, which has become an integral part of their lives. I feel thrilled imagining how interesting and liberating learning could become with the aid of e-Learning technology.
However, more often than not, my happiness and thrill turn into some sort of uneasiness. That happens on noticing the lack of importance language learning is given in the e-Learning programmes introduced for school students. My intention here is not to trigger a never-ending debate on whether language learning should be given more importance over other subjects or vice versa. This post, on the other hand, will probe into the e-Learning possibilities left largely unexplored in language education, especially at the school level.
From the time we learn to put words together into meaningful sentences, we are taught two things: that, man is a social animal and language is for communication. I don’t contend either of these statements. Man is indeed a social animal, and language, undoubtedly, helps us communicate with our fellow “animals”.
But these two statements, if applied uncritically in language learning scenarios, might push us into a learning crisis. I am talking about the crisis where the collaborative and classroom aspects of learning are privileged over the individual learning process. This might also force one to reduce the role of language to one solely of communication, which in turn might shift the entire focus of learning experience from an individual to group.
Language learning in schools – the need for a different approach
Given that language acquisition is a complex process, the role of neither classroom nor individual experience can be understated. However, if we look at instructional methods used in schools for language learning, the classroom experience can be seen as having supremacy; sadly enough, most of the time this comes at the cost of undermining language learning as an individual experience.
Everyone would agree that languages are different from other subjects taught in schools. Of course, it is one of the subjects taught to students, but one that calls for a different approach both in pedagogy and in the construction of learning materials. Here, e-Learning tools and platforms can come in handy to an instructor. If you are a language instructor, it is high time you revisited many of the traditional and outdated instructional techniques, and embrace tools and techniques that help students acquire language skills in an efficient and self-paced manner.
Where the focus of language learning should be?
Let me make my point clearer. No two students acquire and master language the same way or within the same timeframe. Allowing each student to acquire language skills at his/her own pace is pivotal to ensure efficient and successful learning.
However, to what extent is this possible in a classroom scenario? Consider a typical Indian classroom where an instructor is in charge of 40 to 50 students, each of them heading towards instructional goals in his/her own pace. Despite all classroom and out-of-the-classroom efforts of the instructor, the individual aspect of learning experience is likely to be left unattended, by and large.
Providing the additional impetus for language learning
Of course, language acquisition happens not just inside the classroom and one can find justification in the fact that students will and should learn some of the basic communicative skills from outside the classroom too through interactions and communications.
Then, what about students who are to learn more than one language simultaneously? How to remedy the problems in learning pace if a language is taught as a foreign language? For instance, English language instructors cannot blindly assume that their Hindi or Tamil speaking students will get that additional learning impetus from their homes or other environs. This means that the additional impetus should also emerge as an instructional solution.
Learning to “think” a language
Language learning is not just oral and aural mastery of words, phrases, idioms and structures; it is not having an impeccable grammar knowledge or enviable treasury of vocabulary either; nor is it a magic where learners are enabled to “speak a language in 90 days”.
Learning languages is an extremely intricate mental and cognitive process where students internalize multiple aspects of a language. In other words, a student can be said to have mastery over a language when he/she learns to “think” that language.
E-Learning solutions for language learning
This is where e-Learning tools and techniques gain significance, especially in the form of blended e-Learning solutions. If classroom instruction can be assisted with language e-Learning tools that help students learn, practice and internalize language at their comfort and pace, the problem can be remedied to a considerable extent. This is a highly enabling arena for countries like India where blended e-Learning is perhaps the only form of e-Learning introduced at school levels.
This, as already made mention of, requires more than classroom-centric and instruction-oriented activities. Notwithstanding the collaborative aspect of it, acquisition and mastery of language is an individual process; a considerable part of it comprises of solitary learning experience.
Twenty first century language learning calls not for the favoring of classroom and group over individual; it demands that we place classroom/group side by side the individual learning processes.
No instructor can choose to neglect the individual learning experience language education entails. Technology-led and self-paced learning tools, if used as part of blended solution, could help students learn languages effectively; and enjoy the process of learning too.