Demand for high levels of English proficiency among school leavers, graduates and workers is on the increase in the Middle East. How can the boom in digital learning innovations help to fill this demand, and how can we ensure that these innovations are having the greatest impact on learner outcomes?
Blended learning is a buzz word commonly heard throughout schools, universities and other learning institutions throughout the Middle East. It is rapidly becoming a staple of educational offerings in the region, as in many other parts of the world. As it becomes more and more commonplace, it is perhaps timely to consider what blended learning actually means and what elements of blended learning are more successful in actually promoting learner outcomes.
Any quick Google search will yield dozens of definitions of blended learning. What all these definitions tend to have in common is that blended learning combines the traditional delivery of education with online or digital educational components. However, perhaps more important than establishing a definition for “blended learning” is establishing what blended learning should do, that is, what impact should it have on the learner? Technology on its own does not cause or promote learning, so, we need to be mindful when bringing blended learning options into the educational arena whether these options are actually benefit those using them. The possible benefits are numerous, but any blended learning option should lead to achieving at least one of the goals listed below.
1. Blended learning should make learning more accessible.
2. Blended learning should make learning more personalised.
3. Blended learning should make learning more engaging.
4. Blended learning should make learning more collaborative.
5. Blended learning should lead to competency-based learning.
6. Blended learning should facilitate more accurate assessment.
In the Middle East, blended learning holds enormous opportunities when it comes to making learning more accessible, particularly in the field of English language education. Strong English language skills are considered as a prerequisite for many jobs in the Middle East and, as many countries throughout the region seek to diversify economically to reduce reliance on oil, demand for English fluency among employees will become even universal – a trend echoed in many other non-English speaking parts of the world. In 2014, Pearson conducted an employer survey with LinkedIn, finding that 80% of global businesses agreed that individuals who are able to speak good English are more likely to succeed in their business. 90% of businesses surveyed agreed that it benefits their business if employees speak English well. Moreover, eight in 10 global companies deemed fluency in English as an attribute they look for in their global workforce.
This demand for English language skills is reflected in the dramatic rise in the uptake of digital ELT learning solutions across the Middle East. This rise is indicative of government-led initiatives to increase digital learning and English language proficiency, as well as individuals looking to improve their job prospects and career progression. A recent report on digital ELT growth put the growth rate for English language digital learning products in the Middle East at 13.2%, with revenues reaching US$215.7 million by 2018, up from US$116.1 million reached in 2013.
English language uptake – particularly through digital means – is clearly on the rise, helping people across the region realise their career aspirations. Blended learning obviously holds significant merit for people who are busy in existing employment or study. Having the option to access quality educational options when, where and however they choose has opened up a world of learning that would not have been possible even a decade ago.
However, there is distinct differences in how effective various blended English language programmes are. Out of the hundreds of online English language programmes available throughout the region, some stand out as being leading examples of how technology actually impacts learning effectively. Programmes or courses where the blend of traditional learning and digitally-assisted learning is carefully considered tend to be those where the most successful language learning takes place.
Those programmes or courses that have carefully selected the best of traditional learning and combined it with the best technology on offer are those that have proven to be most successful in making learning more dynamic, engaging and motivating for the learner. The role of the educator therefore remains fundamental – quality learning cannot “blend out” good teaching, no matter how powerful the technology. Most importantly, is the need to ensure learners remain connected and feel supported throughout their learning experience. While face-to-face learning is no doubt an important element of keeping learners feeling connected and supported, there are other digital means of achieving this, such as regular online sessions and consistent and meaningful communication between teachers and learners.
Most people involved in designing and implementing a blended English language programme – whether in the Middle East or another part of the world – will tell you that there is no “perfect blend”. What matters is getting the right blend for the specific situation. That is choosing the right technology for the job and ensuring that the technology is not being used simply for technology’s sake, but rather as means to promote optimal learning outcomes.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy or position of Pearson.
This blog originally appeared on the Pearson English Blog at https://www.english.com/blog/