Is Online Teaching Going To Go Viral?

As I write this, we are in the midst of the coronavirus emergency that is sweeping across the world. I have no idea what the effect of this will be in the long-term but I suspect that one of the main changes in ELT will be on online teaching. Just as in the world of work, where I think that by being forced to allow their employees to work from home, some companies might start to consider whether they need to invest in property and related overheads in the future, schools which have switched to online might find the prospect of changing some of their focus to online teaching an attractive prospect. 

More online lessons means you need less physical classrooms and facilities for students and teachers, and from a business perspective, you can see how this is appealing. In the Sick episode of the TEFL Commute Podcast, Shaun interviewed Kate Knight, the Director of Studies at International House Milan and she described how the government shutdown had accelerated their plans to offer online courses. It seems unlikely to me that, having gone to the effort of investing financially and in resources to create this viable alternative, that they will be abandoned when the embargo is lifted, especially if the courses were able to continue with similar efficacy.

That said, there are two important caveats here to consider. Firstly, it’s all well and good for schools if they consider this a more attractive option, but what about the students? There are many students who value the opportunity to spend face-to-face time with other people and, for the foreseeable future, an online classroom is not going to be a viable alternative for those people. But I think for many learners, they may have found the experience of having online lessons better than they imagined and might appreciate the convenience. And as the technology improves, the gap between in person and virtual classrooms will get smaller.

The second caveat regards young learners (YL). It was interesting in the aforementioned interview with Kate Knight that she said that they hadn’t made any provision for teaching kids online as they didn’t know where to start with that. And this makes a lot of sense to most of us, I’m sure. Whether you teach YLs or not, it’s hard to imagine how this could be done online, with all that movement and so on. 

But the online kids teaching market is growing massively. As Philip Kerr wrote recently

VIPKid, is valued at over $3 billion, attracts celebrity investors, and has around 70,000 tutors who live in the US and Canada. 51Talk has 14,800 English teachers from a variety of English-speaking countries. BlingABC gets over 1,000 American applicants a month for its online tutoring jobs. There are many, many others.

Take a look at #vipkidteacher on Instagram and you’ll see how many teachers out there are teaching YLs this way already. So underestimate the opportunities for teaching YLs online at your peril.

Predicting the future is a famously foolhardy proposition. It’s much easier to get wrong than to get right, and who knows, COVID-19 might sweep by quickly and seem like a big fuss about nothing. But right now, it doesn’t feel like it, and coupled with the gradual improvements in technology and the forthcoming 5G internet which will offer us connectivity like we have never seen before, I think we need to be ready for what the future will bring. For some teachers that future has arrived unexpectedly soon and for others, it may come sooner than they expect. If you’re a teacher who has recently been thrown into teaching online, my previous post was for you. And if it doesn’t apply to you yet, my next post will help you prepare.

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