Whether you have taken face-to-face courses with us before or are new to the Language Centre, you may be wondering why the live sessions we offer as part of our online courses are shorter than our in-class equivalents. If you had taken a General course with us before the Covid pandemic, you would have attended a weekly two-hour language class. Now you get a weekly 30-minute live session with a tutor present. If you had joined a Fast Track course, you would have attended two classes a week totalling three hours; now it is a one-hour live session per week. So why are our live online sessions not the same length?
Here’s our rationale, and why we think it is better.
1. Transferring face-to-face teaching practice directly onto a live online environment does not work, for a wide range of reasons. Think about the things that typically happen in a language classroom: there are four key skills to be taught and practised – reading, writing, listening and speaking. Using a live session for reading would be very odd, unless the time was being used to focus on specific difficulties encountered in a pre-reading phase. Writing during a live class would also seem a bit of an anti-climax – wouldn’t you feel you could do this in your own time, submit your piece and get feedback?
2. Attention and perplexity: a language class can be very challenging and very tiring, especially when you are at a lower level and everything is both new and alien. When you are in a physical classroom, this estrangement is softened by an enormous amount of verbal and non-verbal communication – learners often confer with one another to check something they do not understand, teachers usually respond to uncertainty or anxiety that learners express more or less willingly, and silence says it all, too. Online, none of these cues works very well, so the very nature of the interaction needs to be planned differently.
3. ‘Zoom fatigue’ is very real and our cognitive processes online are very different from what they are face to face. Some find it easier to be distracted, others find it harder to retain information. What a tutor does when teaching online is also very different: the intensity of attention required to support learners is higher, and it is much more tiring. To maintain quality, sessions need to be shorter.
4. Unreliability of connection: even before the pandemic, when fewer learners and teachers met online, they had to work around the fact that access and connection are at times temperamental. There may be slight delays, feedback, momentary loss of sound quality – all things which we do not always notice in our daily interactions but which in the context of language learning can cause frustration and anxiety. Mitigating for this requires a different approach to delivery.
5. Difficulties of online interaction: a language class requires all to take part, and to take part with the highest level of facility, spontaneity and fluidity. Despite enormous advances in technology, this is still difficult to do unless the group is small. At the Language Centre, we have therefore reduced our maximum class size from around 18 learners to six per group.
6. By reducing the group size and the length of our live sessions, and by dedicating them exclusively to spoken interaction, we are enhancing the quality of the learning experience. On our General courses, in 30 minutes with a tutor who moderates, observes and feeds back on the interaction, learners get a fairer share of the speaking time than they would have done in class. The tutor is able to analyse and respond to the output in much more strategic ways: via the written chat (without interrupting the flow of conversation) and through further consolidation activities.
7. Distributing the learning between the live sessions and the learning pathways gives learners and teachers a better opportunity to consolidate learning through time – instead of one weekly class, you may choose to do a little every day. This means you are much more in control of how and when you learn.
8. If you have to miss a live session, you are not missing as much, because the live session is not the sole point of guidance. Moreover, the recording will be available and will be sufficiently short to be ‘watchable’.
9. As you go through the learning pathway each week, you are taking a much more active role in your learning than by merely attending a class. Many of the activities provided are interactive and collaborative, and you interact with others frequently in short or long bursts, constantly enhancing the development of your competence and fluency.
10. Our shorter live sessions are easier to fit into your busy schedule. They are also more convenient for our tutors to work on as they produce feedback and enhance their planning so that they meet your learning needs both on an individual and collective basis.
Watch our courses trailer or read our handbooks for more information about how we will be delivering our online courses: https://www.lang.ox.ac.uk/learn-language