Irena Jorgensen has made a career out of her passion for languages and worked in both face-to-face as well as online language learning environments leveraging blended learning in Asia and Europe. I caught up with her in a bustling café in the centre of her adopted hometown, Munich, to talk about learning languages online, blended learning, the future of AI in education and much more….
Irena Jorgensen studied Czech, English and pedagogy at university. She has worked in educational settings ever since both as a teacher, academic director and as a programme manager delivering digital and operational transformation programs for language schools. It’s work that has taken her all over the world, in particular to China where she spent seven years. She now speaks 4 different languages: Czech, English, German and Chinese.
Currently, Irena runs her own project, recruiting teachers for online tuition to the Chinese market. There is a big demand for native tuition in China, and scant supply, especially as visa restrictions have tightened in recent years. Irena and a China-based team help fill this gap, recruiting English natives –principally from Australasia, to teach Chinese learners online.
Blended learning provides structure and saves a lot of time by asking the students to do the ‘hard work’ on their own and leaving tutors free to concentrate on interaction and correction. The self-study part needs to be carefully designed, making sure content is delivered in bite-sized chunks with lots of repetition.
The consolidation phase is then with the teacher, where their role is to practise, give feedback and correct where necessary. This teacher input should provide plenty of encouragement to keep them motivate and ensure they progress to the next phase.
Blended learning can take some getting used to for both teachers and pupils. If you are a teacher that has worked in a traditional model, you may feel that your role is being diminished. You are no longer there to instruct, but instead, to correct, and support.
Students also have to adapt. If they are used to being made to learn, then suddenly being asked to go away and do the hard graft on your own can be quite daunting. Student motivation is a huge challenge for Blended learning.
Many students would say that they think it’s better for them to have a class one on one, but actually, for the sake of conversation, especially at high levels, it is useful to have more participants in a lesson. 3,4, or no more than 5 participants.
-Ideally, software should allow you to display the lesson plan.
– It is very useful to have a tool that allows you to separate pupils into pairs (practicing in smaller groups, then coming back to the main class – just as you would in a classroom.
– It is very useful if you can take notes as you conduct the lesson and then pass them onto the students.
Today, many different types of adult learning programmes have communities that you can sign up for as part of the course. You have the chance to ask your peers questions and increasingly, providers are using these communities to do peer to peer correction. The learner can compare their work to what other people submit and observe the differences in how people answer the question.
In China, students and parents aim for their children to go to excellent schools and they want their children to come out of the process with some sort of certificate to show for it. With the rise of digital learning, there has been a rise in certifications.
Many providers of adult learning now offer short courses online in a large variety of subject areas, that come with certification at the end.
The question of who is a pure native speaker, becomes increasingly blurry, as we become a more racially diverse world. In Europe, the trend is for job advertisements to say ‘native or near-native’ and to accept people with good English from a variety of backgrounds. But in China, the trend is in the opposite direction. In China, people want only pure native speakers and there is a growing preference for North American Teachers. Possibly because they speak with a more neutral accent and also because many Chinese students plan to go on to study in the United States.
Digital learning is a huge growth industry, with more and more resources being transferred into formats that are deliverable online. In addition to old academic institutions digitising their content, there are lots of new players who have just started online and could potentially disrupt the market.
The consumers are changing too. Teenagers now grew up with technology and with less of an expectation for face to face interaction.
There are not so many blended learning providers in languages that are not English. The provision of Blended learning solutions in non-English languages is a much less competitive area. And, who knows, the importance of English could be set to decrease in the long term.
The potential differentiator in the language industry is building and maintaining content. As the learning industry relies less on teachers, the quality of our content becomes more important as does the way that we deliver that content.
It was especially interesting to talk to Irena about what the future holds for digital learning. How the expectations of a younger generation of both students and teachers are different. Especially in their capacity for self-study and non-guided tuition. As well as how the role of the online tutor might change with this, as they become facilitators rather than pedagogs.
Many thanks Irena for taking the time, and for sharing just some of the wealth of your knowledge on this subject. We wish you every success with your current and future projects.
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