Technology-mediated instruction has been around for decades, and it has the potential to transform education by solving the problems of space, time, and access that have persistently plagued traditional, face-to-face classrooms. However, in order to realize that potential, we need to stop thinking about how e-learning can mimic what goes on in classrooms and instead think about the benefits and advantages that digital tools can bring to teaching and learning.
Digital tools give us access to information that we’ve never had before. In a face-to-face classroom, we can measure attendance, performance on periodic assessments, and written assignments, but we don’t have any way to know how well learners understand the lecture. Sure, good professors will ask questions and pause when they see blank looks, but in a class of 10 or 20 or 300 students, there are going to be learners who are simply sitting in class, not paying attention, and not learning anything.
Online learning, though, lets us not only measure things like how long people spend on assignments, but also their ongoing comprehension of concepts and mastery of skills. Measuring real-time performance can let us see when learners need more help with listening or reading, letting us differentiate instruction and improve learning outcomes.
Further, the data generated by online programs can be used beyond the individual student level to improve what we know about how learning works. Often, we predict that it will take a certain number of hours or days to teach people based on historical norms but without really understanding how much time it actually takes. An introduction to algebra class covers the same materials semester after semester, but what if it really takes more (or less) time for learners to truly understand the concepts? Examining patterns in longitudinal engagement and performance data from computer-based instruction can help us structure programs more efficiently and effectively, whether they are online, face-to-face, or—ideally—a mixture of both.
I am excited to report that Voxy has recently released a user-friendly administrative and reporting dashboard—the Command Center—that lets our clients easily and quickly generate, sort, filter, and analyze the data produced by their students. This tool is designed to offer insight into what learners are doing to improve both immediate outcomes and future decisions, and it’s a step forward in harnessing the potential of technology to change the way we think about language learning.
Katharine Nielson, Ph.D. leads a team of curriculum specialists, data analysts, and research associates to develop test items, curate language learning content, develop curricula, and run empirical studies. She’s spent twenty years teaching languages, researching how to teach languages, and teaching people how to teach languages in various settings around the world.