Will online learning platforms ever take off?

Kirsten Winkler runs an interesting blog on online learning with a wide variety of points of view and useful information. I saw this article on why online learning platforms will never take off, so I thought I would try to counter these points. Here is what I said.

I know Kirsten by the way, she once interviewed my in Munich for her podcast. She is a very energetic and interesting person, stirring the pot on the subject of education. Good for her!

Here is what I posted in response to the article, with the seven reasons why online learning will not take off, and my answers. Your views?

1. Reason: The population that is intrinsically motivated to learn is small.

We are conditioned to want to learn all the time, and the market for learning and self-improvement is huge, everywhere. We have been indoctrinated into thinking that learning is something formal that only takes place at school and university, but this is changing. Adult education is booming and many millions of people buy books, CDs and enroll in courses.

2. Reason: Following from Reason 1, among the very small number of people who are really interested in learning, very few are looking for teachers/ courses online.

Perhaps, but more and more are doing so, and if we add the many people looking for learning resources on the Web the number of people wanting to learn on the web is very large indeed. The tools and resources are growing apace.

3. Reason: Following on from the reasons above, even among the small minority of people looking for teachers/ courses online, very few want unaccredited courses or want to pay for these.

Most do not need accreditation, but some do. What’s the big deal here? They can find both on the web.

4. Reason: Learning Online is Boring! Its like college minus the fun

Most people do not have the time and money to attend college, without the support of their parents or the state. Online learning offers a cheaper alternative where learners can choose the content of their learning, whom to learn from, and go elsewhere to party.

5. Reason: Learning Online is not (as) social as going to school.

True, although through online learning communities it offers a different kind of socialization around common interests.

6. Reason: Learning Online can never compete with an Offline Teaching Organizations.

Online learning is just another option, a cheaper and more effective way for more and more people who do not have the option to go to school. As the control in learning moves from teachers to learners, teaching organizations will have to play ball or lose out.

7. Reason: Learning Online is fixing what is not broken.

What is broken is the fact that the present education system destroys motivation. A new entrepreneurial online approach can cater to individual interests and learning habits, offer more choice and freedom, and deliver better results, thus fueling more motivation.

Interviews with language learners

I received this email. If you are interested have a look at the video and tell me what you think.

“Interview on Language Learning
A friend of mine in South Korea recently produced a 12-minute video about language learning using a series of interviews he held with some exchange students and Korean students at a Korean university.

Here is the link:

Starting up in Korean again

I studied Korean for about 6 months about 4 or 5 years ago, and haven’t done much since. I tried to start up again last September but travels in Europe kind of got in the way. Now I have started again using the LingQ Beginner lessons in our library. I will stay on these texts, listening and reading over and over for at least a few weeks. Then I will move on. We will see how far I get., Right now things are still a fog, but less of a fog than yesterday.


Too Asian?

Freedom of speech and the right to genuine academic inquiry are essential to what I hold important in our culture. These values are often under attack by people who are driven by ideology. This ideology can be religious, political or ethnic. These ideologues want to stifle the freedom to think. They want ideology to trump freedom.

Recently, in Canada, the leading national news magazine, MacLean’s, published an article that discussed attitudes towards the high numbers of people of Asian origin at our universities. The article seems to be to be a balanced and neutral description of widely held attitudes.??

Now a variety of Chinese-Canadians and other “progressives” are mounting a political campaign to force MacLean’s to apologize. Loudest amongst these voices are Vivienne Poy, a wealthy Senator, and Henry Yu, a professor at the University of British Columbia. Read the article and then read their comments. The problem is not so much that they are offended by the article. They are entitled to be offended whenever they want. The problem is that they want to use political muscle to muzzle the magazine. Scary stuff.

But in our PC world, these things work. Henry Yu, who publicly laments that parts of Vancouver still don’t get it and are too white, recently received $900,000 from the Canadian Immigration department to develop a Chinese Canadian web portal.

I commented in a letter to the paper here on this government largesse.

The Federal Government funds ethnic revision of Canadian history.

UBC recently received $900,000 of tax-payer money to fund a Chinese-Canadian history web portal.

“Chinese migrants came to what is now British Columbia over two centuries ago, engaging with First Nations peoples at the same moment that the first
migrants from Europe arrived,” said Henry Yu, head of the portal project at UBC. “In other words, long before Confederation, the Chinese were part of the founding peoples of what would become Canada. “

Two Chinese crew members of a British ship visited the BC coast in 1788 and left. But many other visitors to Canada preceded them, Vikings, Basques, Italians including John Cabot, German and Dutch Loyalists, not to mention the Spanish and Russians who visited our Pacific shores in the 18th century, and many more.

What constitutes a founding people? Surely it has to do with the language, institutions, symbols and lasting traditions of the country, not who visited when.

Will this public money be spent on real scholarship here or merely on ethnic chest thumping?

As to Poy, to appreciate her mindset, it is worthwhile to read her speech to the Progressive Muslim Society of December 2005. She is a Senator of Canada, and someone who has lived most of her life in Canada.

Here are some excerpts from the speech.

“( In Hong Kong) We had a manager who avoided ??pork. ??He was as Chinese as the rest of us…I called him uncle to show respect ..as little Chinese children do. ???..From my knowledge the Muslims are the Hui minority ..they don’t look any different from other Chinese.” ??(To Poy, the Turkic Uighurs don’t exist, only the ethnic Chinese Muslims.)

“It surprises me when the tragic events or Sept. 11 are referred to as an “attack on civilization”..the assumption is that civilization is best represented by American culture.” (whose assumption?)

“Realizing the might of the Ming navy would da Gama have dared cross the Indian Ocean? Would the Chinese navy have been tempted to crush those little Portuguese boats? The question remains, which civilization is the greater civilization? ” (The true Chinese supremacist.)

“the Western world thinks that anything non-western is uncivilized” ( Is she not a part of the Western world, having lived and prospered here?)

“In France, despite French citizenship, it is immediately evident to all newcomers and their descendants that they are second class citizens and are expected to stay in their isolated areas” ( just plain ignorance)

People can say what they want, in my view. But when they wanted to stifle others who do not fit into their agenda, it is time to fight back.

Listen to learn

You need to hear a word 160 times in order to learn it according to recent research at Cambridge University. See these summaries in English and Italian.

I do not know if this is true. I do know that I often understand things and remember things better if I have hear them, and if I hear them more than once. I also find some texts easier to follow when I listen than when I read. Proust is a good example.

I recommend repetitive listening in language learning, and I think it should also be used for other kinds of learning. What I read makes less of an impression on me than what I hear. If this can be proven it may have major implications for teaching. Maybe we need fewer text books, and less explanation, and lots of repetitive listening.

I do believe the effect is enhanced when we listen to meaningful content, rather than just a meaningless list of words. At least that has been my experience.

I also think that combining repetitive listening with reading is even more powerful than just listening. But that is not scientific, just my experience.

How to stay motivated in language learning – the mind and the brain.

There was an interesting thread on the LingQ Forum about how to stay motivated in language learning. There are times when not meeting one’s expectations can be discouraging.

Some time ago I posted here about a book by Jeffrey Schwartz called “The Mind and the Brain” which describes a therapy for people with obsessive compulsive disorder. Schwartz helps the patient recognize that the compulsive behaviour is not inherent to the patient, but an independent neural network in the brain. With enough will and determination the brain can be trained to develop a new network which avoids this behaviour.

I remember from childhood that I wanted to train my ears to wiggle, like my father was able to do. I spent hours telling my ears to wiggle, and they eventually did. Similarly, our will to develop a new neural network for a new language can be a powerful factor in our success. If we get success, of course, we are greatly encouraged to study more.

But if we do not achieve the success we want, as quickly as we want, we can become discouraged. What to to? I just started reading Looking for Spinoza, by Antonio Damasio (I am reading it in Portuguese for practice), and in the introduction he has this to say;

“Spinoza recommended that we fight a negative emotion with an even stronger but positive emotion brought about by reasoning and intellectual effort. Central to his thinking was the notion that the subduing of the passions should be accomplished by reason-induced emotion and not by pure reason alone. This is by no means easy to achieve, but Spinoza saw little merit in anything easy. “

Willfully conjuring up positive feelings can overcome negative feelings we may have. We can think of what we are already able to do, or visualize ourselves using the language comfortably in some situation that matters to us.

Does this work? I think so. At least it is a feeling that I often have.



How Do Language and Culture Affect Workplace Success ?

I am involved in an online discussion on how language and culture affect workplace success. The moderator has framed the discussion in there terms;

exploring the more subtle cultural differences of communicative style ??? those rules of communication that we all follow more or less unconsciously, but which change from culture to culture, and thus are frequently implicated in misunderstandings, stereotypes and discrimination in the workplace. It is my belief that workplace success requires more than just language and technical skills. The workplace is an inherently political site, and we need to prepare our students to navigate it successfully. “

The follow is offered as a resource for the participants.


???Interethnic Communication: How to Recognize Negative Stereotypes and Improve Communication between Ethnic Groups.???

My view;

I have worked in France, Hong Kong and Japan, and have always had around 40% immigrants, of a variety of origins, employed at my company. We have not had problems, and we could not possibly get into the cultural differences of each of these employees. We deal with them as individuals.

I am of the view that successful employees soon figure out the dominant culture in the work place and adapt. I do not see much that language teachers have to offer here. What are your views?

In praise of mistakes and incorrect grammar explanations

At LingQ we often have people report errors in our content. These can be typos, misspelled words, incorrect usage by native speakers, strange accents, or whatever. We also occasionally have one native speaker pointing out that grammatical explanations, provided in the target language of course, by another member, are not clear, or are incorrect.

I would just like to say that I find these errors, and confusing grammar explanations quite helpful and certainly not harmful. They help me to notice what is happening in the language.

If it is an error in usage, I often don’t notice the error, and therefore it does not bother me. (I will see most of these words and phrases again in a normal usage pattern so that there is no harm done.) However, if I notice the error, and identify it as an error, this makes me more conscious of the correct form, when I next hear it or see it.

The same is true of grammar explanations. I find it difficult to understand even the best explanations of grammar. If I see even more incomprehensible explanations, or obviously wrong explanations,?? it does not bother me.If the explanations are obviously wrong or particularly confusing, but in the target language, and if there are enough examples, these points of usage really stick in my mind. It is not obvious that what is clearly taught will be clearly learned. Sometimes it is the reverse.??

Ultimately it is only lots of listening and reading that will help me learn, and not some kind of selected diet of perfect language or clear as a bell (to the explainer) grammatical description.