March 2008 issue

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Online opportunities

Sometimes regarded by our industry as a rival sector, online language study remains under-developed, but is currently growing strongly. It is also being successfully incorporated into “blended learning” programmes, and in other ways enhancing language programmes offered by schools and agencies. Jane Vernon Smith finds out more.

Among specialist providers of online language learning, there appears to be a general agreement that business is on the up. According to Alex Brodbeck, European Director of EF-owned Englishtown, their student base is growing at a rate of more than 30 per cent annually. Meanwhile, Jonathan Dykes, Chief Executive of the IHLS Group (which includes Net Languages, an online provider of language courses, as well as a number of International House language schools), reports a growth rate of around 30 per cent in the last year.

Demand is increasing worldwide, Dykes underlines, but is strongest in areas such as Spain, Latin America, the Middle East and the Far East. Meanwhile, at international language school chain, Bell International, Natalie Dawe notes “a dramatic rise” in online uptake, with active participants increasing by more than 2,600 in the past 12 months, particularly in the Middle East and Central Europe.

Increased demand is also reflected in the number of online learning sites that have recently been created. In Italy, Centro Koiné in Florence launched online learning in 2006 and Scuola Toscana followed suit in 2007. Meanwhile, in the UK, Education ABC began online provision at the end of 2007.

Client profile
According to Ariel López of International House (IH) in Mexico, growing familiarity with the concept of online learning has helped greatly in promoting these courses. However, it is ultimately because it fulfils particular needs that online language learning is rising in popularity. As Brodbeck highlights, “Online learning is used in many different ways by many different people.” At IH in Mexico, most online clients do not plan to travel at all. “It’s probably a completely different market segment,” comments Lopez. In many cases, this is because clients cannot spare the time or are unable to travel to their desired destination.

Italian language school, Scuola Toscana, has found that students who are unable to travel because of visa problems make up a large percentage of its online clientele, as Director, Alberto del Mela, reveals. At Wollongong University College in Australia, meanwhile, Ainslie Bowhay comments, “Students opting for online learning are usually time-poor, in that they have other commitments that make a full-time face-to-face course inconvenient.” Hence, “We do not see [online provision] restricting our growth in the language travel space,” stresses Brodbeck.

A supplement to learning
Elsewhere, language schools are successfully using online methods to complement face-to-face tuition. Guided e-Learning is a specialist online learning company that works with schools to this end. As Chief Executive of the company, David Coarsey, explains, “One of the biggest challenges in language travel is how to help students to maintain their English after they leave the school. Once the student is home, day-to-day life intervenes and makes it difficult for them to hold on to what they have learned. Our job is to provide agents and schools with an effective, economical and flexible way to address this by extending the school’s ability to work with the student after they graduate.”

While the majority of IH clients are taking online courses as an alternative to attending a school, Dykes reports that many also enrol for online courses on their return home from a course abroad. There is also business to be gained in pre-language travel courses. Andrea Moradei of Centro Koiné notes that clients tend to enrol on online courses either because they want to continue learning after a language travel programme, or because they are planning a language travel trip.

Meanwhile, at Bell, online provision is also designed for use primarily to complement classroom learning during a student’s time at the school. “For example,” comments Dawe, “students may use English Campus to focus on areas that need improvement. This is provided as a value-added service to the customer at a number of Bell centres.” This concept of “blended learning” has also been used as the basis of programmes Bell has developed for corporate clients, including companies in the oil and gas, pharmaceutical, telecommunications and utility industries.

EF provides free online courses that students may follow before a language programme at one of their schools, which are separate from the paid-for courses offered by its Englishtown subsidiary. Bell, too, provides both free and paid-for courses and students worldwide may visit its online learning portal and find free supplementary support, offered in conjunction with publisher and online specialist, Macmillan.

Online provision can also help students to catch up on missed lessons, as Andrew Brown of Education ABC in the UK points out. His school will be positioning its online learning as supplementary to existing adult learning provision, particularly, he says, in the case of extensive courses, where some individuals may be unable to attend the occasional lesson.

Online advantage
There are advantages to online study too, say experts in the field. According to Coarsey, when undertaken as complementary to a language travel programme, the advantages of online learning are its flexibility, convenience and access to teachers who are known and trusted. For those who choose online learning as an alternative to language travel, the benefits are ease of access, personalised attention, cost and effectiveness, says Dykes.

While ease of access is self-evident, the others may be less so. He explains: “With our personalised tutorial service, it’s like having a private teacher dedicated to help clients improve whatever skills they want to focus on.” He adds, “Most online courses are cheaper than face-to-face classes. This is especially true for corporate clients, where the discounts on volume and, therefore, the price per user can be very significant.” Furthermore, “students who have the self-discipline required to study online often discover they can make more progress, more quickly, than they could by attending a normal class.”

The cost of Internet courses
The more comprehensive provision must, of course, be paid for, and courses can vary widely in their scale and cost. At a basic level, Koiné offers an Italian language course, which consists of 10 language units, with an online tutor at a cost of e40 (US$60) per unit. Meanwhile, at Wollongong University College, online provision is focused on preparation for the Ielts academic module. According to Bowhay, this consists of 100 interactive lessons, giving targeted practice in the four components of the test, together with helpful tips. Two course packages are available, with differing levels of support. The standard 100-lesson package, costs AUS$550 (US$495), and includes feedback on 10 writing tasks. Meanwhile, the AUS$700 (US$630) premium package offers the same number of lessons, with extensive feedback on how to improve performance on 17 tasks.

Englishtown’s main package is subscription-based, at a cost of e49 (US$73) per month within continental Europe. This includes approximately 1,500 hours of self-study materials, divided into 14 proficiency levels, from pre-beginner to advanced. A major selling point is the availability of live lessons every hour on the hour, which students can join by logging on to their account at that time. They are then directed to a class tailored to their level and led by a native English speaker. Students can also book online for a subscription to private tuition on a similar basis.

In terms of scope, the market is well served. However, at present, the majority of online provision serves those wanting to study English. As Englishtown’s Brodbeck comments, “Although we have considered providing a similar service in other languages, we have found that English is the only one for which the demand is sufficient for us to support.” Spanish online courses account for around 10 per cent of sales by IHLS Net Languages however, and other languages such as Italian are catered for via a number of local schools. If market growth continues at the present rate, it will only be a matter of time before the range of languages on offer rivals the range of course types.

Linking up

Many language schools and language travel consultants may not yet be aware that they can use the expertise of a number of specialist companies to offer their own online language learning provision. Net Languages works not only with International House schools, but also with many other language schools and travel agencies, as IHLS Chief Executive, Jonathan Dykes, reports. Those partners earn commission on sales, “exactly as they would if they were sending students to study in one of our language schools,” he comments. He adds, “Offering online courses alongside more traditional courses is an ideal way for language travel agencies to extend their range of services.”

As with Net Languages, Englishtown – as part of international language school chain EF – offers its courses through its own schools, and has also entered into various partnerships, according to Alex Brodbeck. These have not, to date, included language travel agencies. However, he comments, “That would be interesting to explore.”

Founded in 2006, Guided e-Learning is another company specialising in this field. It was established to help agents and schools provide a more complete package. Chief Executive, David Coarsey, explains, “We try to help schools move from being spot providers of short courses to ongoing language education service providers, who can help students manage their ongoing educational needs.” The company provides its language school clients with an online community, a self-access study centre and distance learning platform. Coarsey adds, “We provide the platform to schools and they set their own prices, which include any additional services they provide via the platform.” It is a service designed to help expand the business of many small schools and agencies, organisations that, on their own, could not spare the resources to provide such a service.

While many schools and agents currently report a lack of demand for online provision, the feeling is that the climate could be set to change, as technological improvements have enhanced the possibilities for online study. It now remains for the industry at large to harness the technology to its own advantage.

Contact any advertiser in the this issue now

The following language schools, associations and accommodation providers advertised in the latest edition of Language Travel Magazine. If you would like more information on any of these advertisers, tick the relevant boxes, fill out your details and send.





International House
      World Organisation
MEI-Relsa Ireland 
NAIS – National
      Association of
      Independent Schools
Perth Education City
Quality English 
Bright World

Interglobal Ltd

Malta Tourism

Joy of English
Perth Education City

Bodwell College 
Centre Linguista
College Platon 
inlingua Vancouver
National School of
School District #8
      Kootenay Lake
iMandarin Chinese
      Training School

ILI International
      House – IH Cairo

Bell International
      (Malta, UK)
Bright World
      Summer School 
Camp Beaumont
      (Argentina, Australia,
      Canada, England,
      France, Germany,
      Greece, Hawaii,
      Ireland, Italy, Malta,
      New Zealand, Russia,
      Scotland, Spain,
      Sweden, USA)
English Studio
Heart of England
      Language School
International House
      World Organisation
Kaplan Aspect
      Australia, Canada,
      Ireland, Malta,
      New Zealand,
      South Africa, UK,
LAL Language and
      (England, Malta,
      South Africa, USA)
      at Clifton College,
Malvern House
Our World English
Queen Ethelburga's
Rose of York
      Language School 
South Thames
St Giles Colleges
      (Canada, UK, USA)
Study Group
      (Australia, Canada,
      England, France,
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy, New Zealand,
      South Africa, Spain,
Twin Group
      (Ireland, UK)
French in Normandy
Langues Sans
Silc – Séjours
      (France, Spain, UK)

Carl Duisberg
      (England, Germany)
International House
      Berlin – Prolog

Alpha College of
Atlantic Language
English in Dublin
Galway Cultural
ISI – International
      Study Institute Ireland
MEI-Relsa Ireland 
Swan Training


Kai Japanese
      Language School 

Clubclass Residential
      Language School
EC – English
      Language Centres
      (China, England,
      Malta, South Africa)
LAL Malta
Malta Tourism

EAC Language
      Centres and
      Activity Camps
      (England, Ireland,
      Scotland, Wales)  
Edinburgh Academy
University of Stirling

Cape Studies
EC Cape Town
      Cape Town
Good Hope Studies
Interlink School of
LAL South Africa 
Language Teaching
Shane Global
      Language Centres –
      Cape Town 
South African School
      of English

Esade Executive
      Language Centre
Idiomas ¡Sí!
International House
      San Sebastián –
International House
      Sevilla – Clic

EF Language
      Colleges Ltd
      (Australia, Canada,
      China, Ecuador,
      England, France,   
      Germany, Ireland,
      Italy, Malta, New
      Zealand, Russia,
      Scotland, Spain,
      (Australia, Canada,  
      England, France,
      Germany, Italy,
      Japan, New
      Zealand, Russia,
      Spain, Switzerland,

ALCC – American
      Language &
University of
      California Riverside 
University of
      California San Diego
University of
      Nebraska at Lincoln
Wilbraham & Monson
Zoni Language
      Centers Canada
      (Canada, USA)


Bell International
      (Malta, UK)
South Thames
University of

University of

Monterey Institute of
      International Studies
NAIS – National
      Association of
      Independent Schools
St. Timothy's School
Valley Forge Military