This week, we interview Michael Gerber, CEO of Eurocentres, following the launch of the online learning platform my.Eurocentres about the importance of ‘blended learning’ approaches for language acquisition.

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What is ‘blended learning?

“The term has been around for a long time, but I think people are only beginning to discover what it really means for language learning. In principle, it’s the integration of technology and E-Learning tools with face-to-face tuition, but the key is in how they interrelate.  

For truly blended learning, technology needs to support and enhance the personalisation that face-to-face teaching can give, rather than having teaching and E-Learning existing side by side.”

Why is it good for language learning?

“I would say there are three main advantages blended learning can provide if used correctly: greater focus, greater accessibility and greater personal relevance. Greater focus because computer-based language practice and assessment can support more detailed and immediate feedback about learners’ strengths and weaknesses in the language, and indicate exactly what to work on rather than losing time exploring unrelated learning materials. Greater accessibility because learners can log in and study anytime anywhere, before during and after their face-to-face courses, and nothing is lost – you can always see your progress and advice on what to do next. Greater personal relevance because the internet brings us a wealth of real world material which can be exploited by teachers and course developers, working with authentic language and topics that directly relate to students’ interests.

We have focused on developing these areas with my.Eurocentres because with this you get learners who are more informed, more engaged and who learn faster. Moreover, our clients have a personal link to their chosen school from the moment they enrol through their agent, so they can plan to get the most out of their language stay by seeing the weekly school social events, taking a diagnostic pre-course test and working on their personal study plan before arrival. This continues after the course with a month of access to the personal study plan, to really consolidate learning and equip learners to continue their studies. Because students never lose their personal account, their progress record continues in a logical, focused way if they wish to extend their personal study plan or take another course.”

What’s new about blended learning?

“Ironically, what’s new about blended learning it is not a new idea any more – approaches to blended learning are maturing. We are finding that it is not a case of whether to integrate technology and online tools, it’s a case of how. Language learning consists of a whole range of different skills and tasks, and every learner’s needs are different, so we are continually developing our online tools to provide more flexibility within a frame, and match the appropriate technology to the task. A simple example is that people generally want to use their mobile phones for short periods of time to check what’s new, so we are focusing our latest mobile app development on sending bite-size updates directly from teachers’ classes for vocabulary practice and review. Similarly, we have found that tablets are a good stimulus for pair work and for individual consultation in tutorials.”

Does it change teaching?

“In the end, the fundamental principles of quality teaching that we have developed over 60 years are not changed by blended learning, they are supported and enhanced. Excellent teachers provide excellent instruction and excellent results, and the right tools can really help take this to a new level. It’s an exciting time because technology is reaching a degree of sophistication that can make our ideas into a reality, and my.Eurocentres will continue to see exciting developments in the areas of progress tracking, support from teachers and mobile learning.” 

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