Thursday, March 4, 2010

New Online English Courses Integrate Current Research in Cognitive Psychology and Second Language Acquisition

General Introduction

Effective English courses should be based on sound research in cognitive psychology and second language acquisition. Research has shown that high levels of student engagement are "a robust predictor of student achievement and behavior in school" (Klem &Connell, 2004, p. 262). Research has also shown that language learners move through several stages of language acquisition (Krashen & Terrell, 1983). In addition, because different learners use different learning strategies, students most effectively learn when they can use their own learning strategies as well as have a chance to develop different learning strategies.

With or without the teacher’s knowledge, effective language instruction utilizes and acknowledges the above principles. In this regard there is no difference between classroom instruction and online instruction. The difference is that online instruction can pick and choose the best teachers and material to effectively teach English. On the other hand, language school materials and teachers can be hit or miss. Some programs may be excellent, but are spoiled by a poor teacher. Other programs may have excellent teachers but are spoiled by a poor curriculum. One advantage of an Online English course is that it takes the guess work out of choosing an effective English course. In general, online instruction has already proven itself to be as good as or better than face-to-face instruction (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2009). One only needs to know that the online English course is based on sound research.

The Research: Learning Styles

Learning styles is generally described as "cognitive, affective, and physiological traits that are relatively stable indicators of how learners perceive, interact with, and respond to the learning environment" (Keefe, 1979a, p.4). Learning styles can vary greatly between individuals. This becomes especially relevant when considering learning English as a second language. Reid (1987, vol.21, #1) showed that learning styles vary between cultures and age groups. As a result, identifying the learning characteristics of specific cultures and age groups has wide-ranging implications in the areas of curriculum design, materials development, student orientation, and teacher training. This is all the more important when considering that children either prefer or reject teaching content based on their individual learning strengths (Dunn, Dunn, & Price, 1979).

Researchers have separated learning styles into six main groups, auditory learners, visual learners, tactile learners, kinesthetic learners, group learning, and individual learning. Unfortunately, there is little to no research about young Asian learning styles, but research into college age ESL learners has shown that native speakers of Korean, Chinese, and Arabic are the strongest visual learners (Reid, 1987). However, self-evaluation showed that Chinese, Korean, Indonesian, and English speakers chose auditory learning as a major learning style. From this research it appears that native Chinese and Korean speakers utilize various learning styles. An effective classroom should take into account both individual and cultural variables when designing and implementing an English course. Ideally, an online English course for non-native speakers should be created by people who had plenty of experience teaching English in the learner’s home country.

Years of practice and refinement have created solid EFL classroom courses, yet the teachers within those classrooms often vary in ability to facilitate learning. The same is true of online English courses. Anyone can create a video classroom and online English materials, but who are they? What is there experience teaching in foreign countries? What is their background in second language acquisition and cognitive psychology? Nowadays, the internet is bringing the classroom into people’s living rooms, yet are these English courses pedagogically sound? These questions are important for any parent to consider. One obvious way of getting this information is to look at the company background and experience.

Although learning styles vary between individuals and have cultural characteristics, it has been shown that delivering teaching content in different contexts can facilitate language learners to use different strategies and thus accelerate learning. Smith and Rensulli (1984, p. 49) indicate that a curriculum may benefit from providing varying instructional situations to accommodate different learning styles. Thus, information presented in different contexts and situations can accelerate learning by both utilizing the students individual learning styles as well as providing chances for children to learn and practice other learning styles. The internet is the perfect tool for providing teaching content in various contexts, such as; pictures, videos, activities, games, passive learning exercises, active engagement exercises, use of different characters with different voices, various conversational contexts, animations, cartoons, action skits, and classroom lectures.

For EFL teachers, applying this information in the classroom becomes intuitive with experience and practice. In a classroom, the line between teacher and student is often blurred. The teacher learns to adapt the curriculum, methodology, and presentation to the individual nature of the class and student, and students learn to adapt to the class by learning new learning strategies as well as acclimating to an unfamiliar curriculum, teaching methodology, and presentation style. A good online English course should utilize this classroom teacher – student relationship by giving some individual control of the learning environment to the student while providing opportunities for the student to adapt to a new learning environment.

The application of this information into an online course has been difficult since most online education material has been created by software developers, not experienced EFL teachers. According to Hubbard (1992) language software designers are often unaware of teacher/student instructional concerns. However, this has now changed. Services like Pumkin Online English, the BBC's, and English Media Lab have integrated cutting edge software with their educational material.


Now that the gap between effective English teaching material and internet technology has been closed, how does one choose an online English course that suits their child’s needs? Based on the previous research, a mental checklist would be useful when choosing an online English course. Answering the following questions is a good place to start when selecting an online English course.

What is the student's age:______
What is the student's English Level:____.
Who created the Online English Course?
Educators OR Designers
Experienced EFL teachers OR Experienced ESL teachers
People knowledgeable in current cognitive psychological research OR people
knowledgeable in traditional teaching methodology
How is the teaching material presented?
In multiple contexts OR single contexts
Requiring multiple learning strategies OR just one learning strategy
Student centered instruction OR teacher centered instruction

If the answers to these questions are: I have a child between the ages of 3 and 10 who is a beginner English student. I prefer an experienced EFL teacher who is familiar with Asian language learning styles. I would like the English course to incorporate cutting edge cognitive psychological research. I believe that the online course should present the material in multiple contexts. I want my child to develop new learning strategies while still being able to use the strategies familiar to him or her, and my child should be at the center of the learning environment. If you answered the questionnaire as such, then is worthwhile to checkout. Other sites are excellent for older intermediate and advanced English students (see and, but so far none have combined teaching experience, sound research, and emerging internet technology to teach young Asian learners basic to intermediate English in an organized and systematic way.

The integration of cutting edge research into individual and cultural based learning styles, EFL teaching experience, and broadband internet technology has started to yield powerful and effective online English courses. Although this is a good place to start when searching for online instruction, there are other issues to consider when choosing an online English course. Some things to consider are; language skills taught, ease of navigation, language of instruction, amount of feedback and reinforcement, child safety, etc. These issues will be looked at in more detail in upcoming articles.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Classroom Experience Benefits Effective Online Education

When parents send their children to study English at a school, they expect the school to provide a safe and effective learning environment. They also expect the school to provide the curriculum and materials. They don’t expect to have to find and organize their own materials. The internet now has a vast array of teaching and study materials, but what about complete English courses. What if a parent wants his or her child to study English at home? Do they want to be constantly searching the internet for appropriate study material, then have to organize it for their child’s use? The answer is no, they are not teachers nor native English speakers. They want the thinking and organization to be done for them just like it would be done for them in a language school course. They want their child to be able to study on their own and they want to be able to see progress. So the question comes down to: What online English courses for young beginner learners are available that meet these criteria?

It has taken a while for the internet to come of age regarding online English education for 4 – 8 year olds, but it finally has. Online English material is no longer just a hodgepodge of random ESL youtube videos, downloadable worksheets, and games. Several companies like the British Council, Pumkin Holdings, English Media Lab, ESL Gold, and TutorABC have started to create online English courses. However, except for Pumkin, these online courses require a teacher or adult to aid the student. Pumkin Holdings out of Hong Kong, which recently launched Pumkin Online English, has created a complete and organized English course and brought it into your home via the computer.

Resent research has shown that online education can be as effective, if not more effective, as classroom instruction (Tallent-Runnels et al, 2006), as well as being more cost efficient. Online education now has the ability to mimic the dynamics involved in high-quality classroom instruction (Larreamendy-Joerns & Leinhardt, 2006). This means that an online English course should be created by ESL teachers, not internet technicians. Experienced teachers know what works in a classroom, know what keeps children entertained, and know how a course should develop over time.

This is where Pumkin Online English stands out. It was created by experienced teachers who saw the possibilities of taking a highly effective classroom course and making it assessable to everyone on the web. It became obvious that not only could the classroom course be constructed online, it could also be made better by using emerging internet technologies, like flash games and data bases to monitor the students learning progress. In addition, an online course could more easily implement a student centered approach to language instruction, allow students to use their individual learning styles, and allow some individual control of the learning process. All of these have been proven to help children learn more quickly, and are implemented by Pumkin Online English.

In conclusion, an online English course should try to imitate effective classroom teaching techniques like listen and repeat, question and answer, review, games, quizzes, listening before speaking, reading before writing, immediate feedback, and the having native English speakers. An online course should also utilize the full potential of the web by incorporating emerging internet technologies like flash animation, virtual worlds, data collection of student progress and performance, and multiple language platforms. It should teach the basic language skills; reading, writing, speaking, and listening, as well as phonics, typing, and mouse skills. It should be both entertaining and educational. It should not rely on complex instructions or require a parent to assist in the learning process, yet it should include a way for parents to monitor their child’s performance. Online courses that are both safe and use proven teaching methodologies are few and far between. To see the future of childrens' online education, go to It truly brings the classroom into your living room.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Has online education come of age for EFL learners?

The above question and more about teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) will be explored and evaluated each week. The rate of change taking place in computer assisted technologies and online teaching materials makes it difficult for teachers and parents alike to keep abreast of what works and what is a waste of time and/or money.

Online educational courses have come a long way in the past few years and with the number of fast broadband connections increasing across Asia (South Korea now has the largest percentage of Broadband connections in the world) the potential for interactive, entertaining, and educational courses have increased.

Research in cognitive psychology, individual learning strategies, second language acquisition, and the effectiveness of online education have been yielding some very interesting results, especially with the medical advancements in observing brain activity.