Technology is awesome! I think we can agree on that.
The problem for us language teachers is that it’s taking away our customer base and moving it online.
Now, we can have the debate about whether that means the demise of our industry, or not.
But that debate is for another time.
I’m here to talk about why that’s happening, and what we as an industry are NOT doing about it.
A Quick Industry Compare
So first ask yourself:
Which are the most successful industries and companies these days?
What are they doing that’s making them so successful?
The answer is leveraging technology to help them create better products and services, and to help them make better decisions.
But wait, I can already hear your mind screaming “LANGUAGE TEACHERS ARE DOING THAT!”
In some ways, yes, but not in the way you might think.
Think about it – older trainers, I’m gonna need your help here – in the last 10 years, how have your lessons changed?
Probably a YouTube video where you used to use a DVD, an article from an online news outlet where you used to buy the physical magazine, maybe some music from Spotify where you used to buy the CD.
It hasn’t fundamentally changed teaching much, but it has made it SUPER EASY to get content.
Social media has also helped us chat with more teachers worldwide. But in an industry filled with freelancers, we’re still very hesitant to share; afraid to let loose our best teaching secrets in case someone steals our Kung Fu. We are all competitors, after all.
This tech revolution has made it more convenient for us to do more of the same.
Now Let’s Look at Google. Everybody Does
What does Google do that’s so different?
Answer Number 1: They use data!
That’s it. That’s where their whole power stems from.
They use data to make decisions, and also to show their customers that they are, in fact, making a verifiable difference.
Now Back to Us Teachers
Here’s the next questions to ask yourself:
How do you know what to teach from lesson to lesson for maximum gain in your students?
How do you know if you’re making a difference?
The answer – if you really want to be honest with yourself – is that you don’t know.
It’s a feeling.
You’re nearly certain they’ve gotten better at present tenses because we did it twice last month.
You’ve worked a lot on vocabulary, so their lexicon must’ve grown.
You’ve spent class after class working on telephone English so surely, they must be better on the telephone. Aren’t they?
And maybe you’re right.
But, by how much have they gotten better?
And how fast are they making progress?
Have they met the milestones you’ve set (if you set any)?
And perhaps more importantly:
Are YOU getting better as a teacher?
What are YOUR metrics for success?
Watch Out for Those Knees
Now, the immediate knee-jerk reaction to this hard truth is a solid defence.
“These things can’t be measured!”
Which is ridiculous these days. It’s what they told the Oakland As in the early 2000s when they began to measure baseball player performance (remember Moneyball?).
“It’s too labor-intensive to be worth the time.”
And here you’d probably be right…for now. It takes a truly dedicated teacher to put in all the extra hours to do it manually. But that’s only because no one has built the tools yet to make these things easier.
At English Designed, we’re working on exactly this problem.
Step Into My World
If we want to step into the 21st Century as an industry, we need to look beyond simply having shinier textbooks, funny YouTube videos, current articles, and frankly just slightly better content.
We need to have a hard look at ourselves, together, as other industries are doing, and be honest about what’s working and what’s not. And we need DATA to back this up.
Ask any in-company business English teacher and they’ll tell you they’d LOVE to be able to prove – beyond a shadow of a doubt – that their services have helped the companies they teach at. Think of how many more contract renewals you’d get if you could show them hard data that says, “it’s working! And here’s my data to prove it”.
And also, wouldn’t you like to be able to prove it to yourself?
Into My Brave New World
There’s a brave new world of technology out there to help our industry into this decade.
Once our eyes are open to it, we can raise our standards and prove that online language learning doesn’t have to displace us.
That we ARE valuable, and here’s the data to prove it.
This article was written by Timo who teaches English and runs English Designed.
You can also check out How Technology Is Changing Language Learning on Timothy’s blog.