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Learning a Language Online

Online learning gives students new opportunities to learn more languages—made easier by advances in technology
By: Storie Walsh

The ability to communicate with someone who speaks another language can unlock powerful opportunities for students, while also bridging the divides that separate us as humans. What’s more, the ability to learn another language online opens up these opportunities to many more individuals—allowing students whose schools can’t afford a full-time teacher for subjects like American Sign Language (ASL) or Mandarin Chinese to learn these languages remotely.

Some people might wonder how learning a language online can be effective, especially when conversing with others is such an important part of language development. With recent advancements in technology, however, the right digital platform can help students successfully learn and practice non-written communication skills even in an asynchronous online learning environment.

The power of seamlessly integrated video

As the pandemic has proven, video can connect students remotely and help them communicate and collaborate across vast distances. But one of the benefits of learning online is that students can learn and complete assignments when it’s most convenient for them instead of at a predetermined time and place.

Because VHS Learning courses are delivered at hundreds of schools across multiple time zones worldwide, organizing an online class at a single time that would suit both teachers and students is almost impossible. For courses to be successful, students must be able to do much of their learning on their own schedule.

Recent innovations within our learning management system, Brightspace from D2L, easily enable students and teachers to record video of themselves speaking in the target language. These videos can be embedded for playback directly within a discussion post or Dropbox submission. This easy-to-use functionality allows for asynchronous spoken or signed communication between students and their peers, as well as the ability for teachers to provide substantive, video-based feedback on students’ work.

This functionality takes advantage of the Video Note feature within Brightspace. With Video Note, students can record themselves speaking or signing for a class exercise or assessment and then upload the video to Dropbox directly within the Brightspace interface. By eliminating the need to create videos separately from another application and then attach them as external files or links, this process creates a much more seamless experience for users.

This feature has proven to be equally useful when teachers are giving feedback to students on their pronunciation or signing ability. If teachers want to demonstrate the proper skills or techniques, they can simply record and embed a short video directly into the course page of the learning management system. The ability to see students’ and teachers’ videos in a single interface, together with group discussion posts and assignments, helps simplify the learning process for everyone involved.

Making language learning more inclusive

The feedback we’ve gotten from students indicates that they love being able to record, upload, and watch video easily on their own time—and that this ability is a game changer in terms of helping them learn oral or visual communication skills.

“If we didn’t have these assignments, I wouldn’t practice as much as I do,” said one student taking one of the nonprofit’s online ASL course. “I think they’re very helpful in learning proper signing.”

Allowing students to practice and demonstrate their language skills asynchronously using video removes some of the pressure they might feel in having to communicate with somebody in real time either in a group setting or one-on-one. Having access to feedback in a video-based format also allows students to go back and watch the video as many times as they need to master the skills in question.

Students who might not feel confident speaking or signing in a traditional classroom or a live online class often find it’s easier to express themselves in an asynchronous learning environment. With the right online learning platform and support, students and educators can take advantage of the power of video to learn and teach verbal or visual language skills just as effectively asynchronously as they can in a live environment—while being more inclusive as well.

Storie Walsh is the Vice President of Technology at VHS Learning, a nonprofit provider of online high school courses at schools worldwide.

This article was published by EdTech Chronicle.