Thursday, February 25, 2010

Response to Oliver - thanks for the inspiration

These are my loose notes on how ID theory can be applied to a distance based ESL program. Its a private company that offers English lessons via the web with online instructors located in their native English speaking countries. They use VoiP to speak with students on particular lessons.
The company has two ID needs - one is the ESL curriculum, the other is the teacher training. 

ID Model Applied
Some things that I am interested in involve the sort of instructional design model this company uses. What's their design process, and how well does it work?
So much of ESL training schools that I have experienced (especially in China) have been about 'just teaching' or making money. This means that there is little instructional planning with the expectation that the class instructor has to both design and teach. Other times, they may be given a book and told to just figure something out. I would assume that this company being e-learning based, has a more focused set curriculum and provide their teachers with lots of direction, which may or may not work all the time.

My belief is that instruction should be designed with flexibility in mind because during the actual learning, different students master learning materials differently. What sort of planning occurs at this company?

Front-end Analysis
A way to plan is to do a front-end analysis, determining what level the students are at, their motivation, learning styles, and since this is a distance program, student's access to the appropriate technology and whether it can handle the school's software.

There is also a matter of looking at the curriculum itself. Since they are working with a linguistics professor and the expertise of people in the company, the curriculum is probably well thought out. ESL, fortunately, is a field that is always open to change and willing to try new things to help students meet the overall objective of being able 'to speak the language'. There has also been a push in ESL for standardization through tests such as IELTS and TOEFL. These tests have forced a lot of curriculum into a test prep direction, which can be detrimental to actually learning how to use the language.

I guess what I am getting at is to think about the curriculum objectives - what factors influence them?

Front-end analysis is about determining objectives based on the learner's knowledge, skills, attitude, or motivation. The process analyzes the knowledge against the student's ability to determine where the gap is between the two. So if curriculum is just thrown at students to 'pass a test', but doesn't focus on the learner (their motivation, skill level, and attitude), it will never really stick because it might not necessarily be filling the gap. So, the best designed lessons will be useless if they don't meet the needs of the learners.

Front-end analysis is about matching what's found in needs analysis (the learner's need) with what's determined in task analysis (the objective knowledge). The output of this process can create strong objectives that best help the learner.

Now, one may argue that there is no such thing as objective knowledge, only relative, but that's more of a postmodern philosophical debate. However, within the global multi-cultural learning experience, it is worth considering.

So, in the process of designing this company's instruction, is there a component that considers the learner's perspective? I think of how when I taught at a ESL Language School in Chicago, all the Korean students were just there for a year long language holiday. They really didnt want to learn English, only pass a test, or sit in a seat for a year to get credit and say they can 'speak English'. Many could care less about the curriculum and usually shut down or acted obnoxious. This means that the instruction was poorly designed. It did not meet the needs of students, because it never addressed how to motivate them to actually want to learn. The mission of the company was to make money first, and educate second, which is really demotivating for the teachers too.

Enough for now!

To be continued...

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