Increasing Access to High Quality English Language Learning with Technology

Put yourself in the shoes of a Russian girl in a secondary school in Siberia, where English language is a compulsory subject; or a 12-year-old boy in Zambia who loves playing video games; or a Guatemalan from a rural area who wants to market local products to tourists. How could technology help you learn English?

Last month, the State Department convened 24 educational technology experts from the private sector, academia, and the U.S. government to answer this question. Held at the White House, the first “Technology in English” Workshop explored new ways of increasing worldwide access to high quality English-language learning opportunities. 

To do that, we asked our guests to imagine themselves as English-language learners from different countries, regions, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds. All learners have unique reasons for wanting to improve their English, and access to learning resources -- via technology or otherwise -- varies widely across the world. New technological developments are expanding the reach and increasing the effectiveness of those resources in ways that were not possible just a year ago.

The group spent several hours brainstorming how we can work together more effectively to keep pushing the limits. English-teaching and technology experts from academia are deeply interested in how technology assists the learning process. Private sector representatives want to make their products more successful through accessibility, ease of use and efficiency. The State Department, USAID, and the Peace Corps assist and build relationships between the peoples of other countries, a necessary step to solving global challenges.

We considered areas for cooperation among all relevant sectors. For instance, how can USAID and the State Department provide high quality online learning materials that are both cost-effective and scalable? How can Facebook usage data improve the Department's investment in massive open online courses? What can Peace Corps and private education companies learn from each other as they deliver online training in how to teach English?

The Technology in English event was designed to start these discussions. The workshop group has continued this discussion online and is planning to meet again at the TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) International Convention in Baltimore next year, where thousands of English teachers from around the world will gather to attend workshops and learn new teaching techniques and approaches.

Does your organization want to join the conversation? Let us know in the comments section below.

About the Author: John Mark King is a Regional English Language Officer in the Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs' Office of English Language Programs.

Girls work on their computers during the 2015 TechGirls at iD Tech Camp held on the campus of American University, Washington D.C.
Posted by John Mark King
October 27, 2015


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