E-learning strategies to push language learning to the next level

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Learning online is accessible and flexible, but it can be challenging sometimes. Just like any learning method, it has its pros and cons. For instance, learners may enjoy its accessibility and flexibility but miss the structure of an in-person class or the close supervision of an instructor. It can take a big shift in perspective and study habits in order to make online learning work. However, for those who like taking control of their own learning process, the accessibility and flexibility afforded by online learning can be empowering.

Here’s how to be self-directed and efficiently boost your language learning online:

  1. Strive for intrinsic motivation

    Intrinsic motivation is when we act because of internal rewards. Reading a book because you enjoy reading (or learning about a certain topic) is an example of intrinsic motivation. On the other hand, reading a book because you want to get a high grade shows extrinsic motivation. While the first example shows personal reward as the main motivator, the second shows a need for external validation or material reward.

    This is not to say that extrinsic motivation is bad. Often, a good combination of both types of motivation pushes us to achieve our learning goals. It’s just that the benefits of extrinsic motivation can fade away quickly – once you get the award, you’re less likely to sustain interest in learning. Meanwhile, intrinsic motivation lasts and makes you a better learner. A study has shown that learners who are intrinsically motivated have been found to take control of their own learning, are persistent in the face of difficulties, and find more meaning in what they are doing.

    How to develop intrinsic motivation:

    • Think about why learning is important to you. Attach it to a personal meaning. For example, “learning English is important to me because I want to be able to relate to my kids and build a good relationship with them.”
    • Imagine the impact of reaching your learning goal, to you and others, especially if there are longer lasting impacts or benefits. Think about this often.
    • Explore various ways of learning and find one that you enjoy.
  2. Poster showing online learning strategies

  3. Have a growth mindset

    What is a growth mindset? It’s the belief that anyone can improve and learn with perseverance, hard work, and support from others. This is the opposite of thinking that talents and skills are inborn, which is a limiting idea (fixed mindset). A learner with a growth mindset is more likely to succeed because mistakes and challenges do not stop them. They see challenges as learning opportunities instead.

    How do you develop a growth mindset?

    • Embrace learning like a child – Kids try things without being embarrassed. They’re not scared of making mistakes and taking chances.
    • Never take mistakes personally. Everyone makes mistakes. How you handle them is what’s important – do you correct yourself and try again? Or do you give up?
    • Surround yourself with positive people – Learning in a supportive environment will make you feel that anything is possible! Positive people encourage others to thrive and succeed.
  4. Set realistic goals

    Goals should be achievable within your available skills and resources, and within a certain time frame. It should be a balance between what you want and what you can do. Having realistic goals increases your likelihood for success. Realizing small goals can boost your self-esteem and motivate you to achieve more.

    Before setting your learning goals, make a quick inventory of your available time, learning resources, and your skills. Then, set your goals the SMART way.

  5. Use a variety of tools

    E-learning encourages learners to use a combination of materials to engage their senses and improve all four language skills. Here are some examples:

    • To improve your reading skills: Check online to find book suggestions or read online materials like newspapers, blogs, and online magazines.
    • To improve speaking skills: Join conversation circles (online or in-person), or record yourself speaking and critique yourself. Make improvements based on your critique.
    • To improve listening skills: Watch videos and movies with subtitles, or listen to an audiobook or a podcast.
    • To improve writing skills: Comment on forums or social media platforms, answer quizzes, or write a blog.
  6. Measure your progress

    Seeing improvement can energize and motivate you to continue learning. You’ll also be able to see if you are on track to achieving your goal. A good way to do this is to set milestones along the way to divide your goal into manageable segments. You can set periodic check-ups to see if you’re meeting your milestones. For example, if your ultimate goal is to speak English fluently in a year, your milestones can look like this:

    • Milestone 1: Increase vocabulary by __%
      Increase vocabulary by learning one new word a day – First three months (Jan-Mar). Check progress each month by taking a vocabulary quiz.
    • Milestone 2: Improve conversational skills by __%
      Learn at least five idioms and use them in conversations each week (Apr-Jun) – Check progress by describing the quality of conversations each day in a journal.
    • Milestone 3: Improve presentation skills by __% (July to December). Check progress every 3 weeks by sending out feedback forms after each presentation.

Sources: The Balancing Act: 10 strategies for successful online learning, Wilfrid Laurier University; How educators can foster student motivation, Haleh Yazdi; and How to measure progress effectively in 5 steps, Indeed. Accessed October 12, 2022.

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