English Online and In Canada

The past few weeks have been exciting for me – I changed jobs, relocating to the opposite side of the globe in the process. I did the same thing over 7 years ago, and the move wasn’t nearly as disruptive now as it was then. For most people I relate with it wasn’t so much of a good-bye as it was a change of mode. For many people I interact with, there was no change. For me, the transition was smooth.

And it continues to be exciting – this week my new workplace announced the Canadian National Online Conference for ESL Professionals to take place next January.  One of our first steps is to recruit an Advisory Committee. It will consist of 13-16 language professionals from across the country, hopefully from a wide range of expertise, and including one international member. Details are posted here. But, this isn’t the exciting part yet (unless you’re really into committee proceedings).

I was hired in part to help produce this conference, and the reasons why I feel excitement are the same reasons I decided to accept the position in the first place: the learning structure here embraces emergent learning and promotes learner autonomy. It’s a course design that facilitates, not instructs.

English Online is an NPO in Winnipeg, Manitoba that focuses on helping newcomers to Canada improve their language abilities, and on helping ESL teachers become better at guiding their own professional development. I’m more on the teacher side of things, so I’m concerned about things like PLNs, curating resources, and building networks. But for both sides, we’re trying to adapt complexity, and a decentralized (or, as I like to think: Authentically Centralized) mindset into structured learning for the ESL profession. It’s not an easy task, for one because ESL people are not EdTech people.

You can only go as far as your learners are motivated to go, in terms of digital literacy and autonomy.

The affordances of modern communication technology potentially give access and control over learning structure to the learner. When approached in this way, teacher roles shift to focus on learner autonomy skills and self-guided skills. However, as an organization we have to ensure that learning is taking place – we even have to somehow measure and show it.

It’s an exciting context to be in because it shares a lot of the same qualities of MOOCs…which didn’t instigate these qualities into the educational scene, but brought them into the spotlight. And the MOOCs under that light aren’t the only ways that MOOCs can exist. MOOCs have potential to come in many different forms far beyond what works best for the major American Universities. People like Stephen Downes continually remind us of the potential MOOCs hold and the reasons why they were developed in the first place: MOOCs were not developed for teachers, they were developed for learners.

For example, we have to take into consideration the language learning context of our learners (language is both means and content) and this changes what we can and cannot do in our learning approach. One result of this context is that we can produce an outer ‘ongoing’ structure, challenging how educators define the C for Course in the MOOC acronym. And this is the real exciting part, I feel, that it does try to build on the development of MOOCs (or better yet, the underlying principles) in an innovative way.

To me, English Online isn’t altogether different from my LMOOC outline I posted a few months ago. It attempts to embed education into a learner’s life, with minimal unintended disruption. Moving around the globe doesn’t have to disrupt a lifestyle very much these days, why should self-improvement?

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