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Comparing Distance and Face-to-Face TEFL Training
Thoughtful Use of Technology Can Make Internet Courses Worthwhile

Ken Merwin, of Cambria, Wisconsin, originally posted much of this statement on the TESLJB-L listserv, during a discussion of different TEFL Certificate options. He has graciously agreed to have his comments reprinted for the readers of ESL MiniConference Online.

I wanted to touch on some of the issues surrounding distance learning; issues of cost, accessibility, etc. Obviously, there are some negatives in terms of a component such as supervised teaching, but one can also teach at a distance and work to identify tools and resources that take the place of what can be done in a face-to-face setting.

Distance learning isn't right for those learners who are not self-directed and it takes proficiency with a computer and the Internet. But for motivated learners who don't need a teacher looking over their shoulder it is a very cost-effective way to take courses.

If one has a high-speed connection, the toys of videoconferencing, etc., it's possible to almost replicate the face-to-face experience, but I also think a darned good job can be done using good old list servs, Web pages, some simple chat tools and e-mail; then, learners can participate even with older PC's and slower connections.

It's hard to even find a small town library or school that doesn't have some public access computers and this is what is being done in developing countries, where people will do virtually anything to learn, market crafts directly, etc.

This is a useful thread for those of us who are "newbies" and wanting to receive the best training within the boundaries of finances, time commitments, etc.

I took one very intensive course taught totally over the Internet several years ago. I don't think I could have received more interaction and support from any face-to-face course. Such a course was structured so one could do the readings, interactions, etc., any time. We had no chat requiring all to be present at some fixed schedule, although some of us did chat online.

There is no doubt that a component of supervised teaching with students who one would typically find in a TEFL class would be invaluable, but I also see the continued trend of offering courses online. Again, the human face-to-face interactions are somewhat lacking, but there are advantages as well. One big advantage is being able to have students participate who may lack access to a traditional four-walls type of school. My readings and networking show that, even in many parts of Africa, more and more people--learners--have Internet access via telecenters.

So, regardless of the type of teaching one does, there are likely to be new venues, learner backgrounds, etc., that may not even be available in the type of supervised teaching offered by Midwest Teacher Training or similar programs.

The distance learning literature suggests that teaching over the Internet requires a whole new approach to learning. Programs that try to force it to conform to the traditional classroom are not as good as those that provide a fit to the technology, how to select students appropriate for this type of learning, how to engage the learner in interactions, provide research/library resources, technology support for everyone, etc.

Then, the question becomes one of transferring the skills learned in teaching within the four-wall model to something totally online, or even a combination of the two.

I believe that the theory elements of many disciplines can be offered online, at less cost than a commute to Madison, Wisconsin, the parking costs, meals away from home, etc. Then, offer a shorter on-campus component for the supervised teaching.

So, virtually everything involves trade-offs. For someone who has never stood in front of a class, regardless of the subject or mix of students, a program that lacks any practice teaching clearly would be a minimal program for them. But, for those with some teaching experience, then I believe something on a fast-track format could be just as valuable since they ought to be able to make some transfers on their own to other subject/student mix/learning styles types of situations.

Story by Ken Merwin
Cambria, Wisconsin

2002 ESL MiniConference Online