Teaching Intensive Courses : The Role of On-Line Materials

For some students, learning a language gradually over an extended period is not an option. They need the language now – or even better, yesterday. This may be the case for instance with a student who has just changed jobs and needs a far higher language competence for the new job than s/he currently has. Or then there is the student who knows s/he needs to improve in English, but can’t or doesn’t want to commit to an extended period of regular lessons. These are the types of student who often end up on an intensive course. This type of course however presents two specific problems :

Overload : “Intensive” has different definitions, but may mean anything up to six contact hours a day – or even more on courses which include lunch and dinner with the teacher. Unless the course includes constant changes of activity and approach, such intensity can often lead to overload and fatigue - especially if students are at a low level and or perhaps in a one-to-one situation. The morning sessions may go well, but if the course then continues with yet more new material, and the same approach the “after-lunch dip” and late afternoon tiredness may make the intensity ultimately counter-productive.

Lack of Follow-Up : Another problem of these courses is the potential lack of follow-up. The students may end the course feeling that they’ve progressed a lot, but what has been learnt is then just as quickly forgotten. This is again especially crucial for lower level students, who may obtain no long-term benefit at all from the course if they do not have some way of consolidating what has been learnt. If they are not later going to follow an on-going course, they need to develop the ability to study autonomously as part of the intensive programme –so that they can then go on doing so afterwards.

One way of dealing with both these problems is to use an on-line course as part of the intensive programme – I usually use them in the hour immediately after lunch. On-line courses have the advantages that :
  • They provide a variety of approach and a completely different focus from the morning session.

  • They allow the student to work on material that recycles what s/he has been doing previously on the course, helping to reduce overload and ensuring immediate consolidation.

  • If it is a group course, they insert at least one personalised element into the programme – each student can work on activities which correspond to his/her individual linguistic or communicative needs.

  • They allow the students to work at their own pace for at least one section of the course.

  • They allow the students to continue studying after the intensive programme finishes, using an approach which they are familiar with and have already learnt how to use. The Netlanguages courses for example, which we use on intensive courses, allow the students access for at least six months after the initial enrolment. They can therefore continue working through the activities, completing those which they didn’t have time for on the course and taking advantage of the opportunity for contact with an on-line tutor for spoken tutorials (via Skype) and written work (corrected by E-mail).

I wrote about the problems of intensive courses previously, in Parts One and Two of the article Community Language Learning, where I suggested that two ways to inject variety into the course were to devote the afternoon firstly to self-access work and secondly to a session using a completely different methodological approach, such as CLL. The on-line work described here is of course just one way of organising the self-access period – but with the advantage that it does not have to end with the course.

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