This is a good question and the answer is not immediately obvious.
My old way of thinking
A couple of years ago, my immediate answer to the question of whether an online Business English course helps would have been an emphatic and categoric NO. I would have raged on about the importance of being in the same room as the students and about how online courses are too remote, with little or no possibility to ask questions etc etc etc.
Looking back, I realise that I was basically arguing from a position of ignorance. In my defence, the online courses that were available at the time were rather limited in terms of functionality and quality, but the accusation is still valid.
So what happened?
Here’s what happened – I started taking online courses myself. Admittedly, they weren’t in the area of Business English, but that’s a minor point. They were in many areas, for example, Java programming, search engine optimisation, video presentation and production methods, to name but a few.
There are sites springing up with online course content, with wildly varying prices. There are already clear indications of which sites are doing well and which are struggling. In a future article, I’ll look at some of these in depth, paying particular attention to the price to value ratios. For now, it’s enough to know that there is a good selection of possibilities, should you decide to try the online route.
The main advantages of a classroom situation are that the student can ask a question and the teacher can give feedback.
When the student asks a question, the teacher can open up the question to the class, or simply answer it. The student gets an immediate answer to his or her question. Similarly, if there are role-play exercises in the class, the teacher can give immediate feedback and corrections.
Also, let’s not forget the social aspect of being in a room of fellow learners. You can make friends and go for a beer or coffee after the class. If you’re lucky, there are students from various nationalities and cultures, giving a great opportunity to expand your horizons.
But the classroom is far from perfect. It might not be easy to get to, or even geographically close. Let’s say that the lesson is on Mondays at 18:00. You might have to work late, traffic might be heavy, you might be off sick or away on business, or you might just be tired and lacking motivation. The lesson will still take place, with or without you.
A decent teacher might send you an email with details of what was covered, together with any homework, but you still missed out.
The online option
One huge advantage of the online option is that you can go at your own pace. If you’re busy or tired, take the time to sort things out and get back to the course when you have time. If you’re super dedicated, you can also go faster. Maybe something didn’t quite click with you – so watch the video again, or pause and repeat a section as you need to. You are in full control. If a course doesn’t allow this, I would suggest another course that does. I think that this functionality is present in most courses these days.
Speaking of control, you can adjust the volume of the video to suit your own ears. Very often, the listening exercises in a classroom suffer from being either too loud/quiet or possibly have poor sound quality/acoustics. Online courses don’t have this problem.
You can also take part from the comfort of your own home. Feel like coffee in the middle? The pause button comes in very handy. If your phone rings, you don’t have to apologise to everyone. Need a bathroom break? There’s the pause button again.
Questions and feedback
But what about asking questions, I hear you say. Actually, you can ask questions. A decent course will allow this and will give you the option to search through questions that have already been asked (and answered). If you still want to ask a question, then go ahead. The answer that you receive will be visible for other students. Good online teachers check their courses at least once a day and take the time to post good answers.
Another feature of a good course is the assessment at the end of the module. There are often multi-choice questions that check your understanding of the material.
As you can see, online training has come a long way and is still progressing.
Does an online Business English course help?
Whether online of offline, the most important factor is still the teacher. If the teacher is well-prepared, can present the material in an interesting and engaging way, then the format doesn’t really matter.
Each person will view the above-mentioned advantages and disadvantages differently. Your personal situation will determine your individual weighting to these factors.
I’m interested in your opinion. If you have questions or comments on this topic, please take the time to post below.