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From blended language learning to integrated learning English as a Business Communication Tool

About the author Andrew Wickham, Linguaid

In the field of language training, « blended learning » generally refers to a type of course that seamlessly integrates « live » lessons with a distance or face-to-face trainer and e-learning resources available on different platforms or media (online, podcasts, smartphones, tablet computers, etc.). In this paper, we will use the shorthand “BLL” to refer to the topic addressed, which is Blended Language Learning.

The definition of the verb “to blend” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary is « to combine into an integrated whole ». The essential quality of a blend is therefore integration. But how integrated are the BLL offers currently available? And what constitutes “integrated blended learning” as opposed to “blended» programmes in which different modalities and resources are simply bundled together? What is the trainer’s role in a BLL environment and what tools does he need to manage it? Can blended learning programmes be customised to individual learners’ needs? Finally, what are the key conditions required to ensure the success of an integrated BLL system?

These are the questions this White Paper seeks to address. It is aimed at corporate Human Resources and Training managers who wish to set up effective blended language learning programmes for their staff. Readers will find here a presentation of the latest trends in BLL, information about how this form of training can improve return on investment, as well as advice on how to set up effective and sustainable BLL programmes.

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Preamble: the impact of technological progress on language training Human beings have been learning by combining lessons with a teacher and personal study using different types of media since the invention of written language. But the media we use today are no longer stone tablets, printed documents, or cassette tapes. They are increasingly virtual, interactive, and their contents are accessible in hitherto unimaginable quantities anytime, anywhere, thanks to the accelerated expansion of the World Wide Web. Another new development: learners today can communicate with « live » trainers at distance and share their knowledge in real time with other human beings thousands of miles away, using the same network. Everything is dematerialising and migrating online: the written word, voice, video, telephone, multimedia applications, etc. The boundaries between resources, trainers, modalities, contents and media are blurring. It is this development that has facilitated the rise of blended learning.

Table of contents 1 - State of the Art of Blended Language Learning

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Why is blended learning replacing e-learning?

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Teething troubles

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New opportunities

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2 - What are the current trends in BLL? Key words: Integration, Democratization, Individualisation 3 - What are the advantages of BLL?

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« Blended » programmes are more flexible and easier to customise

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BLL can reduce training costs

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The enriched environment of BLL is better suited to learning

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BLL can enhance motivation

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BLL can boost learning effectiveness

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4 - How to build a BLL programme that works

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Interlocking and associated resources

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A case study

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Some guidelines when implementing a corporate BLL project

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Conclusions 13 About the author

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Annex – A guide to the modalities of blended learning

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1 - State of the Art of Blended Language Learning Why is blended learning replacing e-learning? In the early 2000s, many people were convinced that -- thanks to the development of Internet-based educational technologies combined with the self-access approach to learning -- trainers could be dispensed with altogether. Those illusions were quickly shattered: In language training, human interaction with a « live » trainer is a pre-requisite. There are three reasons for this: 1) People learn languages in order to communicate with other people, not with computer programmes. Regular «live» communication practice with real people is therefore essential. 2) To make progress, learners need constant interactive feedback, particularly when dealing with the “grey” or ambiguous areas of language, which only a trainer can provide. 3) Language learning is a long and arduous process, so most learners need the guidance and encouragement of a trainer. However sophisticated e-learning programmes have become, they cannot fulfil this function. BLL is thus an attempt to find a compromise between the advantages in cost and flexibility provided by emerging educational technologies and the need for learners to be accompanied by a trainer.

Teething troubles The advent of Blended Language Learning has opened up the possibility of creating integrated, immersive training environments, combining innovative technologies and on-site or distance training modules. The trainer (or facilitator1, tutor2, coach3) has a central role in personalising the programme and guiding the learner. Learners can thus follow customised, motivating programmes and learn anytime, anywhere. But the early years of BLL have not lived up to expectations. The technology (learning 1  Facilitator: a trainer specialised in running resource centres, thematic workshops, or seminars. 2  Tutor: A trainer who guides and follows up a learner following an e-learning programme 3  Coach: a trainer who assists the learner in preparing a presentation or a document, or teaches a training module focused on a specific skill.

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management systems, broadband, interactive Web ware) was not yet up to the mark. Users found it hard to master the complexity of the approach. They didn’t have the tools or the expertise required to design and manage it, or to properly evaluate the results. Face-to-face courses were bundled together with self-access e-learning programmes and telephone modules, often just to cut costs. The different providers involved rarely communicated with each other. Teachers were not trained in BLL and continued to follow their own programmes, ignoring the other components of the blend. Such courses were blended in name only. This is still the case for many BLL programmes today and it is why some training managers have become wary of blended learning. But there are promising developments on the way.

New opportunities Web 2.0 tools increasingly offer trainers and learners unprecedented opportunities in terms of follow-up, interactivity, flexibility, and integration. Online personal study has become far more interesting and effective, thanks to the wealth and variety of learning resources available, and is freeing up trainer time from repetitive and unrewarding tasks. Learning Management Systems1 are becoming more sophisticated; they communicate better with each other and are more user-friendly. Such technologies are facilitating the integration of face-to-face and virtual interactions between trainers, learners and pedagogic resources2, erasing the boundaries of time and space.

1  LMS: Learning Management System: Web-based IT system to follow the learner’s progress and attendance and (in some cases) manage content 2  Pedagogic resources: the tools, content and media used in training

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2 - What are the current trends in BLL? Key words: integration, democratization, individualisation Technological progress and the dematerialisation of media are blurring the frontiers between the four main language teaching businesses: face-to-face training, distance training1, publishing, and e-learning. Today, these four businesses are converging and, under pressure from their corporate clients, language training providers training are associating in different ways, depending on their size and specialities. Amongst the largest international schools, some are trying to vertically integrate the four businesses and are engaged in a global race towards critical size through mergers and acquisitions. Certain distance training and e-learning providers are forming enhanced partnerships with schools in order to create distance training offers with integrated face-to-face modules. In addition, the democratisation of Internet technologies is enabling a number of small and medium-sized schools to create their own specialised blended learning offers by exploiting the latest Web 2.02 platforms and tools developed by publishers, which are increasingly accessible and rich in interactive digitalised content.

Individualisation According to training managers, the key trend in language training today is individualisation (Linguaid study, 2009). Trainers need to adapt their courses to the operational needs, professions, and specific constraints of individual learners. The latest Web 2.0 platforms allow trainers to respond to this need by giving them access to online content and allowing them to customise their programmes. Individualisation also means that the approach needs to be tailored according to learner levels: The different needs of a beginner and an advanced learner require specific programmes, methodologies and resources. So, one-size-fits-all programmes are less and less relevant.

1  Distance training: « live » training by telephone, Visio conference, or virtual classroom 2  Web 2.0: evolution of the Web, thanks to broadband, towards greater simplicity (i.e., that requires little technical expertise from users) and heightened interactivity.

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3 - What are the advantages of BLL? « Blended » programmes are more flexible and easier to customise Well-designed integration of face-to-face modules, distance modules, and online resources allows learners to follow a training course wherever they happen to be, whenever they are available. This approach is particularly well suited to people who are constantly on the move or find it difficult to follow on-site training1. This point is highlighted by Dominique Williams, from Aéroports de Paris: « Blended learning offers greater flexibility: It allows learners to choose when they do their homework and to follow their individual programmes on different media, guided by a tutor, following the recommendations of their principal trainer ».

BLL can reduce training costs Corporations often justify their decision to adopt blended learning by mentioning its capacity to reduce training costs. Courses combining face-to-face, online, and distance learning modules have a reduced component of on-site learning and the cost per hour is therefore significantly lower (more than 30 percent, according to a study by Demos). With the same budget, more people can be trained, and tailored solutions can be provided according to priorities and specific needs. Furthermore, the integration of distance learning can reduce overall ancillary costs (travel expenses, logistics, use of training space, etc.).

1  On-site training: training in which the trainer is physically present

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The enriched environment of BLL is better suited to learning BLL’s rich, multimodal1 environment corresponds to the recent findings of research in cognitive psychology applied to learning. According to Alain Leury, Emeritus Professor of cognitive psychology at the University of Rennes: « With several memories (sensory, visual and auditory, symbolic, semantic and working memory), there can’t be just one method of learning.../...which is why an enriched, complex environment is so important. It’s what I call multi-episodic learning ». The diversity of tools and resources provided by the blended learning approach is particularly suited to language learners working in a global business environment who use distance communication tools every day.

BLL can enhance motivation Because the key factor in maintaining motivation in language learning is the relationship between the trainer and the learner, tutored e-learning has become the norm. It’s the simplest model of blended learning, yet its results are far superior to those of e-learning on its own. Fully multimodal training courses, in which the trainer has a more active role, provide even greater wealth and variety of interaction and are more motivating than either tutored e-learning or traditional face-to-face training. In addition, research shows that distance modalities can produce beneficial effects for face-to-face training, such as more participation and richer interaction.

BLL can boost learning effectiveness Meta-studies of blended learning in the field of education have shown that this form of training can obtain the best results. Few wide-ranging studies have been carried out in the field of blended language learning, but most experts agree that well-designed, professionally run courses using this approach are also more effective. Furthermore, the mechanical and repetitive aspects of personal study required from learners (reinforcement of « clean » aspects of grammar and vocabulary) are more motivating and more efficient for learners than traditional homework. At all times, learners:

1  Multimodal learning path: a training course involving two or more modalities, organised in stages

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can access help functions and linguistic explanations can get instant feedback and correction of their results can repeat an exercise as many times as they want can manage their learning at their own pace and according to their preferences The trainers’ out-of-class work is considerably reduced, and thanks to the LMS1 functions, they can visualise their learner’s work when they want to, compare it with class averages, identify frequent errors, and prepare targeted classroom tasks.

1  LMS: Learning Management System: Web-based IT system to follow the learner’s progress and attendance and (in some cases) manage content

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4 - How to build a BLL programme that works Interlocking and associated resources When a learner only has occasional exposure to a language, effective learning requires a structured approach. Such an approach identifies the most frequent linguistic structures, which vary according to the context, and then helps the learner to assimilate them progressively through repetition and recycling, using progressive sequences of exercises and controlled practice activities. In a multimodal blended learning course, the modalities, the resources, the contents, and the trainer’s activities that are linked to the core programme need to be tightly interlocked in order to guarantee optimal pedagogic coherence and simplify the learner’s task. However, learning cannot be limited to this controlled activity only, because learners need to appropriate the language for themselves in order to become autonomous. It is thus equally important that they read texts, listen to recordings, watch videos, and have spontaneous conversations, or that they research vocabulary and grammar resources that interest them: in other words, that they explore the language freely and are exposed to immersive sequences. That’s why an effective blended learning course should include associated modalities and resources that are less tightly linked to the core programme. The success of a blended learning programme will depend in part on how well-integrated these two approaches are within the learning path.

A case study To illustrate this, let’s imagine a simple blended learning course which includes both interlocking and associated resources in the following way (the learner is an executive at B1 level who travels once a month and needs to improve his general level of business English) : 1. A regular group course 1.5 h/week. One hour is dedicated to the core programme (intermediate structures and business expressions and vocabulary), using a printed classroom method. The remaining 30 minutes are devoted to role plays. 2. An e-learning module (also available on a mobile learning platform) that includes:

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a) homework linked to the core programme (supervised by the group trainer) b) flexible resources (news, videos, articles, grammar and vocabulary reference units, etc.) 3. An individual telephone or videoconference module (with flexible timetabling), targeting oral fluency, especially on the telephone, and including freer conversations, based on the topics chosen by the learner in the flexible part of his e-learning programme.

But how can we ensure the coherence and measure the results of a learning path that includes three different modalities, interlocking and associated resources, two trainers working at different geographical sites using different media and content? How can we integrate these different elements so as to obtain effective, measurable results? In other words, how can we simplify complexity? This is the key challenge of blended learning. Taking the above example, here are a few remarks: 1. In this example, the objectives are too vague to allow for valid measurement of results. The learner’s current performance and skills, both in business English contexts and in the specific contexts related to his job, need to be precisely determined, together with his strengths and weaknesses in oral and written English. Then, precise, quantifiable objectives need to be fixed, both for the global programme and for each modality1. This initial analysis is required for any course, but it is doubly important in blended learning.

2. The integration of modalities and resources within a multimodal blended course is carried out by creating « bridges » between the different elements. This is difficult to achieve unless there is a sophisticated online platform, or LMS, which allows trainers to communicate with each other and with the learner, to manage a unified timetable, to consult the programmes and the e-learning contents, and to ensure effective monitoring of the student’s work. The platform must be able to aggregate and synthesize the data (for instance, the number of face-to-face, distance and e-learning hours done by month, by company, group or individual trainee, results of exercises, and progress tests, etc.).

3. The content that is part of the core programme but is available on different platforms and media must, as far as possible, « come out of the same stable » (Pete 1  Modality: delivery channel for training: telephone, individual course, workshop, e-learning, immersion, etc. (See the table of modalities in the annex.)

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Sharma, 2008). For instance, the e-learning homework must be linked, both visually and in terms of content, to the media used in the classroom so that learners feels they are working in one coherent universe. It is more motivating for the learner and far simpler to manage for the trainer.

4. It is vital that the respective roles and responsibilities of each trainer are clearly defined in order to avoid redundancy or contradictions (for example, when working on the same themes). All the trainers need to have a global vision of the course and to be fully trained in the use of the platform and the tools. They need to be given time to become familiar with online contents, to monitor the learner’s progress, and to draft regular pedagogic reports. This may seem obvious, but training and follow-up time are often neglected in blended learning courses.

5. To make sure the scheduling of each modality does not go out of sync compared to the other modalities and to the initial calendar, a supervisor (administrative or pedagogic) needs to monitor the course and intervene rapidly as soon as problems appear.

6. At the end of the course, a precise evaluation of results needs to be carried out. This might include a general level/placement test (in case of a long course), but should first and foremost measure progress with regard to the programme’s core objectives. In the above example, the elements to evaluate would be: oral fluency -- both faceto-face and on the telephone -- business vocabulary, the linguistic content, the topics broached during the training and communicative performance in business situations (meetings, presentations, etc.). The organisation of this in-depth final evaluation does indeed require an investment in time and resources, but in our opinion, its advantages in terms of learner motivation, quality assurance, and visibility on ROI easily offset the additional cost. A well-organised, customised 20-hour course with clear objectives, an appropriately skilled trainer, and a programme whose operational results can be measured is much more cost-effective than a 30-hour standardised programme with vague objectives and trainers who do not master the tools and the approach of blended learning.

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Some guidelines when implementing a corporate BLL project Initial diagnostic and project management A blended language learning project requires a prior in-depth diagnostic of needs, objectives, and constraints if it is to meet management expectations. It also requires a project management approach with a carefully planned roll-out schedule. In addition, training managers need to have a clear vision of the overall project goals and communicate them clearly to the different stakeholders so as to ensure line managers, trainers, and learners understand the potential benefits of the system, what is expected from them, and collaborate effectively to reach targets.

Evaluation and measurement of results Effective language training requires evaluation systems that measure not just the progress in the overall level of a learner, but also the specific skills, oral and written, and the context-specific language learners needs to master in order to do their job effectively. Results of training need to be measured against initial performance, on the basis of the learner’s objectives and of the programme followed. With BLL, the difficulty is compounded by the need for specific evaluation systems for each modality, and for a method to aggregate these results to produce a coherent, reliable picture of a learner’s progress. No currently available off-the-shelf evaluation tools can do this, so training managers need to pay special attention to this aspect with their suppliers when implementing a BLL project.

Implementation and management When rolling out a large training project, the complexity of blended learning, with its multiple interactions and diversity of actors, requires expert pedagogical engineering, an efficient and reliable Web-based Learning Management System (LMS) to manage scheduling, piloting, communication and monitoring, supported by fully qualified human and technological resources. Without these elements, the project can easily fall apart.

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Trainer expertise As we have seen, the role of trainers in blended learning is crucial to the project’s success. In addition to face-to-face training, their job is to tailor the programmes and resources to individual learner’s needs, to respond to the learner’s questions and problems, to motivate them and monitor their progress in the classroom and online. Whenever necessary, trainers need to apply micro-adjustments which ensure that the coherence of the programme is preserved. It is vital to ensure trainers master the tools and resources and are allocated the time they need to monitor their learners.

Integration, Integration and Integration Optimal integration between modalities, resources, planning systems, and partners is required to avoid fragmentation or dissolution of the programmes, lack of accountability, and loss of learner motivation. The right balance between simplicity and complexity needs to be found. Overemphasis on simplicity can have a negative impact on the wealth and diversity that is one of the essential benefits of blended learning, while overcomplexity can defeat the purpose of the training by expanding administrative time to the detriment of pedagogic objectives and by causing stakeholders to lose sight of the overall goals.

Flexible, customised programmes Considering the growing trend towards individualisation and increasingly intensive work schedules, programmes need to be flexible and customised in order to train learners « just in time, just enough ». One size-fits-all programmes that are too linear or standardised are not always well-adapted to the learner’s needs and expectations.

Training learners Before beginning a blended learning course, it is advisable to make sure learners understand and are comfortable with the approach, are able to master the tools, modalities and resources, and have a clear understanding of the learning path they will follow. Many learners will need to follow a structured procedure and be guided step by step by a trainer, particularly in the early stages. A simple, visual online/offline document should be provided, as well as a « learning to learn » module, to encourage students to develop their autonomous learning skills.

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Conclusions When it is integrated and implemented professionally, blended language learning corresponds to the current needs of corporations, because it offers greater flexibility for learners, reduces training costs, and can be customised by selecting appropriate modalities and resources for a given profile. The wealth and variety of a blended language learning course is more suited to the way people learn languages naturally than traditional training. In addition, the interactivity of the resources available is more motivating for learners and can enhance learning effectiveness.

A changing market The individualisation of training -- a trend that began several decades ago and which is growing in importance year by year -- is pushing training providers to offer flexible, customisable systems to their clients to enhance the trainer’s role and to gradually abandon one-size-fits-all systems. The complexity of implementation and the discouraging results of the early versions of blended learning are orienting the market towards simpler and better integrated solutions: blended learning is gradually giving way to integrated learning.

Three emerging trends can be identified in the current blended offer: 1. The largest language training networks are going global and vertically integrating the four key language training businesses (face-to-face training, distance training, e-learning and publishing). 2. The smaller distance and e-learning providers, whose businesses are converging, are reinforcing their partnerships with traditional schools by opening up their platforms to trainers and allowing them to customise their programmes and thus provide better integrated blended learning courses. 3. The democratisation of Web 2.0 tools and platforms is allowing medium-sized training organisations to create their own specialised blended learning offers.

This diversified offer is an opportunity for corporate clients because it gives them a wider choice of solutions that can be adapted to learner’s profiles, training objectives, and specific constraints.

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But these trends are still relatively recent. We hope to see in the coming years a number of major developments: Learning management platforms will progressively evolve towards full Web end-to-end systems capable of managing every aspect of the training offer and integrating learning content and authoring tools. Enhanced evaluation systems will emerge that can effectively measure operational results of learners following multimodal courses. And both trainers and learners will rapidly become more familiar with the pedagogy and the tools of blended language learning. Two other areas to watch in the coming years are social learning and serious games. The growing interactivity of Web 2.0 has led to the development of collaborative selfaccess platforms that have created a lot of buzz, but those haven’t yet proved the effectiveness of their model. These sites are now targeting the corporate market. As for serious games, there is a vast potential in this area, because language learning is more motivating and more effective when the learner’s objective is not just to memorise language but to accomplish tasks using the target language (as in C.L.I.L1). However, we need to be aware of the dangers of excessive gadgetisation that have often plagued the language training industry in the past. The real challenge for providers and clients today is to harness the potential of these new technologies to create integrated, sustainable training systems in which technology enhances, rather than depreciates, the key role of the trainer and the effectiveness of language learning. Andrew Wickham, Linguaid, Décembre 2012

1  C.L.I.L: Content and Language Integrated Learning: an approach that is increasingly popular in the educational sphere, which combines teaching of a subject with language instruction

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About the author Originally a sales English trainer, then a director of studies, he founded and then managed Nexus Langues et Communication from 1989 to 2003, a language school specialized in business and pedagogical engineering. He then designed and directed a blended learning project for high level executives in Renault, before dedicating all his time to the market study and consulting missions in training. He animates debates, workshops, training sessions and market watch, and consulting missions for different players in the market as well as for universities around Europe.

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Annex - A guide to the modalities of blended learning «The primary benefit of Blended Learning is its capacity to exploit intelligently the advantages of each training modality», according to Tiphaine Duchet, Director of the Learning Centre at HR Valley (source : «le Blended Learning ou comment mixer intelligemment le présentiel et la formation à distance», MyRHLine 05/03/2012) It goes without saying that the modalities need to be chosen on the basis of the initial diagnostic, but how can they be associated to get the best out of each one?

Types of training

Face-to-face & onsite training

Video training

Telephone training

Modalities Individual courses

Below is a guide describing the advantages of each modality, sorted in ascending order of distance between learners and face-to-face trainers. The association of these modalities and the choice of themes, rhythms and tools is a specialist’s job, and the specific configuration can vary enormously depending on needs and context. Generally, blended learning courses do not include more than 3 or 4 modalities.

Optimal use Customised programme. Intensive oral practice, guidance, explanations/corrections, and individual role-plays. Well-adapted to specialised courses and for learners with special needs/constraints.

Individual coaching

Short or one-shot individual course, focused on a specific objective: preparing a presentation or a written document, help with a specific topic or skill, individual role plays. Requires an expert trainer.

Individual tutoring/ Resource Centres Group courses

A « light » extensive course designed to accompany learners following an e-learning programme. The tutor provides guidance, explanations/corrections, and is required to master the technological resources.

Thematic workshops

For in-depth group role plays and simulation, and group oral practice. Theme-based professional or general training and collaborative learning. Requires a skilled group facilitator.

Cours intensifs/immersion Individual Video training

Development of fluency and oral comprehension. Immersion courses are the most effective formula of face-to-face training.

Video conferences Individual telephone training

Rarely used for the moment in language training, as technical problems are still rife. Promising future.

Conference Calls

Conference calls in their daily work environment. Group oral practice, collaborative learning, explanations/corrections, and group role-plays.

Extensive training, allowing group oral practice, explanations/corrections, and group role-plays. Group training can be motivating and facilitates collaborative learning.

Face-to-face training at distance by webcam used for individual courses, tutoring and coaching, generally including a virtual whiteboard. Very useful for mobile learners or those working in isolated sites. Seeing the trainer can enhance motivation, but technical problems are still frequent. Requires a trainer specialised in the medium. Flexible and cost-effective modality, when the trainer is based offshore. Can be used for individual training or tutoring. Excellent for practising telephone communication, developing fluency and maintenance. More intensive than face-to-face training, but less adapted for coaching and specialised training (esp).


Synchronous written communication Asynchronous written communication Self-access

Chat rooms, messaging, Web conferences Mail, email and forums

Facilitates the development of ÂŤ live Âť written communication, both individually and in a group, with or without a trainer (collaborative learning). Useful communication tool between tutors and learners.

resources, CD or CD-ROM based methods.

Development of passive knowledge: grammar and vocabulary, oral and reading comprehension. Is rarely proposed on its own by companies, as learners tend to tire quickly.

Helps to develop written communication, grammatical knowledge, and vocabulary; also used in tutored courses.


About goFLUENT goFLUENT offers distance Business English training combing eLearning, telephone lessons and written practice solutions. Each year, goFLUENT assists more than 100,000 employees in over 2,000 companies across the world to enable them to perform better in their international relations. goFLUENT is present in ten countries and has 560 employees -- of which 400 are trainers. NTT Communications (NTT Group) holds 30% of shares in the company. For more information, visit goFLUENT online at www.gofluent. com.

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From Blended Learning to Integrated Learning  

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