Until lockdown, all classes had been delivered face-to- face. Yet, by 26 March online, classes were underway, with 500 hours of classes attended by learners in the first week.
It has been so successful that learner surveys show the majority would be happy to continue with online learning. It has also opened up options for people living in remote rural communities who previously struggled to attend classes.
“Our teachers’ commitment made online learning happen,” says English Language Partners’ former Chief Executive Nicola Sutton. “We trained teachers to use Zoom and provided licences so they could access all the features. By 30 March, 233 had trained in the technology, but many already had classes underway.
“Teachers quickly learned to adapt content to an online mode of delivery. They took up training opportunities and learned through their mistakes.”
Teachers used a wide range of platforms that they, and some learners were familiar with.
“Just two days after lockdown at Level 4, one of our staff saw a friend’s post on WeChat, a Chinese social media app, with a photo of her parents in an English Language Partners’ WeChat class!”
Jo Leach, programmes manager, says the speed at which teachers moved to online learning was remarkable.
“The level of innovation surpassed all expectations,” says Jo. “Teachers organised their own technology and phoned learners to tell them about classes and how to access them. We scrambled to provide training for our teams.”
As well as Zoom training, English Language Partners provided weekly online ‘drop in’ sessions for teachers, where they could ask questions and share tips. Free training for online ESOL teaching was sourced so teachers could further their skills. The national programmes team also published weekly newsletters with resources and teaching tips.
“The classes became more polished, as everyone got to grips with the new approach.”
Some classes merged with others and some learners joined classes run by centres in other parts of New Zealand.
People used different tools. For example, WhatsApp was used by teachers to provide written corrections, and learners also used it to annotate their work before sending it back.
Centres requested online national classes to refer learners to where they did not have suitable classes. National classes proved popular, with 15 delivered by late September; many with wait lists. Classes include general listening and speaking, reading and writing and specific topics such as Grammar in the Real World, English for Customer Service, Speaking up at Work, Kiwi Speak, and Writing for IELTS (English proficiency tests).
There were obstacles. Internet access and suitable technology were barriers that a number of learners faced.
Limited English made it harder to engage online, and family responsibilities also added to the challenge for some.
Staff worked hard to match learners with volunteers and teachers using technology. Patricia Goddard in Auckland says: “I used three-way video chat on WhatsApp to match volunteers from a recent training course with learners. ”
“It was a steep learning curve, but we got there.”
And online learning was not confined to classes. Many volunteers also got online with their learners.
Angela Botha, Hawke’s Bay centre manager, says: “Online learning was a huge support for our volunteers and the learners they usually teach at home. WhatsApp, Zoom, texts, emails and the telephone meant people could stay connected.”
”One volunteer sent us pictures of her laptop,” says Nicola. “It was set up on the kitchen table, surrounded by fruit and vegetables, letter tiles and paper ready for a lesson with her learner!
“Another made videos in WhatsApp telling her learners what she was doing in isolation. She got lots of lovely emojis back and sometimes messages in Arabic.”
Online learning is now firmly embedded throughout English Language Partners and, in finding an agile solution to Covid-19’s challenges, we are able to provide more flexibility and accessibility for learners, wherever they live in Aotearoa.
60,104 hours attended by learners81 Zoom licences bought2,038 learners learnt online58 volunteers trained to use Zoom318 English classes delivered44 daily newsletters to update staff230 staff trained to use Zoom