Differences between Classroom and Online Teaching Accd to Live Lingua

by | Feb 23, 2015

Ray, from Live Lingua, joins us in this interview to talk about the company, online education, and how to be a great online teacher.

How did Live Lingua get started and what is your mission?

In many ways, Live Lingua started by necessity.   Just a few days after getting married, my wife Laura (who is a language teacher) and I (I am a computer engineer), started a brick and mortar Spanish immersion school for foreigners in Mexico.  From day one, things went very well and we were at capacity within 3 months.

Then, about 8 months into our opening swine flu hit Mexico.  The world entered a panic.  People were quarantined everywhere and tourists stopped coming to Mexico overnight.  In order to find work for our Spanish teachers – mainly as a stop gap measure – we decided to try offering classes online via Skype.  Back in 2008, there was almost nobody doing this.   We thought it would give us a few students just so our teachers could make enough to support themselves.  Well, 1 month later the world had forgotten about swine flu and our school was full again, but we decided to keep our online Spanish program going just in case.

Good thing we did.  6 months later we were doing more business with our online Spanish school than our brick and mortar one, even though the brick and mortar one was almost full.  People liked the idea of being able to study with native teachers at more affordable prices and with flexible hours.  Some of our teachers even requested to work only online since they like not having to commute.

A few months later we added English, the French, then 8 other languages.  We did not brand ourselves as Live Lingua for the 1st two years.  We just had small websites for each language.  In 2013 we sold our brick and mortar school and have since focused 100% on Live Lingua.

Our mission at Live Lingua is to bring the best teachers from around the world on to our team, then doing the best job of matching students and teachers to reach their goals.  As a small business we don’t have the money or resources to compete in software development with the big million dollar companies, so we decided to focus on what we could be the best at.  Our goal is to go back to basics and use technology as a tool, not as the means, to teach a language.

No matter what the ads on TV tell us, nobody has ever really learned a language from a software, book or audio.  To really learn it takes a great teacher.  That is what Live Lingua is really all about.  We are a traditional language immersion school, which just happens to be online.  We focus on supporting our teachers, and students with our live staff so that they can really learn another language.  Technology may change over the years.  We now use Skype, but a few years from now may use something else, but we believe the base of our business – our great teachers – will never made obsolete by technology.

How has online learning evolved since you started and where do you see it going in the future?

Live Lingua was started in 2008 so while we are not too old, we have been around for long enough to see some changes.  I have seen technology evolve, especially in the language learning field, as more people come up with “new” ways to “learn a language in 30 days“.  But I think we have reached – or are near – a peak in that aspects.  People are starting to get tired of the gimmicks and are now looking more at what works.  And what that is, is what it has been for thousands of years.  Learning with a great teacher.  I see people moving back from the novelty phase of learning technologies back to learning with live teachers.  Of course, live teachers can now be online.  But no software or computer yet discovered can replace a teacher.

What are some of the characteristics of a great online teacher?

Believe it or not, the characteristics of a great online teacher are almost identical to those of a great in-person teacher.  When we started out I – as a computer engineer – thought that a good understanding of technology would distinguish a great online teacher.  I was wrong.  Our best online language teachers run the gambit of ages.  Some grew up with technology, others are over 60.  But what makes the great ones great is begin able to read their students, and customize a class for each ones need.  It does not matter if you are online or in person, that is one of the keys.  Technology we can teach you.

Can you offer any advice to teachers thinking about pursuing teaching online?

Despite what I said in the previous answer about being a great teacher is the same online as offline, becoming comfortable with your online teaching environment, whether it be Skype or some proprietary teacher dashboard, is a key to becoming successful.    This is not because learning the technology will make you a better online teacher, but it is because not knowing how to do basic things with it may make you a worse online teacher.  You don’t want to waste half your class trying to figure out how to share your material, send files, or chat.

What are the main differences between classroom and online teaching?

From all the feedback we have seen there is not as much of a difference one would thing.  This of course depends on the interface, but most of our teachers and student report the fact that they are not in the same room together to be a non-issues as long as you have a good sound quality and video.  It takes some getting used to at first, but after a while you forget that there is a screen between you as have the class with your student.  Now, the one caveat in all this is that here at Live Lingua we focus very heavily on one-on-one classes.  All this applies there.  We have however found that it is much more difficult to give classes to a group online.  Without being physically present in a room it is hard to do “crowd control” and on occasions – especially with kids – the class can get out of control.  For our group classes always request that there is a supervisor/teacher physically present in the room in order to help alleviate this