Ever since the advent of the personal computer, rapid technical evolution has reduced size and cost while raising performance and access. What had twenty years ago been expensive, bulky desktop computers are now slim, affordable laptop computers, and what had not long ago been only a dream, today are an entire family of personal electronics from notebook computers to electronic tablets, personal organizers, and cell phones.
While personal computing devices were improving exponentially, online access was also exploding. High-speed DSL connections are common, and monthly fees are actually significantly less than cable television or satellite uplinks. What's more, today's online user is just as likely to browse the Net wirelessly and without charge at his or her local coffee shop. WiFI hotspots are everywhere, offering usually free access to the Net for nearly anyone. Online access is also a ubiquitous feature in education, which as we'll see, may be about to change the face of ESL.
In a PC industry that continues to boom along, industry giants like Amazon and Apple raise the technology bar seemingly every six months, globally launching electronic book readers and tablet PCs, while personal communications giants release newer, faster, and more powerful electronic devices in the parallel communications sector. Clearly the technology revolution is not only increasing personal interconnectivity, it's doing it for less and less and it's doing it around the world almost simultaneously.
High performance, low cost, and wide availibility are changing the world at an unprecedented rate - the IT field is more of a cultural revolution than perhaps any technology boom since the automobile. Today, to stay abreast of a changing world one simply must be online.
Being based on the dissemination of knowledge, the ESL field may be poised to capitalize on this dynamic, vibrant marketplace. ESL learning can be effectively distributed online, whether by conventional wired or wireless internet access or through any number of existing and emerging links such as cell nets. To learn english as a second language, a student may soon be able to pick up a laptop, notebook, or even a cell phone and download ESL content at will, either by subscription or in some cases, free.
Various brands have announced plans to either join the ESL field or to stake their future claim to some portion of ESL online. China alone constitutes an estimated one hundred million dollar a year ESL potential, with the rest of the non English-speaking globe raising the stakes by perhaps as much or more.
As evidence of this trend, the New York Times recently highlighted IT enterprises poised today to interact with ESL students.
With the growth of broadband connectivity and social networks, companies have introduced a wide range of Internet-based language learning products, both free and fee-based, that allow students to interact in real time with instructors in other countries, gain access to their lesson plans wherever they are in the world, and communicate with like-minded virtual pen pals who are also trying to remember if bambino means baby.
This mix may be joined by none other than Google, who not long ago acquired share in EnglishCentral. TechCrunch reports:
Video language learning website EnglishCentral
recently raised a total of $3.5 million, according to an SEC filing [...]
The filing does not say who the invested in the new round, but Rich Miner of Google Ventures is listed as a director of the company. Google Ventures is Google’s venture arm which launched last April with an initial $100 million and can invest in pretty much anything, although mostly it’s been putting money into clean tech startups.
EnglishCentral is a language tutorial site which uses popular videos from movies, news clips, and other categories to help people around the world learn English. Students watch a captioned video, and then try to repeat the phrases by speaking into a microphone and recording their attempts.
Of as much interest as "conventional" online ESL providers in what's sure to be rapidly evolving mobile phone network-based ESL dissemination. Personal portable electronic devices with network access can easily process ESL content, albeit within the limits of bandwidth and display size. Reuters reports
Publishing group Pearson and phone maker Nokia have formed a joint venture to deliver English-language learning materials to mobile phone users in China, the two companies said on Monday.
China, which has more English learners than in any other country, is playing an increasingly important role for UK-based Pearson, which owns the world's largest education publishing business as well as the Financial Times and Penguin books.
Last year, it bought Wall Street English for $145 million in cash, giving it a leading position in China's English-language teaching market.
The new joint venture, named Beijing Mobiledu Technologies, builds on a service that Nokia launched in 2007, providing content from a variety of publishers, which so far has about 20 million subscribers and 1.5 million active users each month.
At the rate of current development, the online ESL classroom may be just around the corner. As costs and access improve, the trend may soon reach virtually everyone on the globe.