Do you truly understand the difference between quality in language training and effective language training?
Throughout my career in language training, quality is a word that comes back again and again. In this profession we’re becoming beholden to auditors, labels, clients and governments who wag their fingers and assume we don’t know what we’re doing unless we have the correct procedures in place. Apparently, if we slavishly follow these procedures, then we know that our training is working properly.
This is a load of rubbish. Utter cobblers. You could take a certified ELT teacher, and train him once a month, and make sure all the paperwork is filled in after each lesson, and make sure the hygiene and security protocols are in place, and make sure a test was taken at the beginning and at the end, and make sure the materials and lesson plans were fully prepared each time.
However, none of this means that the lessons will be any good and that the student will reach his learning objectives.
A language lesson is not a checklist. I’ve worked on language training plans including hundreds of students for large companies and some had enforced lesson plans with 10-minute sections for each activity. The quality and purchasing managers loved it. The teachers hated it, as did the students.
The problem is that quality does not mean effective. They are two fundamentally separate concepts, both valuable for sure, but not to be confused.
A reference point is the New World Kirkpatrick Evaluation Model, of which I am fortunate enough to be one of a few select certified facilitators. It is the leading evaluation model in the world for professional training, but its concept can be applied to language training as well.
Basically, it is very important to understand that language teaching is not an event-orientated solution. What I mean is that once the week-long course has finished, or when the last class is signed off, the satisfaction of the student (a quality measurement) is not an indicator of an effective course.
Effectiveness is measured once the student is back where he belongs and can apply his new found skills. Your student can tell you that you are the most wonderful, charismatic, attentive teacher on this small globe of ours, but if he shows no sign of progress after the course has finished, then it counts for nothing. Worse, it could be argued that there is no return on investment.
One of the biggest mistakes language schools consistently make is relying too much on the teacher-student relationship. The stronger the bond, the harder the teacher works to please his student, the more risky it can be for when the course is over. I’m not interested here in the teaching techniques, what I’m interested in is how much you care about what happens after the course is over. Because this is fundamental to the effectiveness of your language training, and a major point of differentiation in your offer.
Here are a few examples:
- Eva comes from another country to learn in your school to improve to her level in order to find a better-paid job. How do you know if she succeeded?
- Marc comes to study for an important exam that will enable him to gain entry into his preferred choice of university. How do you know if he got in?
- José comes to learn in order to speak better with his new wife. How do you know if they’re still together 6-months after the course?
- Stanislas needs business English coaching to prepare an important presentation to convince some buyers to buy his product. How do you know if he made the sales he wanted?
All of these things are linked to the effectiveness of the course and none of them are linked to the quality. So how do you really tell the difference?
The quality of your language training is linked to the environment of the training event. It’s all about the level of customer satisfaction and the knowledge and skills gained.
What happens when the student is with you determines the quality of your teaching.
What happens when the student has left your premises determines the effectiveness of your teaching.
Quality is important. It is all there in the label you pay for, in the charter you put on your wall, in the satisfaction questionnaires you have filled in, in the lesson preparation, in the books, in the teaching style, in how your student is welcomed, etc. But don’t be fooled into thinking that full marks mean the results of the teaching are what the student is looking for.
And what about language progression? If the student takes a before and after test? If he gains 200 points in TOEIC, or goes from a B1.1 to B1.2? Is this a sign of effectiveness?
Effectiveness = Results = Return on investment.
It could be argued that the results of the training is a net gain in language communication skills, proven by the increase in level. End of story, job done.
Well it could be if that was the only stated learning objective. It could be if the student needs a sufficient level to pass the exam (see Marc’s example above) and/or get a diploma.
Most of the time, the language communication skills the student needs can’t fit into a test. 5-skill tests (reading, writing, listening, speaking and conversation) are rarely done and thus tests are often inappropriate to judge the effectiveness of the course according to the real-life needs of the student.
What I’m trying to say is that level-progression is more a quality indicator than anything else. This might seem ridiculous to you, especially if testing is of paramount importance in your training, but testing is really just either formative or summative evaluation.
Formative evaluation = monitoring progress during the language training.
Summative evaluation = a “photo” of the language level at a specific time.
Formative evaluation or assessment allows teachers to ensure progress is being made or not, and if not, to make the necessary adjustments. This is linked to quality control, as described before, during the training event.
Summative evaluation can be done at a later date, and as long as it is linked to the learning objective, can be used to evaluate effectiveness. For example, if we take the example of José, who needs to learn English to speak with his new wife, then taking a summative evaluation such as the IELTS or TOEFL 6 months after the end of your training course could be a bad step. These types of exams usually need preparation, and José’s life with his wife is hardly construed for that. But if the evaluation were a test based on daily conversations with his wife then it would be more appropriate. The test could be given three times – once at the beginning of the course, once at the end, and once 6-months later. The fact that the test content is the same means the training is still part of this evaluation, and the results, the effectiveness, of the training is being assessed.
Of course if you’re a busy school with hundreds of students, then personalised evaluation to assess effectiveness could be a difficult task. Yet if you have a quality manager, then why not an effectiveness manager? 6-months later, rather than asking “How was the training course for you?” why not ask “How are you using English now and how did the training course help you?” By talking less about your training environment and more about his/her current needs for language communication you are concerned with effectiveness.
Quality control and procedures have become an integral part of language training these last few years. Yet it is important to dissociate quality in your training event from training effectiveness – the results of the training according to what the learner’s specific needs were. By understanding the place of both in your language training, you understand that quality is not the be all and end all, and can sometimes be counter-productive to the effectiveness of what you’re trying to do for your students.
What do you think? Do you agree with me? Is quality going too far? Can effectiveness be properly assessed? Comments are welcome below!
Joss Frimond is a sales and marketing expert for the ELT industry. He runs Linguaid, a consultancy to help language schools and independent teachers to get more students. You can find more articles at www.linguaid.net/blog.