ESP Project Leader Profile: Tarana Patel

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

Tarana ​Patel is the​ founder of learnEd, LLC with a base in Los Angeles and an office in Ahmedabad, India. Early career starters and corporate employees are learnEd’s primary audience. learnEd​’s first entrepreneurial effort was an internship program for MATESOL students of The Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS), Tarana’s alma mater. More than eight MATESOL candidates interned in India to assist in teaching and developing oral skills courses for engineering, pharmacy, IT, and management students at a rural area college campus in the state of Gujrat. For ​this effort and her vision for learnEd, Tarana was awarded the Young Alumni Achievement Award in 2012 by MIIS. Currently, Tarana is building an app for business English communication for engineers and managers in IT and manufacturing industries.


​Tarana Patel, Founder & CEO at learnEd, LLC

Define leadership in your own words.

I’ve experienced notable leadership insights from fields other than mine. I have also learned important leadership lessons from participants in my courses. The most important leadership quality for me is courage or grit as explained by Travis Bradberry and also mentioned by Kevin Knight in a past TESOL Blog Post. Other leadership attributes that stand out for me depending on my context and project experience are:

  • Empathy
  • Foresightedness/vision
  • Collaboration
  • Delegation
  • Trust
  • Consistency (in action and communication)
  • A global vision for impact beyond the classroom and in your professional field
  • Sharing success
  • Sharing knowledge

Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to make that project successful?


learnEd is currently building an app for business English communication for engineers and managers in IT and manufacturing industries. A prototype of the app is scheduled to launch in Fall 2016. It’s a brand new endeavor for me to synthesize the understanding of on-site training motivators and behaviors in an ESP setting with a gamified design for a mobile learning experience. The goal is to give our learners the practice and help they need—wherever and whenever—beyond their on-site courses.

Project Inspiration Through User Understanding

ESPer Robin Sulkosky included the following point in his summary of the TESOL ESP-IS June reading group: “The discussion narrowed to the importance of embedding oneself in a needs analysis, rather than relying exclusively on knowledgeable insiders.” My experience has been in alignment with this understanding. I learned quickly after my initial on-site experience in India that insiders and decision makers do not offer a complete viewpoint of training needs and that learner stories and field observations are an enlightening source of information to inform course design.

One of the questions in my needs assessments for on-site training asks potential participants to mark what motivates them to work on their English communication skills. Many commonly known factors such as better job opportunities, promotion at the current job, access to online information, communicating with global counterparts, and so on generally rank higher. India has a family-oriented culture; therefore, I also included the item “to help my children with English homework” as a possible choice. Over 60% of the 150 learners surveyed marked that item as one of their top five motivators. This feedback was an enlightening source of information!

I dug deeper through my conversations with my learner groups to further understand what this feedback really meant. Because English is considered to be the language of opportunity in India, they feel most accomplished when they can pass on their learning to their children. We started with this discovery as our motivator as we collaborated to finalize our coursework for that session. Flipped learning and learner training for peer teaching became hot topics in our groups. We drew team building and management parallels with peer teaching and group work and became flipped learning advocates because it allowed family participation. Learners enjoyed watching the TED Talks I assigned in class with family members at home and came prepared to conduct classroom discussions to explore workplace communication principles. Time and budget constraints for ongoing classroom training and the role of mobile devices in our training sessions were simple observations that transformed into an opportunity to build a tech-based solution to assist our learners with their daily communication challenges at work.

Assessing Needs To Create A Value Proposition Design

More than 300 corporate employees have gone through learnEd’s on-site training programs in the past 2 years. In their daily work life, our learners mostly communicate in their local language. They need English to communicate with global partners or to create official documents and presentations. Another important finding for us was that it is challenging for our learners to continue their practice after their on-site training ends. They want a place where they can go to find answers to specific questions about situations in which they need English. They also want to get help for writing high-stakes correspondence, preparing for important presentations, and dealing with negative situations.

We had more conversations with our learners about their learning needs beyond our courses. We understood that two types of needs assessments were extremely important to define and develop an effective app design:

  1. Profiling our potential user—her daily routine, her language needs, and any other factors that would affect how she interacts with the app, and
  2. Breaking down learner feedback to plot their pain relievers and gain creators to further understand their habits and drivers (Osterwalder, Pigneur, Bernarda, & Smith, 2014).

Present Situation Analysis and Target Situation Analysis (Friedenberg, Kennedy, Lomperis, Martin, & Westerfield, 2003) fit perfectly with Osterwalder et al.’s (2014) framework of Value Proposition Design. Thus, we created our own framework for instructional needs assessment, instructional design, and value proposition design for the app as a learning product to gather data in several rounds before starting the design process. In this way, we were able to determine an important value proposition for our potential app user/learner:

  • learn in real-time through real-life experiences
  • enable purposeful and democratic communication in English in any situation

(©2016-17 learnEd, LLC)

Keeping an Eye on the Future

So far, our understanding of our learners’ and stakeholders’ needs reflected in program design has created satisfied clients and new business opportunities (Maslow, 1970; Dörnyei, 2008).

Check out this blog post Q&A to learn more about learnEd’s app project.

After reading Tarana’s inspiring profile above, I am very interested in the types of TED Talks that she assigned because I also use TED Talks in business English and leadership development activities. Do you have any questions for Tarana? Please post those below!

All the best,



Dörnyei, Z. (2008). New ways of motivating foreign language learners: Generating vision. Links, 38 (Winter), 3–4.

Friedenberg, J. E., Kennedy, D., Lomperis, A., Martin, W., & Westerfield, K. (2003). Effective practices in workplace language training: Guidelines for providers of workplace English language training services. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and personality. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Osterwalder, A., Pigneur, Y., Bernarda, G., & Smith, A. (2014). Value proposition design: How to create products and services customers want. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Sykes, J. M., & Reinhardt, J. (2013). Language at play. Digital games in second and foreign language teaching and learning. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Education.

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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One Response to ESP Project Leader Profile: Tarana Patel

  1. Tarana mentions “discussions to explore workplace communication principles.” These would be aspects of communication that apply in most (perhaps “all”) workplace venues. They are the metaphors and universal pillars of communication: requesting, asking, seeking clarification, retelling, expressing compassion, irritation, anger, happiness, etc.
    I wonder if there is an article or an actual textbook that might guide instruction in these universal communicative devices–that is, not a course in business communication or other specific area, but a general guide to the expressions, idioms, vocabulary, and language that are necessary in any workplace. A client or student would then need to adjust the communication to a particular field–nursing, banking, business, etc.
    If anyone knows of such materials, this writer would like to know what they are!
    Thank you,
    Marc Cummings
    ESL Jefferson Community & Technical College
    Louisville, Kentucky 40202 (USA)

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