The Explosive Growth of Teaching & Learning Online in TESOL

Since starting this blog series a few months ago in August, I’ve received a number of e-mails asking me for recommendations for reading matter in the area of teaching and learning online (TLO). A recent and relevant book is Online Language Teacher Education: TESOL Perspectives (2012), edited by Liz England. Liz refers to “the remarkable growth in online distance TESOL preparation in the world today,” which she sees as part of “the explosion in the vast and diverse uses of technology to provide support for language teacher education in general” (p. 1). Some examples of that explosion are given by Liz, who found that more than 40 universities are now offering online MA TESOL programs globally, and more than 400 private institutions are now offering online TESOL certificates.

One of the main reasons for this explosive growth in the TESOL training and qualifications being online is the numbers of students now taking courses online. For example, in chapter six of the book, Fiona Copland and Sue Garton give some examples of the explosion in student numbers: “According to the US Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, in 2007-2008, nearly 4.3 million undergraduates took at least one distance education course” (p. 65). In the concluding chapter of the book, on “The future of online TESOL” (pp. 187–199), England and Hall refer to a survey of online learning in the United States which found that enrollment between 2009 and 2010 rose by almost one million students in that one year, and that approximately 5.6 million students in the United States were enrolled on at least one online course in the fall of 2009.

This growth has been accompanied by a corresponding growth on the teacher “tred-ucation” (training/education) side of the equation: “A similar trend can be identified for language teacher education with an increase from around 23 programs in the early to mid-1990s to over 120 in 2009” (Copland and Garton, 2012, p. 65). That’s a six-fold increase in about 15 years! Does anyone know of any other area within language education that is growing this fast—doubling every few years?

The Explosive Growth of TLO in TESOL 
What does this mean for those of us involved in TLO? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on this, and in the meantime, I’d like to share some of mine. First, I believe we’re going to go through the same pedagogical-technological cycles we’ve seen before. For example, when the development of computers made it possible to store previously imaginable amounts of language data, in digital form, it was thought that that would revolutionize language teaching. The ability to create and analyze vast volumes of authentic spoken and written texts, known as corpora, was expected to rewrite the rules of how we use language, which in turn, would change the way we taught and learned languages, using concordancers.

However, after the initial excitement had passed, it was realized that, although copora and concordancers did help us understand more about how languages are used in a range of different contexts, that understanding did not in itself lead to any dramatic changes in the way languages are taught or learned. Perhaps a more obvious and simpler technological example is the belief that e-mail would lead to “paperless” offices, which is still very far from being the case. Another pedago-techno cycle was the idea that e-books would soon lead to the demise of print books, but the vast majority of textbooks in the world today are still on the printed page.

In the same way, the initial hype about TLO being some kind of panacea has started to give way to a more balanced understanding of what TLO can and cannot do. What can TLO do—and what can’t it do—for you?

About Andy Curtis

Andy Curtis
From 2015–2016, Andy Curtis served as the 50th president of TESOL International Association. He has coauthored and coedited around 200 publications and worked with more than 50,000 language educators in more than 100 countries. His current research is focused on the New Peace Linguistics. He is an online professor in the Graduate School of Education at Anaheim University, and he is based in Ontario, Canada, from where he works as an independent language education consultant for organizations worldwide.
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One Response to The Explosive Growth of Teaching & Learning Online in TESOL

  1. Evan Simpson says:

    Dear Mr. Curtis,

    TLO could do several things for me: it could provide me with a greater revenue stream as well as provide me with possible professional development opportunities and provide me with the opportunity to study the language of my next chosen country. While much ink (real and digital) has been spilled on these topics, I’d like to add my two cents concerning the second topic: PD.

    In my humble opinion, on-line PD courses will not take off until they are recognized by employers. Why? Because as anyone who has ever worked full-time as a language teacher can tell you, the last thing one wants to do after teaching all day, grading papers and preparing lessons for the next day is to go home and study. However, once these courses are valued by employers, the more career instructors will register (and complete) these courses in an attempt to advance their career. Basically, the more people are rewarded for taking a course, the greater the likelihood for people to take the course.


    Evan Simpson

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