Over a year and a half ago, I coauthored the article “EOP
and Technology: Beating the Pain Curve” (Gishbaugher
& Eckhart, 2015) about the challenges that arose from developing
an online English language training course for automotive
manufacturing. In year three, a successful program is emerging
phoenix-like from the ashes of several iterations that have come and
gone in the interim. Each iteration solves old challenges and presents
new ones, getting us one step closer toward the ultimate goal—effective
learning in a digital landscape. Here’s the problem: That ultimate goal
is a moving target. Technology platforms change rapidly as do users’
expectations of interaction with them. So the real challenge is finding a
way to manage inevitable change in a way that aligns us with sound
Different bodies of knowledge have tackled learning in the
digital frontier, coming up with guidelines and rubrics by which to
measure course architecture. However, I believe none has gotten closer
than ELTjam’s Nick Robinson in his article “We need to talk
about LX” (2016). His simple diagram shows how the overlapping
of high-quality content, human interaction, pedagogy, and user
experience creates an amazing learner experience. This model has become
central to decision-making for our program, especially when it comes to
choosing technology that is not just on trend but
also on point when it comes to our learners’ needs.
Needs analysis remains at the heart of content development for
English for occupational purposes (EOP), but finding a way to make that
content more fun and dynamic is nearly as important when the learner is
engaging it alone. Fun and dynamic usually translates into
budget-busting technology and talent, making it difficult to stand out
against international language services even if the content more
accurately fits the learners’ needs. Creativity, however, can be an
effective stand in, especially if you have a whole team of multitalented
instructors like I do.
I mentioned in the last article that we planned on using Michigan
State University’s Rich Internet Applications to allow for
asynchronous speaking practice. Since then, we have successfully
integrated the (free!) technology into the program. Learners can read and
listen to dialogues from their self-study lessons and then watch a
video of their instructor (in authentic costume and character, of
course) performing one half of that dialogue. The learners record
themselves filling in the other half. Instructors are able to watch and
provide detailed, written feedback on pronunciation and fluency. We’re
still refining this practice and looking at new technology options that
allow instructors to provide video-based feedback. Free video chat apps
like Glide offer similar
functionality and may facilitate learner-to-learner engagement as well.
Our self-study lessons contain vocabulary lessons and practice,
but stakeholder feedback revealed that our lower-proficiency learners
needed additional vocabulary acquisition support. Now, we’re in the
process of developing eflashcards using Articulate
Storyline 2 that learners can practice any time and place.
Audio and Video
With the help of talented Theatre Department students and
state-of-the-art sound studios at our university, our self-study lessons
now contain professional-grade audio recordings of authentic dialogues,
the importance of which cannot be underestimated in language learning.
In a YouTube culture, though, we are planning on adding videos for
live-action role-play and grammar mini-lessons. We’ve already developed
one promotional video using
VideoScribe, and we’re exploring
other animation software such as Powtoon,GoAnimate, and Moovly.
Human relationships provide essential support, motivation, and
accountability, but finding ways to bring learners and instructors
together in real time can be challenging both in terms of technology and
learner apprehension. Decisions must be made to force that interaction
from the outset and to construct the learning path so that subsequent
meetings are linked to program progress.
Intake interviews at the start of the program allow instructors
to establish a critical instructor-learner bond as they seek
information about the learner’s proficiency level, goals, and current
communication needs based on their job. It also enables instructors to
develop a personal relationship by asking about learners’ families and
interests. The learners book an appointment through youcanbook.me.com and then
meet their instructor in real time via Adobe
for 20 minutes. This first interview is also aimed at reducing learner
anxiety about interacting in a digital platform. The instructors use a
detailed, interactive PowerPoint presentation to show learners how to
use the program features and how to troubleshoot audio and visual
We also use this one-on-one space to conduct mini-lessons for
TOEIC preparation. We configured the self-study lessons so that they
release only after the learners have completed the mini-lesson with
their instructor. This interaction provides critical test strategy
monitoring and immediate feedback that could not occur through
The instructors write twice-weekly blogs as yet another way to
connect with their learners, albeit asynchronously. Blog topics vary
from North American holidays and culture to language and test-taking
tips. Instructors write from personal experience and often share stories
about their families. Learners, in turn, can leave comments and even
use these blogs as conversation starters with their local coworkers.
Steering and motivating learners successfully toward learning
objectives can be daunting without the constant dialogue of a
face-to-face classroom. Steps must also be taken to ensure that learners
know why they got a question right or wrong, what criteria they must
meet to move on to the next lesson, and where to go once they’ve
completed a lesson. Without instructor presence in the traditional
sense, even praising learners’ achievements becomes problematic.
This element was missing from our self-study content in its
earliest stages, and our learners let us know. Their frustrations led us
to put in immediate feedback for each question in both English and
Japanese. These lessons now allow learners to get three tries for each
question. They receive feedback about the question on the third try
whether they get it right or wrong. They also have the opportunity to
review all of the questions in a lesson after they complete it.
We recently took a cue from the world of gaming and decided to
incorporate digital badging into our program to see if it positively
impacts learner motivation. The badges are varied and cover
accomplishments like content completion, blog commenting, score
achievements, and leveling up.
Taking a course online means treating it more as a product and
less as a service. If the course feels broken to a user because the
navigation is too cumbersome, the audio quality isn’t good enough, or an
answer is automatically scored incorrectly, he or she will stop using
the product and never come back. Many resources must be devoted to
quality control throughout the lifetime of the product.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk famously stated, “Any product that
needs a manual to work is broken” (Valdes-Dapena, 2013). And he’s 1,000%
right. We traded in our lengthy PDF manuals for one simple infographic (below) to help learners get started in
the program. Easy-to-use infographic creators like Piktochart help make course
navigation a breeze and meet the expectations of users who are used to a
plug-and-play lifestyle. To continue support for learners throughout
their studies, we also built in seamless how-to tutorials that take
learners on a click-by-click tour of their lessons. The interactive
tutorial remains in the background as a constant resource just in case
This is the area where my team and I have grown the most in the
past year. We’ve learned that good quality begins with good project
management. Each of the innovations discussed above needed to be
thoroughly explored as a team so that we had clear expectations of
tasks, performers, and target end dates. Getting creative with new
technology platforms is exciting, but it can quickly turn against a
program as well if allowed to balloon without parameters. We now rely
heavily on work breakdown sheets, incident reports, and user testing to
ensure we offer a high-quality product.
Being mindful of these four elements—content, human
interaction, pedagogy, and user experience—has helped this program keep
the moving target (serving a tech-savvy learner population while staying
on course with effective language learning practices) in our sights.
We’re also acutely aware of the need for data to back up these decisions
and to prove program effectiveness. These data need to come from
careful collection of both the quantitative and qualitative impact each
new technology or model change has on our learners. This information
helps us to show return on investment to our client through increased
participation and effective communication.
Most importantly, we need to build the body of knowledge about
developing EOP online courses so that research-backed best practices
exist to help EOP practitioners communicate technology needs that
complement the four areas above. The digital landscape of EOP teaching
and learning is shifting. Using these elements as a compass and having a
little creativity, a willingness to retool (project management skills
are key!), and a lot of informed trial and error can help us navigate
every new turn.
Gishbaugher, J., & Eckhart, R. (2015, February). EOP
and technology: Beating the pain curve. ESP News.
Retrieved from http://newsmanager.commpartners.com/tesolespis/
Robinson, N. (2016, February 9). We need to talk about LX.
ELTjam. Retrieved from http://eltjam.com/learner-experience-design/
Valdes-Dapena, P. (2013, April 26). Tesla offers idiot-proof
battery warranty. CNN Money. Retrieved from http://money.cnn.com/2013/04/26/autos/
Jaclyn has been working in the field of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) for eight years in an array of professions including: medical care, law enforcement, and manufacturing. She is the Immediate Past Chair for International TESOL's ESP Interest Section and the Director of the Automotive English Program at Ohio State University. Prior to this opportunity, she was a US Department of State English Language Fellow in Jakarta, Indonesia for three years where she developed an English training curriculum for the National Police that is now being adapted for several other countries in Southeast Asia. Jaclyn has also taught English in refugee resettlement and at the Intensive English Program at Akron University, her alma mater.