Having a background in language coaching, I tend to keep a close eye on the latest global trends in language learning. After a period of little innovation in the space, there is definitely a new wave of language learning startups hitting the market.
Live video lessons, the hot trend from seven years ago that proved to be little more than a flash in the pan, certainly had a chilling effect for edtech entrepreneurs and investors in the language learning space.
Today language learning technology is once again on the upswing, powered by mobile devices as well as better broadband and mobile coverage. This leads to the following five key trends in language learning I see for the coming years.
Mobile is the rocket fuel for the new wave of language learning products. Smartphones and mobile Internet made it possible to add bite-sized lessons and learning sprints to the daily routine of commuters. From serious approaches based on curated web content, like Voxy or Lingua.ly, to more playful approaches like MindSnacks and Duolingo, mobile is THE learning environment to conquer in the language space.
But not only smartphones power the mobile trend. Feature phones are still playing an important role in developing countries, and services like EduMe come up with audio and SMS based services that reach and serve these users.
Personalized and Adaptive
One-size-fits-all educational content for language learning will become a thing of the past. Learners today want content tailored to their interest and needs. Again, Voxy being one of the early movers in this space, adding an educational layer to news articles and pop culture.
Another important factor is adaptiveness when it comes to the learning path. Language learners are not alike, have different levels at the start and will continue to learn differently throughout the program. Therefore, language learning products need to adapt to the progress of each individual learner, from reinforcing weak points to accelerating topics that are known already or mastered quickly.
Learners want to know where they are on their learning path at any moment, not at the end of the month, or after they completed a text or exam.
Language learning startups, like busuu.com and Duolingo for instance, that implement a learning path into their products early on make it easy for learners to visualize their current level.
The next step, I imagine, will be quick assessments that evaluate the level more precisely. A model for such a feature could be Smarterer (acquired by Pluralsight), which evaluates the skills of tech workers based on 10 questions.
Based on personalized learning content, an adaptive learning path and constant feedback, language learners will expect faster results. Overall, our society is being constantly trained for instant gratification thanks to Google, Amazon and other web services that get us answers, solutions or services right away.
Startups like Lingvist are working on language learning curricula that will lead users through their learning path the most efficient way. In the case of Lingvist, the startup promises to teach a learner French in just 200 hours.
Live and On-Demand
Yes, live lessons will also make a comeback in the language learning space. The difference today is that both technology and infrastructure can handle video and audio connections between tutors and students with ease. And with more and more tutors coming online and searching for ways to earn money teaching languages, the problem of scaling a 24/7 live lesson service will settle down the line, as well.
Edtech startups outside of the language learning space have already built working platforms for on-demand tutoring, with InstaEDU (acquired by Chegg) being the most successful one. In the community / language exchange space busuu.com with its millions of users someone is probably also able to find a language partner on-demand.
These impromptu sessions will most likely last under 15 minutes. I doubt that learners will schedule an entire tutoring session spontaneously, as such a setting requires preparation from both sides. On-demand sessions work well for Q&A and quick help on a specific problem which could be an interesting service or additional feature for test and exam prep.