Live Online Lessons and Mobile Apps? Learners are not Impressed


Welcome to the second episode of our new show crossref:ed, a short podcast in which we take two articles or blog posts that cover a certain topic and either validate or invalidate each other. In this episode of crossref:ed we’re going to have a look at some data about language learning. The basis for today’s podcast are the annual Language Barometers 2011 & 2012 of language learning community

Before we start, let me quickly thank our sponsor: StudyBlue – Learn from others. Teach yourself. StudyBlue enables students to quickly share and compare their explanations with more than one million of their peers who are sharing over 40 million ideas. Anyone can test-drive the database of explanations by visiting StudyBlue’s homepage. Visit and follow @StudyBlue on Twitter.

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Some data first: in 2011 busuu conducted their survey amongst 16.000 of their users from 150 countries, in 2012 they asked 45.000 members coming from 230 countries. Multiple answers were possible in both surveys.

Both studies vary only very slightly in their results why people learn a language and how much they spent on learning it (close to $1000 on average).

Side note: If you’re interested in deeper insights on the motivation to learn a foreign language I invite you to read my article on Disrupt Education for Big Think in which I compare the latest busuu survey with another recent survey done by digital publishing..

Asked which tools help users most to learn languages in an efficient manner the majority of busuu users answered with language courses abroad (32% of all answers in 2011). This number went down to 23% in 2012 but remains the most popular answer. Whereas 24% of participants used web 2.0 solutions such as busuu or other language learning communities in 2011, only 20% see it the most efficient method this year. However, online individual learning is pretty stable with 13% last year and 12% this year.

It is interesting to see that slightly more people prefer personal tutors in 2012. This number went up by 4% to 15%, although it’s not entirely clear whether we only talk about personal tutors offline or online and offline combined.

Considerably less people see video chat such as skype as an efficient method. Usage is down from 7% to a mere 4% although missing structure could be an explanation here when only peer learning is taken into consideration, but it is certainly also less flexible than self-paced individual learning and the flexibility of online learning with 35% is the most important reason for participants of this survey to choose an online solution followed by direct contact with native speakers, 24%.

Traditional classes, however, doubled their numbers from 4% in 2011 up to 8% in 2012, and the good old book even tripled from a mere 2% in 2011 to 6% in 2012 which is, of course, still not much in total. CD-Roms are stable at 3%, so do podcasts which don’t seem to play a big role at all getting 2% in 2011 and 1% in 2012.

Most surprisingly, to me at least, is the adoption mobile learning stagnating at a mere 2%.
Taking one of their other pie charts into consideration, the prospect for mobile learning doesn’t seem to take off, at least not in the near future. Only 4% of busuu users who participated in the 2012 survey see it as the most important method to learn a language in the future.


Kirsten Winkler is the founder and editor of EDUKWEST. She also writes about Social Media, Digital Society and Startups at

  • So, could we say that a structured skype lesson, within an online learning environment, which prepares students for learning English abroad would be the right mix?