This series uncovers ideas and activities from British Council teaching centres around the world. This week I spoke to Purbani Das, the Academic Manager at British Council Education India in Bangalore. She shared the problems and solutions associated with independent learning.
‘There just isn’t enough time!’ This was a common outcry from IELTS learners at the British Council Education India teaching centre in Bangalore. Learners had to balance their full time jobs, up-coming qualification exams and IELTS classes. How were they possibly going to find the time to use Road to IELTS and other self-access materials assigned to them too?
This is the case of how this teaching centre identified the problems and solutions associated with independent learning.
In December 2019, BC Education India teaching centre had a cohort of nurses intending to take the IELTS test to work overseas. The six week program was a combination of face-to-face lessons and independent learning materials to be completed at home, mainly Road to IELTS. Whilst class attendance was high, self-access scores were low and irregular. It seemed that the students simply weren’t interested in using Road to IELTS. When queried about why, there were three outstanding reasons:
- Misinformed focus
Students thought the best way to get a high IELTS band score was focusing on past papers and learning exam tips from teachers. (This opinion has also been shared by other IELTS students, as seen in this case from Hong Kong.)
- Overwhelming amount of content
Looking at the program, students thought it would take too much time to complete. They thought there were too many exercises to get through in time for their exam and they didn’t know where to start or how to focus their efforts.
- Unhelpful tasks
After trying a few exercises, some students labelled the program as unhelpful. However, when taking a closer look at the program progress reports, the teachers found these students were only spending time on the units and skills they were already excelling in. The challenging units that would help them improve in the long run were being neglected.
With the three reasons laid out in front of them, what could the centre do to address the poor usage problem?
The core issue seemed to be a lack of perceived value in Road to IELTS. Students didn’t want to use a program they didn’t think was going to help them.
To counteract this attitude, the centre created a syllabus document aligning Road to IELTS units with question types and skills. This way students could see exactly what they needed to pass the IELTS test, and where to find it (for example: Reading, Set 4 – Yes, No, Not given questions). On top of this, to prevent the students from being overwhelmed, the teachers restricted access to the program. Instead of leaving the students to choose which exercises they thought needed the most work, students were sent direct links to exercises or units that corresponded with the lessons they had just attended. This way, they weren’t getting lost in the program and losing sight of what they needed to learn, or only focusing on what they were good at.
The result of this was a stark improvement in usage. Students were completing their assigned exercises and slowly improving their band scores.
When framed as an additional task, Road to IELTS was treated as low value and low priority. However, when shown exactly how the program could and would benefit them, students were much more receptive to the ‘additional’ work. Using self-access online materials isn’t a novel concept anymore but it helps to be aware that some students, or cohorts in this case, still need a bit of extra help when it comes to independent learning. A little student training or guidance can go a long way.
I’d like to say a huge thank you to Purbani Das at British Council Education India, Bangalore for taking the time to share her insights for this blog post.