The higher education system is in a highly-publicized period of disruption. We all know about Khan Academy and its ilk, Clayton Christensen’s Disrupting Class and other books, and a select few Universities’ own efforts to get ahead of this trend by opening up some of their online classes for free. While no one knows how this will eventually all shake out, according to a new study languages could very well be the first to completely break away from the university structure all together.
Of course language classes have been available outside of the paid college format for more than two centuries, possibly three. However, these private courses are generally for adults planning a vacation or move. Young students are still corralled through a rigid progression of language courses typically beginning around age 13-14 as part of their primary education here in the states.
But according to a new study, services like Rosetta Stone and startup Duolingo are creating faster results based on a widely accepted university language placement exam. The WebCAPE test used by many college programs has shown that using Duolingo cuts hours needed to place into a second-tier class from 144* down to 34. This is effectively taking an entry-level Spanish 101 class in a quarter of the normal time.
If dramatic deltas like this can be observed and proven for other subjects as well we will finally have a significant amount of quantifiable data extolling the virtues of self-learning systems versus transmission based in person lectures. Or perhaps the data will show that some courses are best done online, while complex subjects or higher levels of classes are still best relayed through a in-person professor. There really is no reason for this to be an all or nothing proposition.
Personally, I’ve been planning on enrolling in an upcoming introductory Spanish course at my local city college. Given this new research, I plan on doing both in-person learning at my local college and Duolingo. Perhaps that way, I’ll be able learn Spanish 5 times as fast.*Classroom hours per week (3) + suggested hours per week spent studying outside of class (9) X Number of weeks in a semester (16) = 144