Language learning leads the way

A few months ago, I wrote that the dominant education business model may suffer the same fate as the manufacturing industry –  commoditization.

At a certain point in time (2008?) the cost-benefits of a university education will be put in question. How expensive does it have to be before the majority opt out or look for “good enough” options? Once a certification body gets recognized by enough employers, it could become the de facto as well as the de jure standard.

The leading edge of this change can be seen in language learning. Ken Carroll calls his FrenchPod service a PLS, or Praxis Learning System:

From the get-go (2005) our strategy was to apply web 2.0 tools to do new things for language learning (with the two-way medium, RSS syndication, etc). It was designed for the individual (rather than the institution) with a focus on accessibility. The value creation came through fitting the learning into the learner’s lifestyle (rather than the other way around) and allowing him to hit the ground running with a functioning system.

Another language learning service is offered by EduFire, an agora of tutors and learners using video to connect. Tutors set their own rates, which range from $10 to $150 an hour.

Our goal is to create a platform to allow live learning to take place over the Internet anytime from anywhere.

Most importantly…for anyone. We’re the first people (we know) to create something that’s totally open and community-driven (rather than closed and transaction-driven).

These web-based business and learning models may be the next wave of education and just might challenge the traditional state-subsidized educational systems, beginning with higher education. Why? Because they can grow without increasing costly infrastructure; they are more flexible for learners and teachers; and most importantly, the current system has already commoditized its products. Just ask anyone with a newly-minted Bachelor’s degree looking for a job.

9 Responses to “Language learning leads the way”

  1. Rae

    Sites such as LanguagePods and edufire are great, and are definitely helping to change the face of online language education. Even while learning languages in college, my Tibetan class relied heavily on online resources and translation tools – making learning obscure languages possible.

    Another site that is really helpful for learning language – which I use mostly for finding language partners who can give me real expertise (since they’re native speakers) is It seems to go beyond creating a marketplace for teachers, rather, it emphasises the fact that learning a language should be free of charge to anyone with an internet connection. It thus is driving the cost of language learning down – hopefully eventually making it free, across the board. italki seems to be doing a good job, as it lets people participate in the learning process and creates a community by letting people post questions and answers, contribute learning resources, and start and edit wiki pages for any language.

    Hopefully this is just the beginning of online learning sites, and I look forward to seeing how they develop and continue to raise the bar (and hopefully lower the price)..

  2. Free Language

    Nice article! Found it through Ken’s blog. I am currently in a debate with my own family about how “traditional” education can’t offer me as much in the language-learning climate as the Web projects available right now at a fraction of the cost and without needing to leave my sailboat! Many of them are free, especially social networking language sites like italki, palabea, babbel, worldia… with more cropping up every day!

  3. palabea

    hi harold,

    thanks for the article. I thought it might be relevant to mention the eLearning community where I ´ve been working on,
    we have a different approach as our competitors, but basically we use web 2.0. tools to create a space where multiculturalism and tolerance are encouraged with the goal of language learning.
    feel free to try it (it´s free of cost ;))
    feedbacks are welcome

    best wishes



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