Bilingual ELearning: Challenges And Opportunities

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With more than 35 million Spanish speakers in the United States, it makes sense for educational providers to make courses available in Spanish as well as in English. Further, it makes sense that training could be offered in a bilingual environment to facilitate communication between people of different groups and foster an environment of mutual understanding.

It’s a great idea, but there are many challenges, as well as opportunities. Almost everyone agrees the demand exists, but identifying where and how to approach this massive issue continues to be an area of some disagreement.

Here are a few of the challenges and opportunities:

Insufficient number of courses in bilingual or multilingual format: Although some exist, it is difficult to find a full curriculum. Further, the pedagogical approach varies widely. Some courses will consist of text, a few graphics, followed by an online multiple choice test. Others will consist of streaming media. They are bilingual in the sense that the videos have subtitles. What is needed is a full curriculum using a legitimate and fairly universally acknowledged pedagogical approach, and a consistent learning platform. The support services, libraries, and other items need to be in a bilingual format as well.

Most modern language programs offer courses in a bilingual format, or, exclusively in the language of the literature in question. Many such programs are not online, though, and are certainly not available for mobile, untethered, or hybrid learning. E-books are increasingly available, however, as repositories and virtual libraries continue to be built. Classics are readily available online and are part of the public domain. However, there is a shortage of high-quality supporting material, content, and instructional activities. Courses should really provide history, background, literary criticism, and strategies for reading and writing about literature.

Bilingual literature courses would be a natural bridge for individuals who want to know about other cultures. They help nurture relationships and provide insight into the nature of one’s social group vis-a-vis others. In a “flat” world, as Thomas Friedman has put it, we need such literary and cultural experiences in order to be able to realistically interact with each other.

Business courses. There are numerous colleges and universities outside the United States that offer courses in business, and they often do so in multiple languages. In fact, we do not have to look far for examples. The multinational agreement, the Bologna Accord, which is transforming the way that Europeans have viewed a university experience, encourages institutions of higher learning to offer courses in multiple languages and to accept work done in other countries and languages.

One problem, however, in taking business courses from other countries, even if they are offered in a bilingual format, is that the course may not be transferable to a U.S. institution. Although there are numerous exchange programs as well as study abroad, they tend to be viewed as a separate experience, and not central to one’s core degree requirements. Even if one can transfer in a course, it may be counterproductive, particularly if one has to take a course that has certain prerequisites, which have been satisfied via transfer. If, for example, Principles of Accounting was taken in French from a French university, and the next course you take is Advanced Managerial Accounting from a U.S. institution in English, you may find that methodologies and terminologies may be different.

However, the benefits far outweigh the costs, particularly when cross-cultural understanding is a logical outcome. The best business courses for bilingual and bicultural education? Marketing, Consumer Behavior, Management, and Organizational Culture.

Training Courses. Similarly, a bilingual, bicultural training course may present the same problem, particularly where rules and regulations may vary, depending on the country or state. Nevertheless, it is a great idea to take bilingual training courses in spite of regional regulatory differences because in addition to gaining cultural insight, one also cross-trains and gains competency in different systems.

The Role of Mobile Learning. Perhaps the most important direction for bilingual courses is in the area of mobile courses where the student can watch videos, listen to audio, and obtain additional content on demand.

However, for bilingual mobile and eLearning courses to be produced and solid curriculum developed, it is important to encourage instructional designers, subject matter experts, instructional technologists, and instructors to participate in the project. Certainly there will be hurdles and challenges, but again, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

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