A very controversial question and one which evokes strong and convincing arguments on both sides. There is no doubt that the use of social networking sites, forums and Skype for learning English is very helpful indeed. You might also argue that the ease with which learners can access free resources is also a positive development…or is it?
With so much information available at the touch of a button (or screen!), are learners really absorbing and digesting everything they read? The answer is probably not. If you had access to an online dictionary or a dictionary app, would you really remember what a new word meant a few days after you’d found it, used it and your immediate need for it was over? Again, it’s unlikely. Why store information in your brain when you can store it in your smart phone’s 10GB memory?
This is what many people are calling information overload, and it’s not just a threat to language learners. A classic example of this is illustrated in the blog post, Pancake People and Online Dictionaries. Because we know we can rely on the internet to deliver the answers, we become both greedy and lazy in our quest to devour a mass of information we don’t need whilst not trying as hard to remember something we can so easily revisit later.
The Light at the end of the Tunnel
However it doesn’t need to be this way. Knowledge of this issue could help educators to encourage learners to use the internet in a way that can help them to remember information in the long term. If a student needs to look up a word, surely the rules should be the same whether they are in class or not. Therefore it might be wise if students were encouraged to keep a log of these words, create different sentences in which the words could be used, and make an effort to use the words again.
What do you think? Is online learning something that educators should use to help students, or should students be discouraged from using it?