The pandemic has rewritten the rules for online learning. What used to be a passtime activity -or a means for learning in lack of a better solution – online learning has become one of the most prevalent tools for learning a new language. Many stuck at home during lockdown passed time by learning Spanish, French or even Japanese online. Some people have gotten so far as to continue learning after lockdowns eased but the wast majority dropped the practice after schools and workplaces and with them the chance to study face-to-face again opened up. Teachers and students are happy to go back to the classroom and tutors are happy to meet with students again and deliver lessons like they use to be. (This of course applies to places where there are no lockdowns anymore.)
That being said things have changed dramatically. After the initial phase when everything was just chaotic and teachers and students tried to figure out how to operate under the new circumstances, it seems people got the hang of it and new online learning solutions are popping up every day. As often the case the crisis brought innovation. Screen sharing, proper video conferencing, quality sound, and such that were once premium features and were targeted to business users are now basic requiremets and even schoolchildren are familiar with them.
The biggest change however is our attitude toward learning and how learning should be structured. Teachers realised that the way they deliver lessons in the classroom cannot be fully adapted to the online environment. Lesson plans and activities needed to be tailored to students whose learning environment contained lots of distraction, problems with technology or the lack of equipment even. A well thought-out lesson plan that worked in the classroom from week to week become hard to follow online where students had other -similarly online- assignements and homework to do from other teachers. At first it was hard to imagine that a purely online teaching can ever be as effective as a face-to-face instruction. But as time went on and things calmed down a bit, we could see that many got used to it. It may not become second nature to many but it has become a natural part of our teaching practice.
We can only guess that online learning will stay with us and expand dramatically in the future even if no pandemic or similar crisis forces us to teach online anymore. We need to learn more and faster than ever before and that can only be achieved by learning online as well as face-to-face. We may not ever transition fully to an online or to a fully virtual environment (who knows) but as time goes by we need to adapt our teaching to a whole new society that needs to learn new skills fast and without the restrictions of place and/or time. This applies to the teaching and learning of new languages as well. International travel has suffered a great deal during Covid but that won’t last forever and people consume more and more foreign media and entertainment. During the times of restrictions and quarantines people turned to learning a new language not only as a way to pass time but also as a means to entertain themselves. This experience is going to stay with us, the same way as the experience of exercising at home instead of in the gym or baking bread the first time at home are going to stay with us.