The first course available to Hillingdon residents made possible by a grant provided by  Hillingdon Community Trust is drawing to an end.

It is based at Barra Hall Children’s centre – a beautiful Victorian Mansion situated in the grounds of Barra Hall Park. 

The learners are sitting around a table enjoying a range of exotic dishes they themselves prepared.

There’s chana, pilau rice, onion bhajis, pizza and many others. Learners look excited.

They have attended an 11 week course and today they’ll be receiving their certificates. As we’re enjoying the delicious dishes the conversation moves to the highlights of the course.

“For me it was good because I could talk a lot and I learned more words and grammar!” said Daniela, a young mum who has attended all the sessions.

“The teacher was very polite and helpful and encouraged us in a good way,” commented Saima with her baby daughter sitting in her lap.

“I gained good communication skills and I will use them everywhere like at work and in society,” added Baljeet, whose daughter will be starting high school in September.

It is evident from the comments that the course has had a positive impact on all the participants. But this is not a typical community ESOL course.

Online learning supplementing class based ESOL

The ESOL for Integration, Employability and Social Cohesion Project will help 50 Hillingdon residents improve their English and community integration but what makes it different and quite unique is the fact that it blends traditional classroom based delivery with live online conversation sessions. This means that, in addition to attending regular classes learners have an opportunity to practice their English language skills online which increases their exposure to the language without the need to travel.

Participants often have few opportunities to practice their language skills outside the classroom. This particular group is made up of stay at home mums and dads - a group which is often quite isolated due to childcare commitments. The online element addresses this barrier by enabling them to attend classes from the comfort of their homes. As the conversation at the table shifts to the online course, learners’ comments seem to confirm this sentiment.

“For me the online course is very good because I stay home with my daughter and I don't speak English and with this course can I speak and learn.” enthused Daniela

Flipped learning

But it’s not just the real time/live element of the online course that’s made it so effective. The online course also employed a ‘flipped learning’ methodology whereby learners are expected to go through the materials and prepare answers prior to the session. In other words, the actual learning takes place in the learners’ own time before the online class and the session itself serves as an opportunity to reinforce and consolidate that learning. Learners feel motivated to complete this ‘pre-class’ work which increases their exposure to the language even further. 

This fact hasn’t gone unnoticed:

“I started 2 hours before the session started. I read the text, learned the words and tried to use them in the conversation” said Jasvir, discussing the merits of the online course. “I learned a lot of new words.” she added.

Community cohesion

There is another advantage to this kind of online delivery. Running classes online not only increases learners’ exposure to the language but also equips them with a valuable life tool. It breaks their isolation by enabling them to keep in touch with their peers and thus ensure a certain continuity of the class. This gives them an ongoing opportunity to practice English, as they continue to stay in touch after the course.

As the conversations at the table have now moved to the quickly disappearing dishes with learners exchanging recipes and comparing their cuisines (yet another example of how courses like this contribute to better integration and community cohesion), it is time to present the certificates. 

Marcin Lewandowski is Head of Learning at Action West London. He has conducted and published research into online course delivery and was one of the winners of Cambridge University Press Teacher Research Programme. His latest paper that looks at opportunities provided by online communication tools in Community ESOL settings has been published in the latest edition of ‘Language Issues’.

Action West London is a charity and social enterprise with the mission of 'Changing Lives through Employment, Education and Enterprise.' 

Hillingdon Community Trust is your local grant-making trust funding voluntary and community projects and activities in the Hillingdon wards of Botwell, Pinkwell, Townfield, Yiewsley, West Drayton and Heathrow villages.

The aim of the ESOL for Integration, Employability and Social Cohesion Project is to help 50 Hillingdon residents from Trust wards with low level English and IT skills to improve their language/IT skills by creating learning opportunities in and out of the classroom. This will enable them to integrate into society and to participate in the wider community and access mainstream services and employment.

Project background:

Trust ward residents will improve English language and IT /E-learning skills through:

  • Focussed and clearly structured ESOL classes with emphasis on learner autonomy through peer support and collaboration;
  • The latest developments in IT/e-learning (live online conversation sessions);
  • Volunteers trained to support the project and sustain its work through participation on our unique teaching and supporting learning course. This will ensure that the online learning groups will become self sustaining and will continue even when the project has ended.