After a semester teaching English in Colombia, I’ve learned a lot about education in this fascinating country. Here are three takeaways for online course providers wanting to expand in Colombia or similar Latin American countries:
- Focus on English and skills courses first – People here are incredibly eager to learn English. Everyone from coworkers to taxi drivers have begged me for private lessons. There would be a rush of new MOOC users if more people knew guided online English classes were available to them at the touch of a button. I suspect courses teaching other skills that open up career possibilities would be equally popular.
- Meet the people where they are – Colombians in general spend a lot of time on their smartphones. Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp are so incredibly popular that most phone plans include unlimited access to these three apps. MOOC providers should not only be advertising on social media and within apps, they should also incorporate these multimedia elements into the courses themselves.
- Make classes fun and flexible – Latin American cultures are known for their “work to live” culture, as opposed to America’s more “live to work” mentality. To succeed here, MOOC providers will need to revamp classes to make them as enjoyable as possible without dumbing them down. Colombians as a whole will be less willing to sludge through a dry class than most early MOOC adopters. This is not to say Colombians don’t work hard or enjoy learning; they just want to have a good time while doing both things. I strongly suggest MOOC creators revisit their classes to see how they can spice them up a bit.
I’m more convinced than ever that online courses are the perfect fit for Colombia and comparable countries. With just a few tweaks, MOOC providers should be able to attract millions of eager learners here!
I can’t believe I’m saying it, but I have less than a month left in my first semester as an English teacher. You can already feel the end of the year approaching by the increase in celebrations and cancelled classes. As I look back on the past four months, here are some of my favorite stories.
Unfortunately, being a teacher in Colombia means school typically begins at 7 a.m. That means at 5 a.m. I’m up feeling my way through a dark apartment so I don’t wake my housemates with lights. And so begins a day in the life of an English teacher in Pereira!
After I pack a massive lunch to get me through the next eight hours (there are practically zero food options near my school), I try to be out the door around 6. I walk through El Lago plaza, which looks even more beautiful than usual in the early morning; the church on the north end is lit by the rising sun, and vendors are just starting to set up on the wide pathways. I’m headed for the MegaBus, Pereira’s main transportation system. It’s a system of double-long buses that drive on dedicated lanes to elevated stations. Forty-five minutes, 60 cents and two buses later, I hop off about a block from my school.
So far in my CourseTalk blogs about teaching in Colombia, I’ve spoken at length about my classes and the educational system, but I’ve left out some of the most scintillating details — those about my daily life! Let’s rectify that.
Moving from Silicon Valley to Colombia has been a bit like replacing your Rembrandt painting with a Picasso — you end up with something less organized, maybe even a little chaotic, but all the more enchanting for its relaxed charm. I’ve had to get used to things like traffic rules being ignored, restaurants offering half the items on their menu, and bathrooms often lacking toilet paper, but I have gained so much more!
Online learning companies, like this one in Salento, are far less common in Colombia than in the U.S.
This spring, CourseTalk released a study that shed light on online learning in Colombia and other developing countries. It found that, while awareness of MOOCs remains low in these countries, students who are learning online there tend to receive certification at very high rates. It also found that few students are learning just for fun. After nearly two months teaching English in Colombia, I’m starting to understand the underlying factors that may be causing these trends.
I live in a city of 500,000 in Colombia’s coffee region, and so far I’ve met only one person who reported taking a MOOC. I’ve sensed a few cultural idiosyncrasies that I suspect play a role in the country’s low MOOC usage and high certification rates. Of course, I am only one person in one city in the third most populous country in Latin America, so if your experience of learning in Colombia has differed, please share!