Research-backed insights for language learning

Why Learning Remotely Rocks! And Stinks. And What To Do About It.

The last six months have given many their first experience with remote e-learning. To say that it’s been a mixed bag would be a cliché. But understanding both the pros and cons will help you get the most out of it, and also avoid some pitfalls along the way.

First a quick definition: remote e-learning is learning done where you’re not in the same room as the instructor, and where digital tools are used to deliver the teaching. It could be as simple as listening to a lecture on YouTube, to the complexity of doing exercises with classmates in breakout rooms on a Zoom call. It could involve completing exercises in an app or taking a quiz delivered via a website. Sometimes it is synchronous, meaning the teacher and student are both engaged at the same time, as in a live video call. Other times it is asynchronous, as when an instructor records a video that students watch later, or creates online exercises that can be done at any time.

To put this in context, let’s consider the specifics of Parley Blue. Parley Blue uses remote video calls to let students have regular conversations with native speaking coaches. These are private, 1:1 calls. In addition, each student receives daily lessons full of exercises that given them mini-immersion experiences where they listen to and speak full sentences. Additionally, some coaches have created occasional group calls, where students can get together to practice speaking the language they’re learning. All of it is done remotely, using the new tools of the digital age.


First, let’s go over what works well. Students get access to better teachers. Not only does remote learning give students access to the very best teachers in the world, they also get access to teachers with a better understanding of the subject matter. In the case of language learning, you can have a native coach. Very different from my experience trying to learn German in high school. My teacher, Mrs. Dubois, loved the country, but she was no native German speaker.

Students can be required to engage. The most effective remote learning is engaging, but also requires engagement. One on one remote coaching forces students to participate. Interactive apps and exercises draw the students’ attention and must be completed to move forward.

Remote e-learning can appeal to introverts in ways that traditional classes cannot. For them, learning alone can be energizing rather than the draining experience of learning in social situations. This means that learning can continue longer, and happen with fewer breaks for recharging.

Learning with the aid of technology means your learning is more flexible. It can be done when you are ready, and that makes it easier to engage in deliberate practice. One criticism of the modern school day is that it starts too early. But the underlying problem isn’t the particular hours set aside, but that they cannot be adjusted. Night owls struggle, while early birds succeed. With e-learning, study can happen when you’re at your best.


Of course, remote e-learning is not without its drawbacks.

Trying to learn using the same device(s) that you use to play games, read the news, watch television, and do your work presents the real problem of distractions. It can become far too easy to “task switch” to something that may be more appealing in the moment: a good movie, that work task that feels so urgent (but maybe isn’t all that important), or checking the latest notifications in any number of apps. Students using this technology will need to find ways to manage distractions, and stick to their curriculum.

While remote e-learning can mean more student/teacher interaction, it usually means less student/student interaction. And fellow students can motivate you along the path to mastery of a subject. Sometimes, they become examples of study and hard work. Sometimes, they compete with you, making you both better at the subject. Sometimes, they just provide a little peer pressure to be present and do the work. Or maybe you show up to class because you like hanging with your friends. And learning the subject matter just comes as a side benefit. Remote e-learning students will need to find other sources of motivation along the way.

Closely related to that, extroverts can feel lonely and struggle with drive. When your only social experiences while learning are through a small rectangle on your phone or computer screen, the introverts may thrive while the extroverts sink into malaise. Group calls and online forums can help, but extroverts may need to find ways to learn and practice their new skills in real, in person interactions with others to keep going.

Expanding beyond extroverts, all students benefit from having a “context” for learning. While extroverts benefit when that context includes other people, everyone benefits when that context becomes a trigger for the learning mindset. Many students naturally get that triggering context in a classroom setting. It’s a place that puts your mind in the mode to learn, since that’s all you do there. But with remote learning, that “place” is also the same place you sleep, or eat, or hang with your family. Just as remote workers often need a dedicated office to put themselves into “work” mode, remote learners can benefit by creating a space that puts them into learning mode, an office or mini-classroom which they use solely for study.

Parley Blue

Parley Blue is a language learning service that is built on the principles of remote e-learning. It takes advantage of the benefits, and is built to minimize the drawbacks. Parley Blue gives its students coaches that are native speakers, who live in their own countries and are the best sources of immersion and feedback. Parley Blue gives students real interaction in voice and video calls with those coaches, as well as exercises that are truly interactive, not just busywork. While learning a language is an inherently social activity, Parley Blue makes it possible for introverts to do it in small chunks, so they can manage their energy levels well. Those small chunks make learning a language more flexible, something you can fit into a busy life.

To address the drawbacks, Parley Blue does larger group video calls, where you can meet other students and practice your skills. We also provide ongoing motivation and advice to students through our regular newsletter, with tips about setting up a good learning environment and building daily habits.

Knowing what the benefits and drawbacks are can help you decide what is the best system for you when learning new skills.

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