Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?

Cloud-Tutoring: Combining Automated Teaching and Personalized Learning

Full disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. ?


The most frequent Fi3M guest poster is back once again! Today Idahosa will give us food for thought on the possibilities of scalable, yet interactive language teaching, and the system he has set up to facilitate it, following up with the soundcloud feedback concept he introduced in the previous post.

I'm getting a lot of private lessons myself these days, and I can certainly see how a lot of this could be applied. Although one thing I feel is never going to be scalable is live spontaneous conversation practice and real time interaction, which is something I'm working on a lot these days, in Arabic.

Having said that, for beginner learners starting off who would cover almost the exact same material as other people, and for advanced learners who need to tweak some pronunciation and turn-of-phrase issues on exercises their teacher can assign them, this definitely holds a lot of potential for saving money and time, and helping students and teachers potentially work better together.

Check it out, and let us know your thoughts in the comments! Over to you, Idahosa.

In my vision of language education:

  1. Every student should have a personalized learning experience.
  2. No teacher should ever have to repeat herself more than once.

Seems paradoxical right? The teacher can repeat a piece of information only once in a book or CD, then distribute that message to the to the masses the way Pimsleur or Rosetta stone does, but then student experience would NOT be personalized at all.

On the other side of the spectrum, the student can get all the personal attention he needs buy hiring a private tutor, but then that tutor would find herself repeating the same advice and instructions over and over again with each new student.

Indeed, these values are in direct competition with one another in the traditional educational models, but with “Cloud-Tutoring” they can co-exist. A Cloud-Tutor is a language educator who personally instructs his or her students virtually through “The Cloud”.

In my Mimic Method Flow Series Cloud, for example, I have over 500 students whom I personally provide pronunciation instruction to in less than 1 hour a day, any time of day I choose, from any place in the world. Within the next year, I plan to multiply my student numbers while still providing personalized feedback to each one with minimal man-hours per day.

Read on to learn how I plan to do this. By the way you should know – there's absolutely no reason why you can't do it too….

Summary of Cloud Tutoring

In my last guest post, “How to Receive Language Feedback for Free and Provide it for Profit” I discussed different ways you could use the free web application Soundcloud to share your language learning sounds and give precise feedback on other people's sounds through the “timed-comments” feature.

This is the same platform I use to give my Flow Series students precise, personalized feedback on their pronunciation and target language “Flow”. Here's an example of a rap song a Flow of Mandarin student learned in my course (I downloaded and re-uploaded the track as my own to protect her identity). Scroll over the mini fro-vatar icon to read my comments and see how I evaluate her tones and phonemic pronunciation.

Students love this form of feedback because it's:

  • Precise – Nothing compares to learning how to fix a mistake WHILE you hear a recording of yourself making it.
  • Convenient – My courses are all self-paced, so students work the lessons and submit recordings whenever they want and wherever they want.
  • Cheap – People expect to pay an arm and a leg for ongoing private instruction, so my students are always shocked at how much value they get from my course for the amount they pay. I often receive “guilt emails” from students who feel like they had somehow taken advantage of me by paying so little!

Thing is, I can afford to charge so little because I spend no more than two minutes annotating each submission I receive. The automation systems I've established allow me to go through submissions faster than a robot in an assembly line.

This means opening up opportunities for scale in an industry that has traditionally been very NOT scalable. Now, after giving over ten-thousand comments to hundreds of different students in 5 different languages, I now have the data and insight I need to automate and scale even more efficiently.

Before you can appreciate this automation system, however, you have to really understand what teaching really is in about.

What Are Teachers Actually Good For?

With all the free information on the Internet, you can teach yourself almost anything; so are teachers becoming obsolete?

On the contrary, teachers are now in higher demand than ever. Teachers are facilitators of knowledge acquisition, so this internet-spawned explosion in information has just created more things for people to convert to knowledge and skills.

You can think of teachers as essential for providing two extremely valuable services:

  • Information Selection/Organization: Sure you can learn anything online for free, but not until you sift through the ocean of clutter and find the relevant info first. For complex skills we start off knowing nothing about (like foreign languages), this can overwhelming, even paralyzing. That's why we're willing to pay so much for an expert to collect and organize all the info for us
  • Feedback: The more complex a subject is, the more difficult it is to know whether or not we're moving in the right direction. What if you're learning the wrong things or building bad habits? Many of my Flow Series students come to me with terrible hearing and speaking habits that they picked up learning the language on their own from a book in a sound vacuum. With no one to give them feedback, how were they to know they were wasting hours of their lives learning the wrong sounds?

Ultimately, these two services are about motivation and adherence to the language-learning goal. As readers of this blog know, there's no easy path to language-acquisition. It takes hard work and discipline, and it's hard to maintain this discipline without well-presented information and regular feedback.

Of course, there are several clever computer programs for providing people with quality information and feedback, but nothing will help you along your learning goals quite like the support of another human being whom you trust and respect for their expertise. For this reason, I am confident that computer programs and artificial intelligence will never come to replace teachers.

Coding – No Longer Required

In the days of yore, information presentation and feedback could ONLY occur in physical locations like universities and coffee shops. Then with internet, information could be easily and cheaply distributed, but not without some know how for getting that information on the web.

With extremely user-friendly Content Management Systems (CMS) like Weebly (drag & drop) and Udemy (exclusive focus on e-learning), however, any language teacher with a internet device and connection can easily create his or her own virtual course with zero coding or technical skills. All the backend of hosting, organizing, protecting and monetizing your content now happens seamlessly in the back ground. All you have to do is drag and drop some things around and focus on creating good content.

As for feedback, The recording/timed-comment model is proven extremely effective. In fact, I've actually found it to be MORE motivating to the student than face-to-face tutoring in most cases.

I used to private tutor people in person, and I would often try to assign my students homework but they faithfully NEVER did it. It wasn't until later that I realized why – when busy people pay a lot of money to meet with you for an extended English session once or twice a week, they make it their exclusive English time. Why work on their own when they're paying someone $30 an hour to coach them directly?

Of course, this type of approach won't get you far in language-learning. To achieve fluency in a foreign language, you gotta play around with it on your own. There's no away around that.

Not surprisingly, most face-to-face tutees give up under the twin attack of slow-motion skill development and high-speed bank account depletion.

As the saying goes, “You always learn more outside the classroom than inside.” With cloud-tutoring, the student is always “outside” the classroom, but the teacher feedback is still conveniently “inside” available only when it's needed.

But for anyone who's been taking my courses or following the growth of The Mimic Method, this is nothing new. We already know that Cloud-Tutoring is an amazing model for student-teacher interaction, the question now is how do we make it better? More specifically, how can we enhance student experience while reducing teacher workload?

The key is to eliminate as much redundancy as possible for both the student and the teacher.

Eliminating Redundancy in the Student's Language Learning Experience.

  1. Any information that is irrelevant to the student's specific needs is redundant. For example, a Native English speaker is going to struggle more with noun-adjective gender agreement in Spanish than a Native French speaker, since English doesn't really have gender and French does. So if the French speaker goes through the same training program as the English speaker does, we know he has wasting time and energy studying redundant information that he personally didn't need to spend so much time on.
  2. Any information presented at a time when chances of retention are low is redundant. To elaborate, if the student just spent three intense hours learning a particularly challenging concept, he will be too mentally fatigued to learn anything else in that sitting. So if he was forced to continue on to a new subject before having ample time to rest, the extra information would be redundant, since we know he's not going to retain it.

Here is how I am eliminating redundancy in my accent training courses:

All my courses begin with a “Sound Primer” in which I explain every single phoneme and its articulation in detail, and I summarize all of the major pronunciation errors and how to fix them. My students all find this information valuable and interesting, but the student is only going to make some of these errors, not all of them, so there's no point in him studying mistakes he's not going to make (Redundancy #1). Moreover, for newbies to the program, this is simply too much information for someone to digest all at once.

Now, I am in the process of reorganizing all my sound primer information into separate hidden web pages. Then in the timed-comments feedback, I'm linking students ONLY to the pages relevant to them, ONLY when they make the mistake. This effectually eliminates both redundancies. Here's an example of what it will look like.

I've been testing these techniques recently in my 30-Day Mandarin Tone Bootcamp Beta test. In this bootcamp, students focus exclusively on developing their tonal perception and mimicry skills by listening to chinese phrases and focusing on mimicking just the tones. Here's an example of something they would have to tonally mimic:

After listening to this track, they submit a sort of open-mouth hummed version of the phrase that is tonally consistent with the original. I then pinpoint the exact syllable(s) that are off and link them back to a “re-tuning” page with the tracks broken down into small chunks on loops at reduced speed. In the timed-comments, I tell the person which section of the re-tuning to focus on (I downloaded and re-uploaded the track as my own to protect her identity):

So far, I am seeing very impressive results with all the beta testers. For a long time I was hesitant to create a Flow of Mandarin course because I thought tones would be to difficult to teach virtually. But then I realized that the challenge was surmountable as long as I could give a LOT of precise, personalized feedback.

Eliminating Redundancy in the Teacher's Workload.

Everyone has their own unique set of sticking points when learning a language, but no single sticking-point is unique to one person. In other words, if one person has a problem, chances are that many other people will have the same problem and thus benefit from the same solution. Therefore, explaining that solution more than once is redundant.

This is what I mean when I say “Language teachers should never explain themselves more than once.” Now when I explain an error to a student, I explain the error once as thoroughly as I can, then I host that explanation on a separate web page. When the next student commits the error, all I have to do is link that person to that page in the timed-comment. This is exactly what I did in the example above for the vowel rounding error.

Automating Automation!

I can even cut redundancy out of the physical movements required to provide this pre-explained feedback. Using a software called Textexpander, I can reduce all my explanations and HTML hyperlink code to simple 2-3 key shortcuts. For example, the “vowel rounding” quote actually looks like this:

For this /u/ vowel, you are doing what's called “vowel rounding.”

But with TextExpander running in the background on my computer, all I have to do is type “;ro” and the 158 character script text automatically expands out as soon as I press spacebar.

I am in the process of making tutorials and shortcut keys for all my feedback so that I will never have to repeat myself every again. My next goal is to train outsourcers to identify and give feedback on common errors so that I can personally focus on enhancing the student experience through more general advice and encouragement.

Alas, We are Not Quite There Yet

Unfortunately, I have recently ran into roadblocks with these super-automated Cloud-Tutoring techniques. Since I have been doing so much commenting and repetition with my Mandarin bootcamp, Soundcloud has been flagging my comments as spam and temporarily suspending my accounts from commenting.

I spoke to people at Soundcloud directly and discovered that they have spam bots that blindly block accounts after too many repetitions of texts among different profiles. I've figured out some rather elaborate hacks around this obstacle, but setting up and managing these hacks is quite tedious, and the whole point is to reduce redundancies.

So I have decided that must develop my own web application for Cloud-Tutoring.

Before I can do that, however, I need to build a community of like-minded individuals to help promote and advance this revolutionary educational practice. In my new Udemy course “How to Build your own Virtual Language-Learning Business on The Cloud,” I use detailed screencasts and video lectures to walk you through the entire process of setting up your Cloud-Tutoring infrastructure and virtual course.

Then at www.CloudTutorLounge.com, I hope to build a forum and community for people to share tips on Cloud-Tutoring and virtual education in general. Finally, to lead and inspire first movers, I will be blogging regularly about my own business and language teaching experiments.

I invite anyone interested to come join the conversation, whether you want to build your own language empire, would like some extra location-independent income to supplement your job, or if you are simply curious to discover new ways to better teach language to your students. As a launch promotion:

The first 30 people to buy the udemy course with thecoupon code “fi3” will get 30% off the total purchase!

So please, come to www.CloudTutorLounge.com to see what it's all about. With a critical mass of cloud-tutors out there changing the rules of language education, I truly believe we can develop our own platforms and bring about a revolution in Language Education.

author headshot

Guest Author

Guest Writer at Fi3M

See the article above for more information on this guest author.

Speaks: Various languages

Fluent in 3 Months Bootcamp Logo

Have a 15-minute conversation in your new language after 90 days