2011: Step up, steeply? Or La Peste?

So, now seems like as good a time as any to actually return to this too-long-dormant blog, being a New Year and all that. I’ll spare you the apologies, the excuses and the hand wringing over my long absence, but just know that they exist, bottled up.

It is the done thing in pretty much all media it seems to use the occasion of the new year to reflect upon what has gone and to look forward to what is to come. I’ve chosen to do the latter, though maybe with a bit of the former thrown in. So, what can we look forward to in the 2011 (and beyond) in the world of ELT? What are the trends? What will your school look like in a year’s time?

Rather than reading tea leaves, we can instead resort to one of the standard tools to help the manager look at external factors. That is the STEP analysis, also called by some the PEST analysis.  (Where STEP stands for Social, Technological, Economic and Political factors, and PEST stands for the same only written in a  different order. I like to think of a STEP analysis being for optimists and a PEST for pessimists. The actual analysis is the same, you just start with a different word which might sum up your suspicions about what lies ahead). I tend to go, though, with STEEP in which we add a fifth category – educational factors – to the other four, which helps it address our field a little more directly (If you want to be pessimistic you can go with the Camus-esque PESTE)

So, ELT in 2011…let’s consult the tea leaves STEEP analysis.

Social: What are the social factors that will influence your student numbers? What are the demographic trends? Is the population ageing? A lot of immigration? This will obviously vary greatly depending on where you are, what the social trends are in your country and in your town. Is your school offshore (teaching English in a non-English speaking country) or onshore? If onshore, what are the social factors in the countries where you receive many of your students from?

Technological: This one may be more globally applicable. What are the trends that will effect English teaching going forward? Mobile learning? Tablets and smart phones in the classroom? Distance learning via Moodle or other similar platform? IWBs? What will set your school apart and set it up for the way learning and teaching will adapt as we move towards the teenage years of this century? Nobody has the perfect answers to these questions, but checking out the blogs, books, and other work of Nicky Hockly and Gavin Dudeney is a good place to start looking)

Economic: Well, much of the world continues to lurch from economic crisis to false dawn to further crisis (while some of it remains more or less recession free).  How will the ongoing situation affect your school, your business? If your students come from many different countries, what will change in the mix due to economic factors in their home countries? If your students come from just your own town, what are the economic trends looking like (and of course as you will no doubt be painfully aware – education and training tend to be the first things that get cut from family and company budgets)

Educational: What are the trends in education? There are the technological ones mentioned above, but what other ones are there? Here’s where you need to keep up with what is going on out there – whilst remembering that what the research is telling us about language learning may take a while to filter through to the students and other customers themselves. And are the new trends fads or the future? Will we live in a CLiL world in 10 years or will it have joined the ranks of other half-forgotten once fashionable experiments?

Political: What will be the political response to some of the other factors influencing matters? the ELT industry in the UK entered 2010 not knowing who would be the government by the end of the year, and what their policies would be regarding things like the British Council and foreign student market.  (Turns out of course that the BC more or less survived the axe, while the government seems to want to shoot itself in the foot over education, even going as far as asking (madly) for the public to send in suggestions to halt the influx of foreign students). What are the politics like where you are? What will happen? Austerity and cuts? Investment and support?

You cannot predict everything, but you can keep an eye on trends and look up from time to time to try and keep ahead of the game. If you plan and lead from the front you are more likely to survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

So, what are the trends like where you are? Care to share your thoughts?

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