Managing innovation in English language education

Post written by Alan Waters based on a recent article in Language Teaching

In recent decades, language teaching has experienced an apparently unending stream of major innovations, such as (to name but a very few), the birth of the communicative approach in the 1980s, the promulgation of the ‘learner-centred approach’ in the 1990s, and, in the current age, the promotion of ‘task- based learning’, ‘e-learning’, ‘English as an international language’, and so on. The tide shows no signs of abating: it is as if something of a ‘pro-innovation bias’ has taken hold, i.e., a widespread consensus that new ideas should and can be adopted as widely as possible, that the changes they entail are inevitably beneficial, and that putting them into practice is a relatively straightforward matter.

However, a small but steadily growing body of research literature has shown that many language teaching innovations have frequently fallen short of the mark, both in terms of impact and the desirability of their consequences  The same body of work has also shown that a major cause of these problems has been 
a widespread failure to understand and utilize the lessons of innovation theory.

My paper – ‘Managing innovation in English language education: A research agenda’ – therefore sets out to show how this body of research might be profitably built upon.  It does so by first of all focusing in turn on each of the main stages in the innovation process – initiation, implementation, and institutionalization (sustainability) – and explaining the nature of areas of innovation theory of relevance to each and how such ideas have already been used in research.  I then go on to outline what a typical practical research project involving the further application of each of these concepts might constitute.  Next, I look at a number of further areas of innovation theory which have so far not been applied to ELT-based innovation research.  I once again describe the ideas and then also outline how they might be used in a series of straightforward research studies.

Finally, I also identify a number of areas of ELT innovation activity where research has been under-represented or not undertaken at all, such as those involving certain geographical locations, private-sector projects, ‘successful’ innovations, and so on.  Once again, discussion of each of the areas is accompanied by suggestions for how (further) research might be conducted into them.

It is hoped that, through a greater amount of research activity of these kinds, the knowledge-base needed for a sounder and more successful approach to innovation in language teaching will be strengthened and expanded.

Read the entire paper without charge here until 30th June 2014.

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