With the sector facing staffing cuts, Mark Stimpfig looks at the technology that can ease the challenge of teaching languages in leaner times

Youth unemployment is soaring as competition for jobs is the fiercest it has been for many years in the UK.

To succeed in the labour market, college leavers need as many strings in their bow as possible — and a language can make all the difference.

The National Employer Skills survey in 2011 indicated that a shortage of foreign language skills left 27 per cent of vacancies in administrative and clerical roles unfilled, while research for a British Academy report revealed that language skills were often needed for PR, sales and marketing roles.

And it is fairly easy to see that a travel and tourism student with a grasp of French and Spanish is more likely to be asked for an interview.

Language teaching is equally important for students who have recently arrived in the UK and who may need help with their English.

However, funding cuts mean that these skills must be delivered in the most cost effective way possible.

This is where new developments in technology can help to spread the skills of specialist language teachers.

This new technology will engage this Facebook generation with greater use of video content and access via their iPads”

Moocs (Massive Open Online Courses) allow colleges or other organisations to put their language course content online, usually at no cost. There is little or no impact on budgets and learners experience independent learning, which is helpful in preparing them for university or the workplace.

However, the independent nature of the learning can be a downside for younger learners, with participants on recent Mooc pilots complaining about the lack of tutor involvement. There is also the risk that the content is aimed at linguists aged 18 or over, rather than younger FE learners who may be studying a language as a part of another course.

One option is to use cloud computing to help to deliver tutor-directed learning.

Traditional language learning often takes place in a classroom or language lab with a teacher playing audio and video files, pausing to highlight certain points.

Cloud-based language labs allow students to access material from home or elsewhere so that they can practise using video and audio content — and even collaborate with their classmates or the tutor on material.

Content is streamed rather than downloaded so there is no copyright infringement and teachers can bookmark a video clip to ask relevant questions at the appropriate time.

Students can deliver their assignments using the same method via video or audio. And because the cloud can be accessed through any device, a student could be practising his German on a smartphone while waiting for a bus.

This gives colleges the freedom to introduce a truly blended learning model in which a percentage of the course is delivered via the cloud. Less staff time is required to deliver the course, and staff can be shared between institutions where collaboration is encouraged.

This new technology will not only engage this Facebook generation with greater use of video content and access via their iPads but will also ensure that colleges can deliver the same high quality learning while meeting the need to cut back on staff hours.

Mark Stimpfig, managing director of ConnectEd