08 January 2012

Delta, Masters or Lifelong Learning?

I've just been reading an interesting discussion on Alex Case's blog tefltastic.com, "Is a TEFL Diploma worth more than a relevant MA" which made me think about the whole question of Diplomas and Masters, and formal education in general!

I want to raise the question of cost and relevance of these qualifications for some (perhaps the majority?) of us. I've just completed the Delta which, although I learned a lot and enjoyed it, has little relevance to my
teaching context because I teach mainly kids and teens. So, you might ask, why did you do it? Well, here are my main reasons:
  1. I felt there were gaps in my knowledge that I wanted to fill to become a better teacher.
  2. I like learning
  3. everyone knows that to get on in TEFL you have to have a Delta or Masters
I'm also lucky to have a school that sponsors teachers to do the Delta by paying for half, so I decided to take the plunge. That's very lucky because the total cost of my Delta (Modules 1 and 3 = Distance, Module 2 at IH London) was about 3,500 pounds (oops, can't find the pound sign on my Spanish keyboard) plus living expenses for 6 weeks in London. If you take into account how much an EFL teacher earns in Spain, that's a lot of money. So, I was really grateful for the help, but there are, of course, conditions, such as staying at the school for the next 3 or 4 years or pay back proportional percentages of the part paid by the school. As a result of doing the Delta, I've had a small "promotion" (reduced teaching and I now do a few training sessions), so in a sense it has paid off - but there s a huge discrepancy between the cost of the course, and the level of promotion/remuneration as a result of doing the course! Perhaps I should have done Modules 1 and 3 without the course to reduce costs slightly?

So, I chose a very expensive way to show existing or potential employers my level of knowledge/competence as a teacher, especially as (as I've already mentioned) I'd already started studying the Delta without realising it before actually doing it. This leads me to look at my reasons for doing the Delta. Points one and two are intrinsically orientated. I was already reading articles and books, and doing my own research into areas I didn't know much about, to become a better teacher. Point three is externally orientated - showing potential employers that I can do this. Looking at it this way, I seem to have spent a lot of money to satisfy other people. Hmm.

As far as relevance is concerned, well, I'm still working on that one. I enjoyed the course, but I also enjoyed the autonomous learning I was doing beforehand. And now I'm back in the classroom I'm finding it difficult to put into practice a lot of the ideas with younger learners. But, I think I've improved as a teacher because I have a better understanding of how languages are learned, the methodologies, etc. so in that respect it was worth it!

I've always been a learner. So, after the Delta, now what? Well, I'd love to do a Masters, for similar reasons to doing the Delta. I've been looking at online TESOL Masters with a technology element and apart from the fact that there aren't very many online courses (ridiculous given that most teachers work overseas!) there isn't one that matches up to what's actually happening in the big wide world. I don't blame the universities - technology moves so fast and it would take a team of super workers to amend courses to keep up with developments.

Anyway, doing a Masters is completely out of my financial sphere. Again, I could ask my school to help but the cost is so enormous that I'd spend the next 3 or 4 years paying it off. I'd love to see an alternative Masters level programme for "Lifelong Learning". Maybe there is one? Wouldn't it be great if you could research a topic then submit an essay to an "expert" for marking? For each essay you get so many points until you've got the required number to be equivalent to a Diploma, Masters, Doctorate, etc. That would hugely reduce costs and you'd be researching topics that are relevant, current and up to date.

I'm not the first person to think like this, and I think I'm part of a growing minority (perhaps the silent majority?) looking for affordable, relevant education. Two years ago, I took part in a brainstorming session held by FECEI in Spain to talk about the future of English language teaching and academies. Some high profile EFL experts were there, including Nik Peachey who gave a presentation about his idea of a potential future of education (there were 5 potential futures in total). In a hypothetical academy of the future, Nik talked about "Google Academy", where learners are awarded points according to online exercises they do, articles they read, contributions to blogs, forums, etc. they make, and so on. Learners follow their own learning path and get awarded points according to how far they go. Watch the video here. I really like the sound of this. Do you? Of course, I don't think it would suit all learners (age, learning styles 'n all!) or all types of degrees (medicine, etc.).

Well....I can't see this happening now. I think there are too many interests at stake to allow free, or virtually free formal education, not to mention that people like me would be out of a job! But it's a nice thought. So, I´ll get back to my unguided, unrecognised, book and online research, aka "Lifelong Learning" which has no status in the world of education even though, in my opinion, lifelong learners are truly learning, as opposed to practising for an exam. Of course, I won't be writing long essays and dissertations, but I'll be preparing training presentations (hours of research and preparation), lesson plans to share with colleagues (hours of research and preparation), writing on my blog and experimenting in class (hours of research and preparation) to come to my own conclusions about what works and doesn't work (critical thinking?). Is this as good as a doing a Masters? What do you think?


  1. Just come across this post. I think you raise some interesting points, Helen! I did my Delta in Seville a few years ago, but still haven't got round to finishing part 3! I then did an MA at the University of Manchester, which I enjoyed hugely and which equipped me with a far deeper knowledge of teaching and of educational technology. Although I did it face to face, lot's of people are doing this as an online course and seem to feel that it's a great course. In many ways you do get to follow your own path on this course, and certainly if you do it online you have to be a motivated, self-directed learner.

    Maybe one day experience will count for more, and a demonstration of capability through a portfolio of some kind, but until then we 'have to' pay for the certificates, I suppose!

    1. Hi Richard. Thanks for the info about the Manchester course. It's something I`m very keen to do but not at the moment. What I like about doing courses, is that it forces you to focus on what you are supposed to be doing within a given timeline. I find I'm interested in too many different things and end up spending hours getting distracted and not always achieving what I set out to achieve in the first place! Doing courses, online or face to face, at least help people like me (the majority I think) hone research skills which is vital to get anything done in the Internet age.

  2. These courses are really good. I think online learning in future is going to be the only mode of education because of the advancements in everything. Paramount California University offers wide range of courses covering nearly all areas. This is a great medium for all individuals who are willing to improve their knowledge and gain competitive edge over others.