As more companies offer employee education benefits, some are adding education startups as well as college partners, in an attempt to better serve frontline workers.
EnGen, a B corporation
launched two years ago, offers online and career-aligned English instruction with a focus on real-world needs.
For example, its early-childhood education course
features language and vocabulary necessary for those roles while preparing students to become certified to work in daycare and preschool environments.
Just 4 percent of U.S. adults who are learning English have access
to language instruction, notes Katie Brown
, EnGen’s founder and CEO.
“Language learners know that they won’t be served by their local colleges, and so they do not seek them out for English instruction,” says Brown, a former community college instructor in English as a second language (ESL) who holds a Ph.D. in second-language acquisition.
Most ESL programs at two-year colleges teach “English for academic purposes,” she says, with an ostensible goal of preparing students for academic courses. This approach is reminiscent
of remedial education
, where students spend time and money on noncredit courses.
“These are one-size-fits-all programs based on academic reading and writing skills, and learners have to complete them in a fixed sequence (often with no credit or only elective credit) before they are able to take courses toward their AA degrees,” Brown says.
State of Play:
English learners in higher education are a heterogenous group
, says Rebecca Bergey
, a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research. They include U.S.-educated young adults as well as refugee students with limited education backgrounds and highly educated immigrants who are looking to transition to work in this country.
“Given these diverse profiles, ESL programs at community colleges should be flexible and adaptable if they are going to adequately meet students’ unique goals for learning English,” Bergey says. In addition, she says programs that teach English in isolation fail to adequately prepare learners for the language of their field.
Bergey cites evidence
that online language platforms can boost proficiency gains among students.
EnGen works backward in designing its personalized courses, starting with a needs analysis, so learners get real examples of authentic language in context, Brown says. Its flipped classroom
model features what computers do best, by adapting learning activities in real time based on student performance, so instructors can do what humans do best, she says, which is to offer personalized feedback on speaking and writing while helping learners with answers to complex questions.
“By leveraging an AI-powered platform with human intervention, we’re able to drive meaningful learning outcomes at scale,” she says.
The Kicker: “Many employers are realizing that existing ESL programs do not meet the needs of their learners, but that does not mean that their learners cannot learn English,” says Brown.