Consulting ELT detective

After watching far too many episodes of Sherlock I began to imagine what the life of a ‘consulting detective’ would be like. Then I wondered if the same idea was possible for my field. Would anyone be interested in a ‘consulting ELT detective’? I also pondered on what it would entail. there was quite a lot of pondering actually. And so whilst applying for jobs and interviews I mentioned that I was available as a freelance ELT detective/trouble-shooter/consultant. Firstly, just for fun and a challenge but then it seemed that many places actually needed such a person.

A friend just paid a hefty sum to an international consultancy firm to produce a report on their company complete with cost-saving ideas. Shouldn’t we have the same for ELT?

I admit I am not the most qualified or experienced person for such a job but in my defence I do have enough to contribute something. I also like to learn and in this industry the best way is often by getting your hands dirty so this seems like a perfect developmental opportunity too.

Thus far I have ‘consulted’ or ‘advised’ or ‘given suggestions’ to a couple of places. Some more serious than others. Whether this line of work turns into something I don’t know but the idea, willingness and possibilities are there.

I probably need a hat and a dog though and if things go well I may also be on the look out for an assistant. Watch this space.


13 thoughts on “Consulting ELT detective

    • Ahah! So, the movement has begun! But I thought that was on solving crimes. I think my idea was called The Language of Lies. this, however, is a Mr fixit type thing where I consult and give advice or anything from what course to offer to setting up a virtual platform. In theory. So far I have helped on both these fronts but I wonder if it’s worth offering these services officially. Hmmmm.

  1. “…an international consultancy firm to produce a report on their company complete with cost-saving ideas. Shouldn’t we have the same for ELT?”

    Would this be the same as an enterprise linguistic assessment (or “audit”)? As I wrote in a recent ELT forum thread about needs assessment, I wrote that IMHO enterprise auditing is a huge, untapped opportunity for ELT professionals. I think Andrew Wickham does some of this consulting in Paris, and for needs assessment and ESP program design, Evan Frendo and his blog are great resources. And I know there will be at least one session at the BESIG conference this year on this very topic.

    • Thanks for the comment Clive. I know a few people that ‘assess’ staff. I’ve done that for universities but it is far more draining than doing a Cambridge speaking test as the numbers can be huge. I did quite a few for companies in China as an examiner but it seemed it would’ve been better done in-house but that wouldn’t lead to a recognised certificate. Perhaps BULATS is a better solution.

      My idea involves assessing an operation from a business/ELT business/courses/teaching perspective. Sort of a fresh pair of eyes if you were. This can/could range from a single delivery of general suggestions to a set project project such as designing/redesigning course offerings, training teachers, creating paper or digital materials.

      I seem to have done/be doing all these things separately and wondered perhaps if such a total service would be useful.

    • Taken to another level, how useful would a consultancy firm for ELT be to say, English 360 or CUP? Do they have enough expertise to do market research or a competitor analysis? How about just for a basic SWOT?

      If there was an expert consultancy to hire who could assess your operations, give you educated ideas and guide you and support your development then wouldn’t it be worth hiring?

      I base this a lot on my opinion that 1)A lot of directors are teachers and so not trained business people 2)The crisis has resulted in a need to offer different services 3)We haven’t really got up-to-speed with how to use tech properly in ELT 4)There often isn’t much differentiation between EFL/ELT suppliers.

      • Agree 100% with your last paragraph. I probably wasn’t as clear as I should have been with the nomenclature…when referring to enterprise linguistic assessment or auditing, I was trying to get at the more top level consulting approach, where the actual levels assessment, with BULATS or some other tool, is only a small part. Probably best to stick with the classic term “linguistic audit” in the Reeves, Wright 1996 sense.

        Anyway, as a freelancer, before English360, I did probably a dozen consulting engagements, most smallish but a couple huge ones, that may be what you are referring to. Basically the idea in one phrase was to “optimize return on training investment by aligning language training goals and process with the goals of the business”. So you’d start with the senior management (not just HR) and identify at a functional level (operations, sales, finance, production, talent mgmt, etc.) what would most help drive their business results… basically a needs assessment but at an enterprise level. Then you drill down the org chart and get more granular info from all the stakeholders using the usual needs assessment methods. So you end up with a document that outlines to senior mgmt how the business can be more competitive, i.e. sell more, spend less.

        Then you do the current capability analysis (this is where the levels assessment comes in) so that you can do a gap analysis of where they are and where they want to be. Now you have the data for the diagnostic part, and can move on to suggesting solutions: program structure, metrics, suppliers (you can do QA on the language schools), technology. For program structure you’re talking individual vs. group classes, blended / f2f / online, intensives, workshops, etc.

        The main point is that this all needs to directly align with the business needs, and if you can show the senior mgmt how you’ll help their business, the budgets are easy to get (and lots of times you can save them money.

        • Exactly!! So far, I’ve worked at a far less efficient level with smaller companies. It seems that there are a lot of schools/institutes out there who want to improve but aren’t sure how but then again I’ve worked at international franchises who didn’t have the right approach either. In those cases it tended to be business business with very little focus on bottom-up ie teaching. The best example is a small school that offered me 10Euros an hour not far from Paris. It had a director, a head of languages, a secretary, the works. But then they needed teachers. For some reason they had missed out this part of their preparation and so panicked when they realised their pay was not going to get them any staff. Then they realised that as nobody had solid teaching experience or were qualified natives course design was another problem.

          When I had my interview they literally asked me design all their courses. The same at a uni that asked me to set up, teach and manage a 2 year foundation course for 100 students. In both these cases what was needed was an ‘academic consultant’ to come in, propose courses, materials, training and provide ongoing support.

          Another issue is personalised ‘language learning solutions’. You would not believe how many places I know that need Blended Learning solutions. Not books or PDF versions but individualised courses, primarily using online interactive content but backed up with apps. And I mean modern in that it would have pron recognition and lots of options and be very visual but allow the teacher to lead and not just be self-study heads down. It should also be modern and mature ie no cartoons, cheesy acting or fake texts. Well, this is my current challenge.

      • Forgot to answer your question: English360 became fully independent from CUP last year, but from I saw before, they are really strong with market research and competitor analysis…it’s pretty much part of their editorial DNA. Some of the other publishers we work with don’t have the resources that CUP does though, so they may be interested in external support.

        English360 on the other hand was designed as a tool to help freelancers and schools to carry out this type of consulting, and then implement the training programs that result, at least when it’s blended or online. The whole idea of e360 is to enable the level of personalization required; the mix-and-match publisher content, together with the authoring tools and needs analysis functionality, gives consultants, freelancers and schools a nice platform to carry this out…you even get to use your own logo and branding.

        Sorry for the blatant self-promotion, but you did ask 😉

        • Excellent! That’s what I wanted to ask but didn’t want to be rude. I bet they are one of few who do such activities. Having a background in Marketing I’m fully aware of how essential it is and so am surprised when I see schools or materials pop up that don’t have a clear target market and then struggle.

          Yes, I like English 360 but I much prefer your own content as I’ve worked for places online that just use PDFS and MPs of CUP/OUP books. For me that isn’t modern, it’s just doing the book online. Having mix-and-match of books is fine but I would like specific materials designed to exploit the technology. One of my jobs is designing similar things. It took me a while to figure out how to do this as I’m used to paper materials. This is why I have to try the platform out to see the possibilities.

          I see lots of publishers offering online components and some schools have invested in their own materials like EF and Wall Street. The challenge for publishers is how to meet the needs of schools. I know many who just find books far too expensive. I mean, 1 students book for each student, a teacher’s book, workbook etc.Some even find English 360 expensive, particularly if they only have 1/2 classes a month. I met one director who started off by paying a designer to create 3 course books and they’ve worked form there. No downloads, copies, fees, just 1 book and teacher adaptation. Simple in theory.

          So, I think what a lot of independents need is that knowledge and ability to say what they need to offer, to who and someone to design it, manage it and improve their service. Yes, a good senior teacher or director may be able to do this but those roles may not be the same outside of big schools.

          Thanks again for the great comments Cleve and promote away.

          P.S. I’ve been experimenting with designing apps for all my classes. Could you integrate this into English 360?

  2. Agree 100% that PDF’s are not a step forward. Fortunately we were able to publish everything as fully interactive activities, many with rich media, and all integrated with the LMS and scheduling functions.

    I may have a slightly better opinion than you do about the value of publisher content. I think it is pretty good and a time saver for freelancers and schools, if and when it’s open and available to be curated and extended. We work with a school in Spain that recently won a new client by implementing an excellent example of this: the customer is a water engineering firm, and the school made a custom program for them by using Cambridge English for Engineering as a foundation (about 80%) and then created the other 20% by authoring specific content for water desalinisation and waste treatment, using some of the customer’s content as well as video and other from the web. It was a nice example of not having to re-invent the wheel 100%, but still personalising to address specific needs. Only open platforms allow you to do this, and that’s why I think they are the future.

    One other comment, and take this from someone who has spent much of the last several years selling a product to language schools: it’s MUCH easier to sell to the corporate client directly. You can pull the school supplier in as part of the corporate consulting engagement, but private language schools just do not have the budget to pay for this type of consulting, and the big chains will want to keep it in house. Selling to the Global 1000 multinationals, and/or SMEs, is the way to go (in my humble opinion 😉

    Lastly, about apps: apps are cool and can be integrated with e360 at a basic level, but not connected to the LMS. We’re waiting to see if apps are surpassed by HTML 5, which will do everything on a web page directly. Both have pros and cons. Despite all the buzz at conferences, I definitely am not on the app bandwagon. I AM on the mobile bandwagon, but apps and mobile will not be exclusive synonyms when HTML 5 gains critical mass. Maybe. Hard to see the future here, for me anyway….

    • Cheers Cleve,

      Fully interactive is the way to go as far as I’m concerned and my students love stuff like EnglishCentral and EnglishAttack.

      Yep, published content is good but I’ve lost track of the amount of places I’ve been to where they just need more specific stuff. For instance, we ran a course using the Engineering book you mention for MA students, about 800 and it didn’t work because there were 3 different Engineering degree courses. at least we had the book though, 10 years ago there wasn’t much. In the end we had a lot more success with online cases and the British Council stuff. Yet, that book was perfect for another group of business people I taught. The other problem was that the other teachers were just against books, preferring stacks of copies. As I pointed out the legality of such high quantities they highlighted that they were copying from a different book every week. I guess this is a very low-tech version of English 360.

      I’ve recently written stuff specifically for certain markets which was great and wondered if this could work for courses. The school/buyer could choose from existing material and/or request a personalised course and choose what level of paper/tech it would have and it would/should be up-to-date. This is something that I see a lot of in schools/unis that have low budgets. One was even using a 1982 coursebook. In theory, grammar,vocab,reading,listening and speaking modules could be built up as separate entities on a regular basis and then put together as one package with a degree of adaptation. This is what I hope happens rather than just having a book and then uploading ‘updates’ or making 2nd versions.

      Selling to MNE or SMEs sounds brilliant but is there a lot of competition nowadays? I have a friend that travels a lot to deliver courses and testing but I don’t know what the pay is.

      Ah! So Apps may just be a fad! It’s true that most people’s phones are full of them but if you have WIFI and save your passwords then you can just access the stuff on sites direct in theory, or am I missing something?

      I can’t wait for HTML 5 to kick in as I have constant problems with students who can’t use flash on iPads/phones. But those same IT students aren’t really keen on tablets either as they don’t have enough power at the moment.

      Thanks again for all the comments and peak into your world. From what I know you seem to be publishing material by other publishers besides CUP so you must be in a good position to push the boundaries more across the board.

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