Online tutoring for foreign languages learing - Part 1

Teaching foreign languages is not a new career in Vietnam; but teaching and learning foreign languages online under the instruction of a tutor is a novel experience which is currently being applied in some popular languages-specializing universities. Or private companies develop personal online accounts and sell them to individual learners. This article aims to include four main points: (1) basic concepts of e-learning and online tutoring; (2) components of a learning management system (LMS); (3) roles of tutors in e-learning of foreign languages; (4) suggestions and warnings of e-learning activities in Vietnam. Some studies on online tutoring in Vietnam generally as well as within the scope of National Foreign Languages Project 2020 particularly are mentioned in the last section.

Distance learning and teaching started to spread when there were increasing demands of learners who can hardly attend classes of traditional mode for the geographic isolation or difficulty in time management. In Canada, as the population is small and scattered across a large area, distance learning and teaching originated in the form of sending assignments by post and tutors gave instructions to learners via telephone or mails. Distance learning has particularly bloomed since the development of information technology (IT), computers and Internet. For example, “campus numériques” was founded in France in 2001 in the strategic technology development by the Ministry of Higher Education and Research. A number of 40 universities have been involved in this project, applying 2,000 e-learning softwares (platforms) in 280 teaching programmes (Bertrand, 2003). In this fresh model of teaching and learning, traditional teachers have been substituted by online tutors with specialized roles and skills.
This article aims to include four main points: (1) basic concepts of e-learning and online tutoring; (2) components of a learning management system; (3) roles of tutors in e-learning of foreign languages; (4) suggestions and warnings of e-learning activities in Vietnam. Some studies on online tutoring in Vietnam generally as well as within the scope of National Foreign Languages Project 2020 particularly are mentioned in the last section.

1.1. Distance learning, distance and open learning, e-learning
According to the Glossary in distance and open learning by the Center of Regional Resources in professional training in France (Poittevin et al., 2007), distance learning (D-learning) is a model which is different f-rom face-to-face training in a traditional classroom. Distance learning originated f-rom professional and continuing education programmes in enterprises, organizations or individuals with particular training demands and without the needs to be present at the training locations and directly meet teachers.
Distance learning is implemented in various forms: by post, online self-study with the supporting materials such as CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, online exercises, or downloaded exercises. Learners can communicate with tutors via post, emails, telephone or online communication tools.
Distance and open learning is the model with particular organization and purposes, considering the c-haracteristics of learners in terms of time, location and activities. If learners do not need to mobilize to a certain location, it is defined as distance learning; if learners are allowed to study at their own rates, in their own time management and se-lect activities appropriate to their personal needs, it is called open learning. A training programme that caters all three factors is considered distance and open learning. In France, the concept of open learning is synonymous to the concepts of flexibility since learners can participate or cease learning any time.


E-learning is the distance learning activities which rely solely on Internet-based information technology to teach-learn and communicate between learners and tutors, learners and learners. Such tools as emails, forums, messages, chat, webcam, wiki correction function for common writing among individual learners.
Learning Management System (LMS or platform) is the software installed in the server, allowing the control and management of the system with full functions and tools for distance learning. It helps connect different individuals participating in teaching and learning process through Intranet or Internet (Delaby, 2006).

1.2. Online tutoring
According to Poitlevin et al. (2007), online tutoring refers to activities which support online learners in various ways, for example:

  • Assist learners to define the contents and learning schedule which suit their needs and personal conditions;
  • Follow up learners to ensure that they understand the required learning contents through proactive or reactive questions;
  • Organize group activities in virtual classroom; and
  • Check individual learners’ progress and identify their difficulties during the learning process to encourage them in time and together find appropriate solutions to such problems.

Compared to teachers in traditional classrooms, online tutors usually do not take the following responsibilities: 

  • Doing lesson planning: Lessons are designed by a group of professionals beforehand, tutors only give instructions in its own meaning. Occasionally, online tutors have to prepare supplementary materials or exercises; but it does not account for much work and also depends on online tutors’ enthusiasm.
  • Summative assessment to grant certificates or degrees. In distance learning system, self-assessment has been designed in the form of online multiple choice questions with automatic answers. Examinations are implemented in face-to-face mode to avoid cheating. Other assessment activities are formative one which online tutors use to identify learners’ weaknesses and strengths to adjust the purposes or learning methods.

Functions and roles of online tutors are discussed in details in the section 2.

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Quyết định 1400/QĐ-TTg của Thủ tướng Chính phủ ngày 30/9/2008 về việc Phê duyệt Đề án "Dạy và học ngoại ngữ trong hệ thống giáo dục quốc dân giai đoạn 2008-2020".

Người đăng:Nguyen Thi Cuc Phuong, Ph.D. Hanoi University