This paper aims to provide evidence that online well-designed educational tasks can provide more relevant and richer active learning environment for business English learners. The benefits of online tasks, as an education tool, became more apparent and gained more importance during the events related to the Covid-19 pandemic. The task design is based on task-based interactions and in a sequence of tasks with the support of an online learning management system (LMS). The findings suggest that online task-based learning (and would-be blended learning in the future) enables meaningful and authentic activities promoting interactions and communicative competences to prepare for learners of business English to enter the workplace.
The overarching aim of the study is to explore how task-design-utilizing online LMS could contribute to enhancing the learning process and to the development of the learner's communicative competences. The study included two aspects, namely: (1) the design of online tasks and (2) pilot evaluation. The task design involved tasks that required interactions between the learners. The pilot evaluation relied on data collection via questionnaires.
Two aspects relating to the findings: (1) a description of the teaching initiatives which was designed to see how blended learning and online tasks can enhance learning and develop the skills of the learners: with questioning techniques targeting communication skills, simulated workplace situations and timely feedback and peer influence; (2) the findings of the pilot study evaluation to see the actual implementation of online tasks. The students' responses corroborate the teachers' comments. The findings of this research showed that LMS tasks, which were designed for this study, helped the learners to enhance their competence in business English. Such competences included communicative skills needed for learners to enter the workplace such as interpersonal skills, presentation skills and negotiation skills in contexts. These findings lead to significant recommendations regarding the way forward for developing active blended learning.
Firstly, teachers need to be trained and involved in designing such online tasks and materials to be used in active blended learning. More training in language teaching methodologies should be investigated to adapt the transition from a traditional to a computer-assisted language learning teacher. This helps teachers to design and implement online simulated workplace tasks. Secondly, time for the use of online tasks should be allocated satisfactorily. This can be achieved by building online learning sessions into class schedule or developing active blended courses. The time for the use of online simulated tasks should be allocated satisfactorily with lab or simulation room, in which students would be shown how to access the online tasks designed on the university LMS and the way to practice with different kinds of tasks.
In this study context, the online tasks design can initiate at activity-level blending to support face-to-face (F2F) activities, for example, online activities to support tasks for the topic Make a request or Offer for help. This can be extended to course-level blending when more online activities are designed to use with F2F activities such as online comparing and contrasting tasks to develop skills in connections with the awareness of cultures. The findings of the research suggest to develop and to implement online tasks alongside with classroom learning and teaching to enable the objectives of business English programme at university for preparing learners to enter the workplace. The recent pandemic highlighted the need for effective methodologies for active blended learning. It is now required that professionals in higher education to collect evidence base to inform future practice of such methodologies. Further significant research efforts should be directed towards collecting such evidence of the effectiveness and improvements of such methods. The support of higher education management professionals in securing funding for such research will be essential.
Online task-based learning, Business English learners, Simulated workplace activities, Communicative competences