MOOCs : Newsmart uses the press to improve your business English

By February 25, 2015

Still in beta, Newsmart is a web application designed to help you learn business English by reading passages from the Wall Street Journal. There would appear to be a huge prospective market in emerging non-English-speaking countries.

Whatever field you are interested in, it has never been easier to get hold of materials to help you learn about it. The explosion of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is proof positive that our relationship with knowledge has changed. Everyone has opportunities to follow a course in whatever way suits him/her best, with online courses provided by a wide range of universities worldwide, including some of the most prestigious institutes of learning. Nowadays lots of young people who are keen to pursue their education but are not happy with the traditional school system get very excited about the courses, some of them very high level, offered by the top universities.

Mountain View, California-based Coursera is without doubt the best-known MOOC platform, with over 22 million students from 190 countries enrolled, and a total of 541 courses emanating from leading universities. The success of the Coursera business model proves just how powerful these alternative educational techniques can be. For each course you take, you can obtain – for an administrative charge of $35 – a personal diploma attesting that you have completed the course.

Part of this general trend but in a rather small niche is Newsmart. This startup’s proposition is to help people learn English directly from the English-speaking press. The service, which is currently undergoing beta testing with a limited user community, draws on Wall Street Journal articles as source material.

Incorporating language learning into daily life

Newsmart decided to use the iconic US daily business paper as a basic tool for teaching English relating to the economy and the wider business world. The learning process breaks down into three areas – vocabulary, grammar and comprehension. Each article studied will be chosen for a specific purpose, such as illustrating the use of technical vocabulary pertaining to raising funds or providing a summary of a firm’s financial results. The user is then provided with short exercises to test his/her absorption of these different elements. Like other online learning platforms such as New York City-based Codecademy – an online interactive platform that offers free coding classes in seven different programming languages – the learning process that Newsmart has developed uses gaming techniques throughout. There is a points system to enable students to follow their learning curve for the different aspects, a system of digitally-displayed ‘level’ badges showing that a particular person has attained the level of analyst, and so on.

Newsmart thus has all the characteristics of a MOOC. What could be more natural that learning a language using world-renowned newspapers? ‘Gamification’, the clean interface, the fact that the service is free-of-charge, and that the teaching material is sourced from the living press are all aspects which are likely to ensure the practical usefulness and so boost the credentials of the service. And there are surely real market opportunities for this type of service in some parts of the world, with China the most promising, as there is already a huge market for teaching business English to Chinese company employees.


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