Sunday, June 16, 2013

MOOCs, CBE and On-line Learning: Trends to Explore in Translation and Interpretation

Many interpreters and translators cannot afford the cost of traditional programs. Even more importantly, many are working and have families, and cannot take off to a distant location for a year or more to pursue a degree. Fortunately, there is a revolution beginning to sweep through higher education that may make it easier for interpreters and translators to obtain education and training. One aspect of this revolution that has received a lot of attention is the phenomenon of MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – which are free, on-line courses from top universities like MIT and Stanford that enroll literally hundreds of thousands of students. It is hard to see, though, how MOOCs can be used to teach interpretation and translation.  Fortunately, MOOCs are not the only new development in higher education. Although it’s been around for a long time, competency-based education (CBE) is expanding rapidly, and this approach is of even more importance to fields like interpretation and translation.

CBE is based on demonstrated mastery of skills and knowledge – competencies – in a field, rather than time spent sitting in a classroom. In CBE, students are assessed for what they already know and then given targeted instruction on the competencies they need to master. Once they demonstrate mastery, they move on to the next competency until they earn a degree or certification or both. In CBE, students can learn at their own pace, and many finish much more rapidly than in traditional programs.
Because it is self-paced, CBE can be combined with another innovation in higher education – online education – in powerful ways. I am teaching interpretation in an on-line graduate degree program, and know it is certainly possible to deliver high-quality instruction and performance feedback in that environment. Students and faculty can also interact in ways that are just as strong as traditional programs. Coupling the strengths of online education to the flexibility of CBE could be a winning combination.
Of course, moving to CBE poses new challenges. Perhaps the most significant is the need to define the competencies that must be mastered. Developing high-quality course materials is another challenge (although it is one that I am already working to overcome), as is creating the assessments to determine whether competencies have been mastered. However, with the right efforts, these challenges can be met.  
These and other new approaches hold significant promise for interpretation and translation. There is no doubt that the demand for education and training far exceeds its availability. If more flexible approaches were available, I have no doubt that many would take advantage of them. Many interpreters and translators want to improve their skills and knowledge, and would like a college degree to qualify for a promotion or new job. There are a lot of questions about these new approaches, especially how they might work in a highly interactive profession like interpretation, but we all need to pay attention to them to see what promise they hold for our profession.


  1. Gladys, this is indeed a very valuable information. I'm holding a translation\interpreting degree from a state university in Kazakhstan, my motherland, however I would love to continue education with an international team of students and teachers. What's hard to imagine, is how the an interpreter can be trained online, is surely is a highly interactive skill. Another thing that makes me wonder - does online training offer courses for specific language pairs?

    1. Dear Olga,
      Thank you very much for your message and interest in interpreter education.
      I will be blogging about teaching interpretation on-line within the next few days. I can tell you for now that it has been an intellectually stimulating and rewarding experience. There is no doubt in my mind that this mode of training is viable and has a great future.
      Most of the interpreting courses offered on-line are language-specific; mine, for example, are in the French-English language pair. In the United States and Canada, some universities and organizations offer language neutral courses and workshops to train interpreter of languages of lesser diffusion (also known as exotic or rare languages). This training is mostly face-to-face; not on-line. Language neutral refers to training in which the instructor does not speak the same language as the students. I will be blogging about it soon. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about language neutral interpreter training, make an Internet search under “language of lesser diffusion.”
      Thank you again for reading my blog. Please check in again for the upcoming posts.

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