The subject of online language learning has been in the news, particularly since Live Mocha received funding some weeks ago. Yesterday, my company, Praxis Language appeared alongside them, in the New York Times (the same story appeared in the International Herald Tribune today).
There is a deeper undercurrent to this story. It concerns how the future of online language learning is being played out. After a career in the industry I know change when I see it: After a somewhat slow start, Moore's Law and the internet are starting to rattle its foundations. This will result in change - change in how, where, and with whom we learn languages - and it will reach all corners of the industry, including those who may now feel immune to it, Berlitz, Rosetta Stone, the language schools, and universities.
I have no idea who will dominate the new landscape, but some things strike me as inevitable. Web 2.0 has yielded new learning insights and practices that will almost certainly be widely adopted going forward. The whole nature v nurture (technology v pedagogy) debate has been opened up again and it is proving fertile ground for innovation. I cannot imagine, for example, any online learning system that failed to use RSS going forward. On ChinesePod and SpanishPod, that technology has created a whole new conception of what a lesson is. RSS turns the daily lessons into learning events, something you don't want to miss, rather than a chore you have to do, and a place where your community of learners hang out an work to the same beat. (This is also described as pull v push by Charlie Gillette in this excellent article.) This type of learning as an event was impossible just a few years ago, but I believe it will prove itself indispensable for any future developers.
And while we're on the subject of community, it's clear that social software, though still in its infancy, has a huge role to play in learning. Learning alone from a black box will no longer cut it, because now there is an alternative: the community of practice, with a clear social object, a purposethat everyone in the learning ecosystem shares.
Things are going to look different, three years from now. Mark my words!