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The Closing of Opening

Category: The TEFL Business

Lately I’ve been thinking about different sorts of innovations we’ve seen in the TEFL field over the years. I’d love to dream up a TEFL bombshell that will enhance my economic well-being. If I do, maybe you’ll see me in the Dragons’ Den! (a TV show where entrepreneurs hoping to get financing pitch their ideas to venture capitalists.)

 

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William Christison
William Christison

Teaches English classes in companies and in his own private home.

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Anyway, I was thinking some recent “innovations” turned out to be basically a gimmick with an advertising budget: a case in point, the infamous language academy Opening, now closed.

They didn’t even bother to have teachers; students came in and sat in front of a computer and worked through lessons, though later they did start providing conversation teachers, who of course didn’t need to be qualified so you could pay them peanuts. The business was also unusual because their main expense wasn’t teachers but advertising. I remember I’d never seen such high-profile (expensive) ads for a language academy before.

I also remember when they went out of business there was a scandal because they were charging students for the entire year (or two!) without their permission or knowledge. Opening was paid upfront for a year or two of classes because the students, unbeknownst to them, had taken out loans. The students’ “monthly payments” were in fact loan installments which of course they couldn’t stop paying, even if they dropped. They had to go on paying off the loan they didn’t know they had!

It’s curious how Opening created such a stir for a while, only to so ignominiously fizzle out. The academy I was working for at the time bought computers with English-language-learning software and offered them as an added value, but they never really caught on, which is peculiar: Opening was all the rage yet our students weren’t interested in more or less the same product. I suppose they preferred the tried and tested, flesh and blood English teacher: me   : )

By the way, it seems Opening has fallen off the radar now, or is buried under mountains of data in the internet because it’s hard to find anything on it, and I’d like to make sure I’m getting my facts right. I did find one article saying it went belly up in 2002.

I imagine Opening could still easily be around today if the owners had been ethical and ready to adapt, probably into a more traditional academy. They certainly got off to a high-profile, rip-roaring start. Actually this could be a valid business model: use some sort of gimmick, perhaps involving the internet, to attract attention and students, but combine that with quality language teaching, which is what you need for the long haul.

Alex Case

As far as I can work out, it was basically the same business model as Wall Street and they are booming all over the world- recently taken over in China by Pearson, no less. I.e. not sure it was the concept that failed, probably just sheer incompetence on the managers’ part

I’ve just googled Wall Street Institute, and you’re right! Wall Street sold its Chinese subsidiary to Pearson just last April 15, five days ago as I’m writing this. It’s probably a smart business move if you want to go global because there’s plenty of room for expansion in China, unlike the very crowded market here in Madrid.

And probably their “blend of computer-based learning and face-to-face tutorials” will go over well because I imagine there’s not such a glut of that sort of thing in that part of the world. I wonder if other ambitious academies are following suit. I wonder how easy it is to find English teachers over there and if they’re well paid. It’d be great to spend a well-remunerated summer working over there and getting to know the country a bit as well.

Steven Starry

Hi David,
It seems there are a couple of online schools doing really well. I think EF is doing ok, for example. A student of mine was testing it out for his corporation for in-company classes. One of the big innovations there is that they don’t even need a teacher, the teaching can often be done by some sort of an online virtual artificial-intelligence cartoon-character. As if we didn’t have enough with the pandemia and global thermo-economic meltdown.

By the way, you can do an advanced search on El País .es (make sure you set the date back) and get more articles on the subject.

Cheers,
Steven

David

Hi Steve,

Looks like the idea behind EF is the same as Opening’s: factor the teacher out of the equation. Hope they never succeed. In any case, one clear trend is that more and more technology is coming into the classroom, and as teachers we have to learn how to use it if we want good jobs.

About the economy, like you say, things are grim, something akin to a car speeding around a corner only to have all four tires blow out. Things are bad, I imagine this is the  worst I’ll see in my life.

Cheers,

David

Jane

Anyone ever heard of the Madrid based Business English “no-teachers/blended learning” company “Elogos” ? Are the days of the flesh & blood EFL teaching numbered? I’m trying to get into EAPm myself




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