Guide to Learning to Teach English as a Foreign Language Online
A Viable Alternative That Can Lead to Jobs Abroad
|All you need to
learn TEFL online.
Thousands of prospective or practicing
teachers regularly enroll in TEFL (Teaching English as a
Foreign Language) courses, and like other education-related
industries, TEFL training is migrating online. According
to the New York Times, the value of the entire market for
online higher education could reach $32 billion in 2015.
A confluence of factors has led to the popularity of online
courses. American universities are offering an increasing
number of online courses, and the traditional brick-and-mortar
college, with its exorbitant costs, is becoming an albatross. The
education section of newspapers is replete with articles
about the newest innovations of course providers such as:
EdX, Udemy, and Coursera. (Coursera sometimes offers free
TEFL courses.) The Internet has created a new El Dorado
The development of online courses marked
an important epoch in the history of the EFL (English as
a Foreign Language) industry. For decades, trainees had
to enroll in relatively inflexible and costly courses conducted
in a traditional brick-and-mortar setting. Years ago, online
courses had numerous detractors. Today, online courses are
recognized as a viable option for EFL training, and new
online EFL teacher-training programs have proliferated in
The fact that online TEFL courses are
relatively inexpensive is one factor in their growth. Their
tuition fees are much lower than those of brick-and-mortar
institutions, and occasional promotions make the courses
even less expensive. Many trainees study online while
working full-time jobs. Prospective teachers who enroll
in a brick-and-mortar training program not only pay much
higher tuition fees, but they must also incur heavy costs
for transportation to the brick-and-mortar venue and housing
expenses for the duration of their course.
Another factor for the burgeoning growth
of online education is its flexibility. The trainee can
study at his or her own convenience. For example, I did
my online TEFL diploma on the weekends because my fulltime
employment as an academic director kept me occupied during
the week. As an online student, you can log in to your course
from anywhere in the world, and move through the material
at your own speed. This is in contrast to the extremely
hectic pace of the traditional four-week program in a brick-and-mortar
venue or in-class program. Also, the conventional programs
do not offer flexible start or end dates. Online, you choose
your course start date. Your trainer is an email away and
is available to answer your queries or help you with any
problematic assignments. There is no need to rush, but there
is a time limit for the completion of the online credential.
All in all, online learning is a convenient option for the
peripatetic lifestyles of EFL teachers.
Online TEFL programs are not truncated
versions of brick-and-mortar programs. For instance,
OnTESOL’s 250-hour diploma program is an enhanced
version of Coventry House’s traditional one-month
TEFL certificate course. These 250-hour courses require
the students to master a formidable amount of material.
Many online EFL courses include didactic videos of real
EFL courses taught by experts. In a brick-and-mortar setting,
on the other hand, trainees often watch other trainees teach. Online
courses are also often accompanied by useful and interesting
texts that also serve as reference materials after the course.
Most online TEFL training courses assign
a mentor or tutor to the trainee. (There are a few
automated courses where no tutor is assigned.) The tutor
guides the trainee through the course and provides useful
feedback. Queries about the course segments and completed
assignments are typically returned within forty-eight hours.
Reputable courses employ tutors who are kind but fastidious
and very knowledgeable. The tutor for my primary course
had a compendious knowledge of the subject and a sanguine
disposition. Upon successful completion of the course, tutors
often provide references for prospective employers.
The lack of teaching practice has been
cited as a drawback for programs that are entirely online.
Therefore, many online courses now offer teaching practice
post-course to trainees. This is arranged at a cooperating
brick-and-mortar institution. The teaching practicum is
not always necessary, however. Many students in online courses
have years of teaching experience and merely desire a credential
for career advancement, professional development, or personal
Students who enroll in an online TEFL
training course come from a wide variety of backgrounds.
The minimum age for enrollment is usually eighteen. Matriculating
students should be native speakers or have a high level
of proficiency in English. A college degree is not a prerequisite
for enrolling in a course; however, many countries where
EFL instructors are hired require a bachelor’s degree. In
any case, the entrance requirements for online courses are
not, in fact, much different from entrance requirements
for brick-and-mortar courses.
Most EFL teachers today are eclectic
in their approach to their craft. Similarly, the most useful
online courses do not slavishly advocate any one method
or way of teaching, and the numerous and diverse courses
I have taken throughout my career have all enhanced my ability
as a teacher.
Online TEFL courses vary in length.
The shortest are twenty or thirty hours. Introductory courses
are typically sixty hours. Standard courses are usually
120 hours in length. Long programs are at least 250 hours
long. The shortest courses are devoted to a narrow topic
such grammar, teaching children, or teaching IELTS; these
courses are often taken after a basic certificate or by
practicing teachers for professional development. The sixty-hour
introductory courses are for EFL tyros and offer a general
overview of the most important aspects of TEFL. Most employers
look for candidates who have at least a 120-hour credential,
though. The 250-hour programs have a certain cachet, and
they cover grammar, lesson planning, and other topics in
much greater detail; these programs are a challenging option
for experienced teachers. For prospective teachers seeking
to enter the profession, a 120-hour or longer course-with
a teaching practicum-is probably the best option.
There are a myriad of alternatives for
EFL teachers seeking an online course. The choice of courses
depends largely on the employment goals of the teacher.
If a person is interested in teaching children or businesspersons
in Asia, for example, a certificate of 120 hours followed
by a short course in teaching English to Young Learners
(TEYL) or Teach Business English (TBE) is probably best.
If you are not sure what course is most appropriate, ask
the course provider for advice. A reputable organization
provides quick, honest, and useful advice to prospective
trainees, and supercilious replies are not acceptable. The
director of one online school recommended that I consider
studying elsewhere when he understood my background and
goals. The advisor for another program patiently and thoroughly
answered my numerous questions as I was researching online
courses. In both cases, I received candid responses to my
enquiries, and I ultimately chose a 250-hour program. If
the responses you receive to your questions are not useful
or if the respondent is too eager to have you sign up, look
for another course provider.
I have taken more than a few online
courses, and I was cautious about choosing the most reputable
ones. Online courses-like their brick-and-mortar counterparts-vary
widely in quality. In general, it is best to choose one
with third-party accreditation. ACTDEC (Accreditation
Council for TESOL Distance Education Courses) is a well-known
organization that accredits and maintains professional standards
in online courses. TESL
Canada has a directory for recognized teacher training
programs on its website. ACCET (Accrediting
Council for Continuing Education and Training) accredits
programs based in the United States. There are some smaller
accrediting bodies, too, but a body that “accredits” only
two or three online schools is probably a farce. There is
no single agency that accredits online or brick-and-mortar
course providers worldwide, so it is essential to do some
research before choosing a program. Another source
of information is course reviews (teflcoursereview.com);
this website also has lists special offers. It might also
be worthwhile to check out the Facebook page for the program
you are considering: does it contain useful and interesting
information? The Facebook page can also provide contact
information for recent or former students of the course
you are contemplating. And finally, it is almost always
better to go with a program that has a long track record
rather than a school that has been in existence for only
a year or two.
The lack of accreditation and lack of
a history are not the only red flags for dubious course
providers. Their websites may be poorly designed or contain
spelling errors. One website offering online courses informs
the reader “to clcik” for a sample course certificate.
An offer of a 50% discount is another red flag: it makes
it seem as though they are desperate for trainees. Third-rate
online schools also make grandiose statements about having
the “best” and “most recognized” course.
Moreover, they make exaggerated claims about the employment
prospects of their graduates. Even the nomenclature of the
online school may be reason enough to look elsewhere: would
you want to have the words “like tefl” or some
other inane phrase on your certificate?
Self-motivation: Is Online Learning for You?
Online courses are not necessarily the
best choice for everyone. Extremely gregarious individuals
might prefer a more traditional brick-and-mortar course.
To a degree, the online student learns autonomously, and
that requires a great deal of self-motivation. By and large,
it is a matter of personal preference and learning style.
In any case, completion of a TEFL certificate
or diploma does not mean proficiency in the art of teaching.
One recent graduate of an online TEFL certificate program
wrote: “In reality, it is just a beginning.” (teflcoursereview.com).
Indeed, learning teaching is an ongoing process.