Which online TEFL course should I take? Are you dizzy, dazzled and confused by all of your options? Ever been to the toothpaste aisle to get some toothpaste and just felt overwhelmed?

It's quite similar when it comes to TEFL courses.

teflpaste aisle

I know it's tough deciding sometimes. I have taken two TEFL/TESOL courses: one online and one in class.

You have an array of options. I don't even know how many, but lets say over 50 and that's too many.

So how can you decide?

I put this little guide together, so that it might help you. It's based on my experience teaching in Asia.

You might also be looking for different viewpoints, so before I tell you about that criteria I'll introduce you to the different personalities that you will run into on the web in your search for a TEFL course.

7 personalities that you'll meet online in your search for a TEFL course

These are the different kinds of view points and what they have to say about TEFL courses and the ones they recommend or not. 

So I grouped them into the following personality types and biases.

1. CELTA snobs (and that includes Trinity TESOL and other CELTA clones)

This person is likely a traditional learner. They may make comments like, "online TEFL courses are a joke", that "they are totally useless" or "...not worth the paper they are printed on". There can be some truth to what they say, but it's not an absolute truth. 

They are very dogmatic and they believe...

If there is no observed classroom teaching experience w/ feedback (from a CELTA snob^^) then it's totally pointless. It's one way or the highway for the CELTA snob.


I just wanted to add my two cents and that's that everything I learned about teaching I learned from watching other teachers or by reading about it. There was no snob in the back of the room judging me. 

There are quite a few of them.

2. The affiliate marketer

These are often teachers whose motives are not so transparent. There is a lot of affiliate marketing in TEFL. These people make money by recommending a course and then leaving a link to it. 

If you click on their link they will make money if you then purchase the course. 

Learn more about affiliate marketing in TEFL and what it looks like.

There are lot$ of them.

3. The direct marketer

This person works for or is the company that they are recommending. They may be transparent and honest or they may be a "sockpuppet" or use other devious tactics.

They are all over.

4. The renegade

The renegade won't recommend any TEFL course whether it was in-class or online. They might be savvy types who recommend the DIY path.

They are few in numbers.

5. The cheapo

This person is a bargain hunter, doesn't usually care much about teaching and is just looking for the cheapest certificate that they can get so that they can "check the box". They assume all TEFL courses are the same so why not just get the cheapest one.

There is quite a few of them in some places like Reddit.

6. The ignorant one

This person might not have even taught abroad and may have came to his/her conclusions in just a few minutes after a Google search. They don't actually know much about the TEFL industry and may recommend any course that is "accredited" or "internationally recognized", but little do they know that these terms are misleading as there is no one accreditation in TEFL.

And aside from a university accredited course like CELTA, accreditation in TEFL is just another layer of business and sometimes deceptive.

7. The honest reviewer

This person actually took a course and has no ulterior motives to make money. They are not an affiliate marketer.

They are few in numbers.

What criteria should you use to choose a course?

You're new to TEFL so you are probably wondering a lot! I see that there are 2 basic reasons to take a TEFL course.

  1. Find a job
  2. To learn how to teach

I think a lot of newcomers place an emphasis on number 1. At this point you are probably more concerned about getting started teaching (by finding a job) and getting there, right???

So based on that criteria a course that is "reputable", "accredited" or that claims to be "internationally recognized" sounds appealing. 

However, those words which are commonly used by TEFL course providers are ambiguous.

I took a course that claimed to be reputable, internationally recognized and accredited. However when I got to Taiwan I learned that those things didn't really matter.

One I didn't need a TEFL/TESOL certificate to get a visa. My degree and experience (lack of it at the time) was more valuable.

Two I didn't learn or retain much of anything that actually helped me to teach the kids that I was teaching in Taiwan.

So what I learned from that was that number 2 - the actual teaching and not the job was way more valuable. And I think all of the courses out there will tell you that their training is good and that it will prepare you to teach abroad.

And it may.

But it might not do that very well. The best training will focus on training you to teach the students that you are going to be teaching. 

Do you know who you are going to be teaching?

There are problems with online courses because many are not any good or engaging.

The best way for me to learn was by watching other teachers. It wasn't by reading or searching online. So I made a lot of instructional videos shot in the classrooms where I was working and then later I started to make courses especially focused on teaching the students who I taught.

Now here are some factors to consider that may help you choose an online TEFL course.

If you want the cheapest and easiest

Groupon has the cheapest courses online. But if you want quality then you are in the wrong place. These courses are cheap for a reason. 

These are not especially engaging courses. There typically is no feedback. These are mostly text based courses where you will read and answer questions.

The problem is that you aren't likely to remember much of what you learn.

If you want the most expensive

Take the University of Toronto course ($900-1200+).

If you want to remember what you learn

You need a course that is visually appealing (media rich) that will include a lot of video of your target students (more on that later). Long term access helps here too.

"I finished the entire program in 3 days and retained like 5% of the information." - woobv

If you want the most reputable course

Take the CELTA. It's accredited by the University of Cambridge. CELTA does offer a blended course, however it's not totally online. You will have to take some of it in class.

There is no one online TEFL accreditation in fact I counted at least 23 and some are fake. There are only independent accreditors (businesses) who grant accreditation after they "inspect" a course and receive money.

What about an "120 hour" course?

There is literally no such thing online. It's mostly more ambiguous TEFL marketing. Some people complete their so-called "120-160 hour" online TEFL courses in less than 10 hours. 

If you want long term access

You have fewer options as some popular online courses have access that only lasts 2-3 months (i-to-i, myTEFL). There is a "company" that offers 12 months access, but any TEFL course that uses the words "college" or "university" when they have nothing to do with being a university is scammy. 

Long term access offers more flexibility and also helps if you want to review material when you start teaching. If you take a course that only offers 2-3 months access then by the time you actually start teaching you won't be able to review it.

ESLinsider's Advanced course offers unlimited long term access.

If you want to teach adults 

Then take a CELTA or maybe any other course unless they say it's for "young learners". But as far as I can tell most courses including the two I took focused more on adults.

Now many will say that what's in a course like CELTA or any other course will carry over to teaching children, but that is only partially true. Some stuff will not apply.

If you are going to teach children

Then take a course targeted at teaching children or "young learners". ESLinsider's courses focus more on teaching children (especially in East Asia).

If you are a savvy rebel

Don't take one. DIY.

If you want real classroom instruction

You don't get that online. Take an in-class course and remember that it is usually mock or pretend classroom instruction.

If you want simple and practical

Then I recommend ESLinsider. It was created by someone who started off probably like you with an unrelated degree (in art). Theory and studying grammar definitions went in one ear and out the other.

As mentioned before I learned best by watching other teachers.

If you want popular

Then you could take i-to-i, Bridge TEFL, or maybe myTEFL.

Or search for:

  • online tefl course reviews

And keep this in mind.

If you want to teach in ____ (insert country)

Choose a course that helps you to do that. Some courses out there blog and offer free resources. 

ESLinsider focuses more on teaching in East Asia.

If you want to test one out

Find one that offers a trial or a free starter course. Search for:

  • sample online TEFL course

If you want job assistance

Find one that offers that. But be warned that any TEFL course provider out there can only offer a small percentage of jobs compared to what you can find on your own. I took a course that offered "guaranteed jobs", but they had very few jobs where I wanted to teach.

I ended up going there to find work.

If you are still confused

Research and then divide your choices into 3 piles of paper. Choose what looks like the best one for each pile based on the criteria you used to choose it in the first place. Then take your last 3 and choose one. 

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