Wondering if online TEFL courses are good or bad? How good are they? Well, it depends. It depends on you and it depends on the course.

You may wonder if your course will be accepted or not now, but that is irrelevant because based on my experience teaching in Asia it really doesn't matter what course you take as far as getting a job goes, but as far as learning and having a better experience in the classroom it does.

Because you are going to work and if you are not prepared it will be difficult and teaching abroad will not be that fun. 

This post will point out some of the problems with online courses and then offer a solution for you at they end.

The problems are...

They can be really boring because:

  1. They are steeped in theory and "educational" blah, blah, which can happen in a classroom based course too
  2. You often have no visual and they are text based
  3. There's often no feedback or interaction

why most online TEFL is not good - in one ear and out the other

New teachers talk about their problems on Reddit

Someone asked a question.


"At what point did you feel comfortable as a teacher (in terms of classroom management, activities, etc). I'm 7 months in and still feeling so lost as a teacher but want to stay in Korea and find a new hagwon. Any advice?"

- secretpassage13


Some replies:

"When I started the other teachers said it took about six months for them to feel comfortable. It took closer to nine months for me..."

- klag

"I am 8 months in and still get treated like an inexperienced idiot."

- shauren

"There is no handholding like other people think."

- [deleted]

"SAME. No particular guidance knowing I’m a new teacher, just “reminders” and criticisms."

- secretpassage13

Those comments are from here.


And guess what?

I private messaged 3 people above and asked if they took a course and they replied.

Klag said...

klags course

Secretapassage13 said...

secretpassage's course

Shauren said...

Shauren's course

So all three of them took courses, but as you can see from their former comments above they didn't help much. 


"If you do what everyone else does then you'll get what everyone else does..." - Paul Rulkins (TED X)


Here are 3 problems that are common with online TEFL courses.

Here's problem 1.

1. Most courses are steeped in useless theory

But don't take it from me, take it from "cuteasabutt".

tefl course jargon

This isn't a problem with just online courses or onsite TEFL courses. This is a problem with "education".

How many useless classes did you take in high school and college? For me geometry, chemistry, biology, history, etc. involved memorizing totally useless facts that went in my left ear and out my right.

It's the same with TEFL. 

In many courses you are going to study a bunch of jargon, teaching theory, grammar and other things that just don't matter. Studying those things won't help you create better lessons and they won't solve your classroom problems.

In most courses you won't learn enough about 'what to do' in the classroom.

Here's problem 2...

2. They lack visuals

Monkey see, monkey do.

You need a visual to learn.

You can read and learn, but chances are you won't remember much of anything that you read. And actually if you are going to read studies show that reading a book is superior to reading online.

 

Here's a martial arts analogy.

I practice judo and BJJ and to learn new techniques the teacher first shows you what to do, you watch him and then you practice it. If my teacher just sat on the sideline and told me what to do then I might understand some, but it's way faster and easier when someone shows you what to do.

Besides I can learn what to do by just watching my teacher even if I don't understand much of the language that he is speaking. If I closed my eyes that wouldn't be the case.

It's the same with teaching English. 

The easiest way to learn how to teach English is by watching other experienced teachers teach.

The problem with a text based course (at least most cheap TEFL courses and as you saw above some not that cheap) is that you have no visual therefore you learn less.

People only read 20-28% of the text on a page

The problem with text is that it is not memorable. You are unlikely to remember what you read. People don't read text or to put it more accurately most people only read a small percentage of the text on any given page.

I remember when I first started off teaching. I would scan the web and look for stuff that worked: activities and ideas for classes. But I would waste a lot of time doing that and I had very little success. 

It was that struggle that led to the creation of ESLinsider and the how-to videos.

HALF OF YOUR BRAIN IS DEVOTED TO VISION

If you don't have a visual then learning how to teach English is going to be way harder. 

http://www.seyens.com/humans-are-visual-creatures/ 

Visuals are faster & more memorable

According to Dr. Lynell Burmark:

“…unless our words, concepts, ideas are hooked onto an image, they will go in one ear, sail through the brain, and go out the other ear. Words are processed by our short-term memory where we can only retain about seven bits of information (plus or minus 2) […]. Images, on the other hand, go directly into long-term memory where they are indelibly etched.”

Most online TEFL/TESOL courses are text-based and steeped in theory. That's why you probably won't remember much of it.

It's not just "online" courses either.

It's words and really the only things that I remembered from the in-class course that I took were the activities that we did. I didn't remember the lectures. I didn't remember the teaching theory.

Like he said they went in one ear and out the other.

Remember.

Remember.

Remember.

YOU NEED VISUALS TO LEARN

And so will your students.

Yay!

BONUS teaching tip!

To teach your students English you need to use visuals.

You probably don't want to feel like her...

"...it kind of made me nervous to teach there. All I have is an online TEFL that I forget most of." - thedan633

Most courses on Groupon are going to be mostly text and theory based. And it's not just cheap courses as some of those courses mentioned above are not that cheap.

Or her...

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

Or all of these people...

These people were searching Google for the answers to their online TEFL course.

Do you know those blue search related queries on the bottom of Google search result pages?

Here are some examples of terms people were searching for:

  • tefl unit 4 answers
  • tefl express answers
  • tefl online test answers
  • online TEFL course help
  • tefl grammar test answers
  • answers to online TEFL course
  • online TEFL course quiz answers
  • ittt online course final test answers
  • tefl 120 hour online course answers
  • tefl 150 hour online course answers
  • tesol 120 hour online course answers

Another problem with online courses is that cheating can be common.

They are looking for answers to the course they are taking, but the answers were there in the course. But as stated before people only read 20-28% of the text on the page and many courses are boring.

So what happens if you take a course like that?

Remember?

Here's a reminder from above.

  • "...feeling so lost as a teacher."
  • "...treated like an inexperienced idiot."
  • "SAME. No particular guidance..."

It's not just them.

I had a similar experience.

Teaching was hard for a long time. It was like a year and a half before I started to feel just a little bit comfortable in the classroom.

Why the things you think that matter now won't matter at all

Now you may be concerned whether or not your course will be accepted, about the accreditation, or if it's legit or reputable because you are looking for a job.

But those things don't matter much.

They don't.

Getting a job is the easy part.

And it is just the beginning. You can get your foot in the door with an online TEFL (or without one somewhere), but after that what are you going to do?

Think your problems end when you get a job?

Probably not.

Think your new school will properly train you?

Probably not.

Think your average course will properly train you?

Probably not.

So does video make a course better?

Not necessarily.

It depends on what the videos are.

It's not actually about video. It's about watching other teachers in action or doing instructionals and learning from them.

If the videos are of a person lecturing in front of a camera then that's probably not going to help much, but if they are instructional videos showing you how to do something in a real classroom then, yes.

"Real" is an important caveat.

Many on-site courses offer training that is not in a "real" classroom. It can be better than an online course, but these are mock classrooms that are unlike the classrooms that you will be teaching in. Yes, they can help, but that experience still isn't "real" teaching experience.


"Some of the acting is a bit dodgy in the observation units, but for me this made it funnier and more entertaining. I could still get the point of what they were saying, but it was often a little over the top." - Stacey Kuyf

But wait isn't video just passive?

Kind of, but it's a better way to absorb instructionals. How many how-to videos have you watched on Youtube?

Even if you take a classroom course you will be just passively listening for the most part and maybe doing a little watching and participating. 

With a video you can control the pace, you can press rewind and that is one of the benefits of online TEFL courses (although most of them have limited access). If you are on-site you can't do that.

Take a quick look over the following 3 examples and see which you like best 

Here are 3 examples of how information can be delivered online. They are all similar in that they will tell you how to prepare a lesson with the PPP style, however they are different in how they deliver it.

Here's example 1. (Is this painful?)

This is a kind of an extreme example, but I see some people write like this online sometimes. You probably wouldn't find a course that does this, but you never know...

Step 1. Warm up. In this step you want to draw your kids in. Here we use a fun activity called "Teacher Says" that gets the students motivated and focused. Here are some warm-up activities and icebreakers. Step 2. Presentation In this step you want to present the material to the students. It can be vocabulary, sentences, numbers, or Q&A. You can teach them the meaning of the word by using body language, pictures, synonyms, opposites, and kinds of. You can have the students repeat the content (vocab or sentences) after you 2-3 times. Step. 3 Practice In this step you want to practice the material. This is a good time to do that using a game or activity. The most common kinds of games to use in this part of the lesson are vocabulary and activities for sentences. Step 4. Production Here you show the students how to use the language. You show them how to apply the language to their lives. Step 5. Review In this part of the lesson we use a TPR activity to review the material. Ending on a fun note can be a good idea to.

Isn't that horrible? 

How far did you get before you quit?

Here's example 2. (Is this a little better?)

I'll try to do a better job with this one.

Step 1. Warm up

In this step you want to draw your kids in. Here we use a fun activity called "Teacher Says" that gets the students motivated and focused. Here are some warm-up activities and icebreakers.

Step 2. Presentation

In this step you want to present the material to the students. It can be vocabulary, sentences, numbers, or Q&A. You can teach them the meaning of the word by using body language, pictures, synonyms, opposites, and kinds of.

You can have the students repeat the content (vocab or sentences) after you 2-3 times.

Step. 3 Practice

In this step you want to practice the material. This is a good time to do that using a game or activity. The most common kinds of games to use in this part of the lesson are vocabulary and activities for sentences.

Step 4. Production

Here you show the students how to use the language. You show them how to apply the language to their lives.

Step 5. Review

In this part of the lesson we use a TPR activity to review the material. Ending on a fun note can be a good idea to.

Example 3. (Is this the best?)

O.k. Here is the final example.

 

Step 1. Warm up

In this step you want to draw your kids in. Here we use a fun activity called "Teacher Says" that gets the students motivated and focused. Here are some warm-up activities and icebreakers.

Step 2. Presentation

In this step you want to present the material to the students. It can be vocabulary, sentences, numbers, or Q&A. You can teach them the meaning of the word by using body language, pictures, synonyms, opposites, and kinds of.

You can have the students repeat the content (vocab or sentences) after you 2-3 times.

Step. 3 Practice

In this step you want to practice the material. This is a good time to do that using a game or activity. The most common kinds of games to use in this part of the lesson are vocabulary and activities for sentences.

Step 4. Production

Here you show the students how to use the language. You show them how to apply the language to their lives.

Step 5. Review

In this part of the lesson we use a TPR activity to review the material. Ending on a fun note can be a good idea to.

Which of those 3 examples did you like the best?

I think most of you would choose option 3 because everything is layed out nicely. You have a video to watch and simple text instructions to follow.

That's part of the format that I use in the courses I have created here.

Here's the 3rd problem...

3. There's little to no feedback or interaction with a real human in most online courses

The research shows that feedback from a teacher isn't the most important attribute of a course, but it helps. First the instruction matters the most. The method of delivery and how the teacher teaches matters the most as far as what you learn.

But then you have to practice it and the feedback helps cement ideas that you previously learned in the course and adds additional ideas that you didn't previously think of.

Online the "practice" part comes in the form of creating lesson plans or videos where you either write out your plan for the class or you show how to do it on video.

The problem with an automated course is that they are often boring and students are less likely to finish them.

"The reality with the Groupon “certifications” is that you’re basically just paying someone to do the photoshop for you - you’re not going to get any actual instructor feedback. If you’re just worried about getting the certificate, you’ll be fine (I don’t think it’s possible to fail one of those courses), but if you were hoping for actual feedback from an experienced instructor, you might want to moderate your expectations." - CaseyjonesABC

But if you take an online course w/ feedback you might have to wait 5 days

Some online TEFL courses do include feedback. I know of at least 2 that will make you wait 5 days. And that is not convenient for you.

Read this comment.

He's still waiting for feedback

That's not convenient and...

Research shows that good feedback is timely and specific.

TEKA includes feedback on your assignments within 24 hours.

Here's a solution to the often boring online courses that don't work well

So...

By now you should have gathered that...

You need visuals, something practical and feedback from a teacher will help.

ESLinsider's course is especially focused on teaching English to kids and it includes all of these factors that make an online course useful.

  1. There's little theory and lots of practicality
  2. You'll learn what to do mostly by 'watching other teachers'
  3. You'll get feedback and interaction from your teacher on your lesson plans and assignments (within 24 hours)

This course will teach you concrete skills and increase your clarity and confidence in that classroom. But it's not the cheapest or the easiest course. The cheapest or easiest course is unlikely to really teach you much.

It's also not intentionally difficult and you won't have to go searching for answers outside the course like the users above.

Ever hear of the "marshmallow experiment"?

Do you want one marshmallow or two?

So you have to decide if you want one marshmallow now (a cheap and easy TEFL certificate) or two later (more skills to actually do your job).

But wait, you might say.

I don't like marshmallows.

Hehe...

Me neither, but instead of a marshmallow insert something you do like such as a mango or even money.

The kids from that experiment that could think long term and waited to get the second marshmallow ended up being more successful in life.

So here's how to get two.

Or if you are still concerned about 'getting a job' then learn what employers really want.

"...I think I saw the TEKA course that way. It seemed interesting because I already have an online TEFL course that I don't really feel benefited me at all, and while it looks good on paper, I wanted a course that actually made me feel like I had obtained skills from it to use in class. I didn't really care that it's not accredited since I already have an accredited one for resume's sake..." - Nicholas J. (commenting on a question in the beginning of TEKA)