Online learning presents opportunities (image credit: Spree2010 via Flickr)

Online learning presents opportunities (image credit: Spree2010 via Flickr)

Online learning presents opportunities (image credit: Spree2010 via Flickr)

Ever thought about teaching English online? Sylvia Guinan, online English teacher and current winner of the British Council TeachingEnglish blog award, walks us through the opportunities and pitfalls.

There are many different things to consider when it comes to online teaching. The good news is that online teaching opens up new levels of creativity and opportunity for you as a teacher. In a way, it drives you to surpass yourself and focus more on best practice as well as innovation. As for students, they are our digital natives, and they deserve to be taught with 21st century technology.

Technology basics

Many freelance teachers teach through Skype. It’s the simplest thing to do, as Skype is very stable for audio quality and you simply screen-share your desktop to show PowerPoint presentations or work directly from educational websites. While Skype works for small-scale teaching, you need something more sophisticated for larger groups or getting your school or organisation online. Personally speaking, when I started, I made a beeline for platforms with virtual classrooms, as it just seemed the natural thing to do. I found a community of teachers on WizIQ who were very inspiring, and we worked together for two years on our Edupunk creativity experiments. This was how I learnt the ropes, and learnt how to manage groups online. Once a week I held an open creativity class on poetry, games or story-telling, and students from all over the world would log in.

Resources and content creation

As for resources, the following sites have wonderful materials if you don’t feel like re-inventing the wheel. One outstanding find is the English Out There initiative by Jason West who has created six-level courses of English that incorporate the use of social media for fluency development, confidence-building and social/emotional engagement. ESOL Cambridge has free online exam materials for teachers and other online preparation courses. The British Council also provides a lot of online support for IELTS preparation. Other great resources can be found at busyteacher.org, EFL classroom 2.0, and TeachersPayTeachers.

Beyond that you may wish to supplement your basic course offerings, specialise for specific purposes or simply follow your own instincts and inspiration. This is when your own content creation comes into play. I highly recommend Eduglogster for creating user-friendly, brain-friendly electronic posters, and Prezi for more extensive creations. PowerPoint will be your basic essential, as only PowerPoint will work in most virtual classrooms, though you can screen-share to work on interactive sites. My number one tip here is to make PowerPoints as visual as possible.

The importance of personal learning networks

I can’t stress strongly enough how important my personal learning network has been to me. For me, as a freelance teacher, associating with others on the cutting-edge of technology in education has been a huge motivational factor. When you are challenged by the excellence of others, you become more daring, professional and creative. I can’t imagine what it would be like to set oneself up on Skype, post a few adverts around and then stare at your screen waiting for students to show up (if they ever do in this massive cyber vacuum where no one knows who you are). Pro-activity and passion are a must for success.

Motivating students online

This depends on the context of your online teaching model. If I had a class in a brick and mortar school and a language lab, I would have a field-day. The fun activities one can use to supplement courses and have students creating their own educational masterpieces are endless. My favourite activities would include comic creation, video-making and story-telling via multimedia.

You can motivate students online through interactive learning environments. In the virtual classroom, your camera is king. You’ve got to be as expressive as possible to make students feel as if they are in the same room as you. There is an art to using the chatbox as a back channel, and this is often far more effective than a traditional classroom, as you can have some students on audio, and/or video, while the others comment, chat, or interact through the chat box simultaneously. A huge advantage in my book is the break-out room feature in most of the best virtual classrooms. You can divide classes up into groups or pairs and send them to different sub-classrooms. In this way you can introduce many new games as you have the advantage of information gaps to exploit. Then there is the extra communicative element for students, a greater sense of intimacy between classmates, bonding, creativity and lots of fun.

This can be extended to 24/7 facilitation via learning management systems. The most widely-known LMS is Moodle. If, at first, Moodle is too challenging, there are course feeds on sites such as WizIQ. I also recommend the ClubEFL edutainment learning space. This would definitely motivate learners. Language schools all over Greece are enrolling their students onto ClubEFL and children are making their own quizzes, blogs and much, much more. From a psychological point of view, 24/7 facilitation gives all students a chance to get the teacher’s undivided attention and helps shy students to open up more. This doesn’t mean that you are at their beck and call, it just means that some of your work will be managed asynchronously.

Building rapport

Learning management systems give you the backdrop you need for informal communication between live online sessions. You can manage online discussions with your classes, just like on Facebook. In fact, there’s nothing to stop you from setting up private class groups on Facebook and engaging students directly from there. Working between Facebook and your chosen LMS would be ideal. It would entail building up rapport via text, chat and multimedia, using environments that students love, and adding more substantial projects and materials to the LMS. Some teachers also use Twitter as a tool to get students working intelligently while building relations.

My favourite way to engage with students is to give them creative challenges. If you ask them to create a video or comic they will have great fun creating and sharing, and overcome any reservations they may be feeling. You can also help them to explore the Internet mindfully by setting up engaging webquests.

Pitfalls to avoid

Social media

If you are a freelance teacher you will need to have a dynamic online presence. Having your own teaching page, with a unique teaching brand that reflects your professional values helps a lot. The pitfall, however, is getting sucked into a social quagmire. You’ve got to be aware of this and keep a professional distance.

Webtool mania

Webtools are, of course, creative and useful for online teaching, but be realistic about how many you can sensibly use, and avoid the trap of playing with too many toys. My criteria for this is simplicity. Tools should also fulfill educational objectives on a deep level.

Online schools

There are many unprofessional ‘online schools’ exploiting teachers online. Do not accept substandard pay even if you are still learning the ropes.


Further reading: Uruguay: teaching English through a video screen

Join our TeachingEnglish community on Facebook for tips, resources and regular teacher chats.

Image courtesy of Spree2010 on Flickr under Creative Commons license.

Please note that links to third-party websites in this blog do not imply endorsement of those third-party websites by the British Council or any association with its operators.

Comments

Total 35 Comments Add your comment

basetsana

Posted on June 27th, 2013 Report abuse

I love the programme

Jessica

Posted on June 27th, 2013 Report abuse

Can you recommend any excellent online schools? I’ve had some bad experiences teaching with online English schools.

Name*Robert McCall

Posted on June 27th, 2013 Report abuse

Hi Sylvia,

Thank you – I also have gone through many of the hoops described in your article.

Your commentary addresses the opportunities and pitfalls from a teacher’s perspective, however most teachers belong to a school and I would argue that the school should be managing online courses and implementation strategy collaboratively with teachers. So, let´s look at it from the school’s perspective.

If teachers head off in a number of different directions, social media, platforms, etc. The focus, or the end goal of the school is lost. What is the school´s methodology? How are online activities integrated into the classroom? The answers to these and other questions are how high engagement from parents, teachers and students develops – collaboratively. I would also like to point out that protecting your Unique Selling Point is important when selecting a platform. If everyone uses WIZIQ or ClubEFL then how does this help identify a school’s brand? Are you promoting ClubEFL or your school? These platforms are not open source. The IT Team, Academic Coordinators, Trainers, Web Designers etc. employed by the school cannot dive in and make changes which can become problematic. Moodle on the other hand is a free open source (safe) LMS widely used by educators because it can be easily customized, branded and upgraded. The Moodle corporate solution TotaraLMS (much easier to use) provides badges, personalized learning paths, a virtual classroom, blogs, social and peer to peer learning etc. and all the other benefits of open source.

In closing I would suggest that teachers and schools step back before diving in. Think about where they want to be in 5 years, and consider how they might get there. Put a plan in place and slowly build a branded solution that supports their methodology, and overall online strategy. Diving in and joining the club is not a Unique Selling Point for any business.

Kind Regards,
Robert

Nadhir Moghli

Posted on June 27th, 2013 Report abuse

Thank you so much for all the advice and tips!

Sylvia Guinan

Posted on June 28th, 2013 Report abuse

Hi Jessica,

I work freelance because, in my experience so far, many ‘online schools’ are cowboy operations trying to exploit teachers and students. I stopped looking for ‘jobs’ after my first initial research, and after I got so involved in my own initiatives.

However, things are changing as online teaching becomes more of a 21st Century reality.

English Town seems to be a popular place that operates as a respectable school but I have never tried it.

I also notice that the Onestop English website sometimes advertises for online teachers and linkedin is a great place to pick up freelance jobs or even more official positions.

As far as freelancing is concerned, you need a website, and a strong online presence via facebook/twitter/linkedin – when people know who you are, work always comes your way.

Blogging is my favourite thing to do and other teachers prefer You Tube – networking is extremely important – about one-third of my work comes from colleagues and referrals.

Sylvia Guinan

Posted on June 28th, 2013 Report abuse

Robert,

Thank you for the insighful response. I was invited to cover this topic in the light of my own experience ( as an individual freelance teacher), but I also have my eye on the bigger picture, so I’m happy to answer your questions as fully as I can.

Firstly, I’m a freelance, independent teacher, so I don’t need to promote any particular platform. In fact,to quote a colleague of mine, Andre Klein – it’s not so much the platform that’s important as what you do with it. I mentioned WizIQ as a platform that I use because of the teaching community and handy tools and environment. As for branding, schools on WizIQ can use their own branding even as far as taking the WizIQ logo off their classroom settings. Most virtual classrooms are not open source, so schools need to do some research before choosing their own technology sources. Moodle is open source on the surface, but it takes time to learn it and manage it – so schools have to consider whether time is money.

Really, the article was to explain what’s out there for teachers who are thinking of going online.

As for school methodology, that’s an interesting question. I know many classroom teachers from around the world who implement blended learning strategies in their classrooms – officially or unofficially. With the state of global education being what it is – we cannot afford to wait for authorities to drag their feet and quibble about methodologies when the concept of methodology itself is becoming obsolete.

I say ‘obsolete’ because there is no particular methodology that is the ‘right’ one. A wonderful series on methodologies over the years hosted on the British Council Facebook page showed how each methodology over the years added to our knowledge but none was the ‘perfect’ solution.

All best practice should be based on the principal of creativity as Sir Ken Robinson says, in my opinion.

For me, apart from sharing what a teacher can do in certain environments, the question of engagement was the most important one beyond the basics. I have a lot of experience, so I can put together all kinds of interactive experiences using various types of interactive technology or ideas. But, I particularly mentioned ClubEFL because it was built especially for schools in Greece to introduce creative experiences to teachers and students. Many Greek schools completely lack technology and creative methodologies – and this is a very nice solution.

I’m not ‘promoting ClubEFL’ or ‘my school’. My school is a personal website, which I call Sylvia’s English Online, a blog called ESLbrain, and my own moodle which I host on hostgator – the rest is a just description of my own experiences in the light of technology I use.

If I want to give a review of other technology solutions, or how schools can employ their own management strategies for online learning – then I need to write some new articles beyond the scope of the current one.

I hope this answers some questions – I look forward to further comments:)

Sylvia Guinan

Posted on June 28th, 2013 Report abuse

Here’s an example of what students can do with some informal blended learning ideas and technology in the classroom ( for schools)

http://www.sylviasenglishonline.org/?p=2539

Also, I forgot to mention above that using ClubEFL does not mean that you lose your brand name or unique selling point – my account there is called Sylvia’s English Online – the tools are for making quizzes, blogging, multi-media etc.

Name*J Lock

Posted on June 29th, 2013 Report abuse

A very interesting read – thank you. You raised many points I had not considered and can probably incorporate into my brick and mortar lessons. Thank you for the insights!

David Deubelbeiss

Posted on June 29th, 2013 Report abuse

Hi Sylvia,

thanks for mentioning EFL Classroom 2.0. I’d also ask all teachers to stay miles away from Teachers pay teachers. They only pay themselves and hard working teachers get only 55% of a sale -horrible.

If teachers want to teach online – nothing better than the site I’m proud to associate my name with – EnglishCentral. I’m a hard working teacher who designed the LMS and it is simple for students to assign video lessons and track student achievement. There is a premium version but teachers can fully use it with students as basic members. A free trial of the premium version is for all new teachers to give premium to 50 students for a month.

I teach online every day, have an online school teaching graduate students and training teachers. It works. You just need to throw yourself at it!

Geoff Jordan

Posted on June 29th, 2013 Report abuse

Very good quick review, Sylvia, and I agree with all your very well-considered advice.

In my experience, the biggest problem is drop-off and drop-out rates. The teacher has to find ways of sustaining motivation, and giving the students the feeling that they’re really getting somewhere.

What are your thoughts on Mooodle?

I’m sure you know there’s a big push these days by small, private ELT outfits towards blended learning – part on-line and part presential teaching – as a way of providing lower-cost courses, particularly for in-company training. Go English, in Barcelona, offer what I consider to be well-constructed and well-executed courses of this type. Any thoughts?

Finally, I recommend Macmillan’s One Stop English http://www.onestopenglish.com/ as a good source of materials. A lot of the content is free, but I think it’s worth subscribing – it’s not expensive at all.

Brent Jones

Posted on July 7th, 2013 Report abuse

Sylvia Guinan,

Thanks for the article and comments. I teach for a very large, commercial English teaching company. They have 60 centers in the US and some in other countries. But their pay rate is terrible. Because I am 62 years old, I need to think about “retirement” years. Going freelance seems logical.

I have also done PC and network support for several large companies, so I know technology very well. My idea is to focus on the things you are using 1) Skype 2) my own online site (I have had one for 14 years already.) 3) WizIQ –I need to investigate it more 4) a blog (I have used several already) 5) Moodle and 6) social sites [Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others).

Having lived in Pakistan for 8 years, I have a special connection with the Saudi students at our center. Perhaps a focus on that group of learners would be helpful. Otherwise, the Chinese are a growing group to consider.

Roya Caviglia

Posted on July 8th, 2013 Report abuse

I find myself in the situation you described. I’m disillusioned with schools and I am setting up on my own. I think this is the most important thing you said:

“Do not accept substandard pay even if you are still learning the ropes.”

Thank you for your post.

http://www.englishvoice.nl

Sylvia Guinan

Posted on July 8th, 2013 Report abuse

Hi David,

Thanks for your comment and feedback, as well as shedding further light on resources and environments.

Indeed English Central should be in there with EFL classroom 2.0 as part of the article – I was thinking mostly in terms of new teachers online who want to find some ready content as opposed to a fully- designed, interactive and artistic LMS.( At first)

I have featured English Central in other articles Though:

For example,

http://blog.wiziq.com/film-and-news-in-language-learning/

http://blog.wiziq.com/five-ways-to-teach-with-movies-online/

The truth is that English Central deserves a full review and further experimentation and exploration on my part ( an old goal I must re-visit)!

I have used it with proficiency students, business students and IELTS students – it’s a fun-filled,highly-effective, user-friendly dream – educational technology in a class of its own.

As for teachers pay teachers, it’s great to get your point of view. Many teachers are excited about the idea of selling their work and I had considered selling mine there.

What I notice about teaching online and creating your own stuff is that you build up collections of courses quickly – and if you go the extra mile to make them special – it seems like a handy passive income to supplement teaching. I hadn’t realised how low the teacher’s cut was though.

Of course, in this case, when I mentioned it, I was thinking that it might be a place for new teachers to buy ready content and start their businesses quickly.

Sylvia Guinan

Posted on July 8th, 2013 Report abuse

Hi Geoff

You have asked some very insightful questions – I’ll do my best to share my thoughts on something that concerns all of us.

Firstly regarding drop off/drop-out rates from online language courses.

I have to admit that all of my paying students either have exams to pass or they are business people and their companies are paying for their courses. If they don’t have a very good reason to sign up for a course, they will be more likely to drop out.

Something like English Central mentioned above sustains interest and/or anything else with challenges/levels and feedback. These challenges can be from sophisticated games, interactive multi-media, or simply from a dedicated teacher who keeps an eye on students between live online sessions.

Moodle can be used in this way to sustain interest – as there are plugins/blocks etc. to make moodle like a website – I think the the simplest interface with the best basic tools would work best. One thing about moodle is that it can get complicated, especially if something doesn’t work for you and you need technical assistance.

I also agree that one-stop English is very good.

Bahar tabatabaei

Posted on July 31st, 2013 Report abuse

Surely I like to that
But I’d like to know about the details
Could u plz email me the details?
Shararehtabatabaei@yahoo.com

The Editor

Posted on August 2nd, 2013 Report abuse

Hi Bahar,
This is a post about teaching English online. What kind of details are you looking for?

shporter

Posted on August 18th, 2013 Report abuse

Great post dear.

I invite you to take a look at becoming an online instructor with us.
At Class You Value you get to teach from the comfort of your home while we do all the parts of the business which brings students to you:
We market, we advertise, we promote, we track students, we take payment, and you get paid to sit at home and teach something you are passionate about. So if you would like to have a little extra income and teach your subject, apply to be an online instructor with http://classesyouvalue.com/apply-to-teach/

learning english speaking

Posted on September 3rd, 2013 Report abuse

Wonderful blog.
learning english speaking.

RK

Posted on September 14th, 2013 Report abuse

Hello Sylvia,

So as I read In the article above, you are an online english teacher.I would really like to know more about this kind of teaching as I really am interested in pasiing CPE

Thank you!

Name*washila

Posted on September 26th, 2013 Report abuse

Hello Sylvia,

I’ve decided to make my own online teaching website..which i’ve succeeded but the tough part is to look for student,
Can you please help me to promote my website. i’m really a good teacher but i dont knw how to start in order to look for student.

http://easyenglishlearning.jimdo.com/

The Future Of Education Through Global Connections. | Eslbrain

Posted on September 29th, 2013 Report abuse

[...] and blogging for the WizIQ platform, Fair languages and learnOutLive. I have also blogged for the British council and must say that Ann foreman does wonderful work to promote innovative teaching around the world, [...]

Ygor

Posted on November 4th, 2013 Report abuse

Hi there! I am software programmer and teacher of programming in the past. I need to improve my english. So my propose is..you provide me english lessons I provide the lessons related to programming… like an exchange

my Skype id: igor_shpin

Name*sonya

Posted on November 6th, 2013 Report abuse

Thank you very much for these useful tips.I will use them.here’s my home page,if you liked,visit it.
my home page:otomatik kapı

EveryClass

Posted on January 12th, 2014 Report abuse

Thanks for the informative article Sylvia.

As you mentioned creating a online profile and just hoping that students appear, is not a good option. A number of options are now appearing that help bring students and teachers together at mutually acceptable times. This can be a challenge due to there often is differing time zones between student and teachers, or one or both wish to teach/be taught at unconventional times.

Our site, Everyclass (https://everyclass.com/teach.php), was specifically designed to be able to bring together teachers/tutors/mentors and students at mutually beneficial times.

It also allows you to upload lectures, class videos, notes and tests. Options exist to use these to earn money, or just to act as promotional tools for your online classes.

Best of luck to yourself and your readers.

Fred Smith

Posted on January 13th, 2014 Report abuse

thanks, I have COTE certificate taken around the year 2000nd and Im teaching english to universities and to companies like danonne group mexico for a few years now,,Im willing to teach on line,,any hints how to start or where to contact to starte teaching,,or I should go freelancing..let me know please..

Darius

Posted on January 19th, 2014 Report abuse

Hi,

I have a TEFL and have only just discovered the world and possibility of becoming an online English teacher. I have only found a few sites like this one:

http://www.ourlanguagecafe.com/

That offer a service to help teachers, Can you give me some more links.

Kind Regards,
Darius

Name*Habibur Rahaman

Posted on February 14th, 2014 Report abuse

I want to learn English .I want to learn fluently

Name*MARCELA LIPORACE MURGA

Posted on February 14th, 2014 Report abuse

I am an English teacher, deeply keen on technology and very interested about teaching and learning online. Is there anywhere you can recommend me where I can send my CV to apply for a job to teach English online?
Thank you very much.

MUKESH SONI

Posted on February 16th, 2014 Report abuse

Hi Sylvia Guinan

I am from India. Your blog interests me a lot and it’s an eye openers to all the teachers of English language. I am also a an English teacher. Could you please send me few more link on how to use technology in ELT ?

Regards
Mukesh Soni

Edoubts

Posted on March 13th, 2014 Report abuse

Iam very thankful for sharing this valuable tips.
Edoubts.

MartinRobert

Posted on March 14th, 2014 Report abuse

A perfect blog for learning English.
Advanced Grammar Courses.

Alex

Posted on March 14th, 2014 Report abuse

Great post! This chimes with my own experiences of online teaching over the last 4 years. I moved from 10 years of face-to-face teaching at language schools and universities in Russia to 100% online tuition when I returned to the UK from overseas. I was able to retain my students by shifting to Skype lessons and built my website from there (http://onlineteachersuk.com/en/).

I also agree with what you are saying about ensuring teachers and students get a good deal in terms of pay and service provision. We now employ around 8 teachers and I am very conscious of having to monitor standards within the school. Some automation is possible via our admin system (which covers lesson cycles, payment, invoicing, etc.), but I have to personally oversee how lessons are conducted, monitor student feedback and deal with any attendance issues. As we progress and our student numbers grow, I will dedicate more of my time to producing educational videos and study materials for e-learning. It’s a long road, but one which promises great things in the future. Best of luck to all our colleagues in e-learning!

MartinRobert

Posted on March 31st, 2014 Report abuse

Very helpful blog with all the good informatuon.
Online English Tuitions.

Valley

Posted on April 3rd, 2014 Report abuse

If you want to study English online, this section is for you. It lists pronunciation,vocabulary section,grammar parts, language schools and other organisations which provide English language lessons or courses via the internet.Most of the people who learned english language on http://ilearnenglish.com/ .This site especially for new english learners.

William Johnson

Posted on April 13th, 2014 Report abuse

Hello Sylvia,

Thank you for all the information and to the people who have replied on the comments thread with resources and sharing their experience.

I’m 30 years old, from Yorkshire and a recent photography graduate. I have been writing online for 5 years: http://tezla7.tumblr.com and I also gained a 120hr TEFL course in China in 2009 when I went there to teach English. After 3 months I decided I didn’t want to live there. The air pollution in Beijing and the diet did not suit me. My accent is clean- what I would describe as very slightly regionally accented RP.

My question to everyone would be, from their experience, how much can I expect to earn/ charge students teaching them English online? By extension, in your experience, which countries would you recommend to aim for that have high demand and the highest pay for online English teachers?

Other than the few months in China in 2009- I’m brand new to this so I’m trying to see if it’s a viable business to support my photography career and pay the bills. The idea of being able to work anywhere is the most attractive option for me as I need to travel for my photography work. Feedback is much appreciated.

Many thanks,

Will Johnson