The skinny on teaching English Online; expect the unexpected.

Several years back I was visiting a friend who was working on a web platform for teaching English online. We lived a few blocks apart in the same neighborhood in Seoul, so dropping over for some Makoli or  a beer was pretty common.  He was well ahead of his time compared to many other home based ESL web developers. They were still working on web sites that focused on being the next job board or library for lesson plans. To be honest, I really didn’t like his design. It was noisy, or loud, or just plain lousy. At the time he was trying to implement Flash into the website and I found it annoying. Actually, I found the whole idea of online English language learning annoying. It’s not that I shun technology as I am a firm believer of using it in the classroom. Maybe being a bit of a drone entrepreneur has something to do with it.

Fast forward fifteen years and online English learning is not only everywhere, it’s growing exponentially.  While the idea of remote or online learning has been around for several decades, it’s really been the last two decades where e-learning has taken off. Initiated by the internet, followed by the develpment of  platforms such as Moodle and Blackboard, and augmented with video conferencing tools like Skype and Zoom, e-learning is now positioned at the beginning of an incredibly large growth curve. To give a quick example, revenue for online English learning alone for 2015 was 1.8 billion US dollars and this is expected to double by 2018. To top it off, online learning accounts for only about 7% of the total English language learning market.

It’s not difficult to see why teaching English is growing so quickly online.  The increase of globalization, acceptance as the international language of business, countries adopting English as a second official language, as well as it being considered the default language in oceanic and air transportation, have all participated in elevating the demand for the language.  The ensuing result has been a drastic lag in a supply of language instructors. Even China’s sluggish economy the past few years has failed to show a reduction in demand for English, so it’s only natural for the supply side to find a way to accommodate it.

Now this investment and growth may sound wonderful, but it doesn’t explain what overall effects online teaching is going to have on the ESL market.  The model for teaching ESL or EFL, whichever you prefer, has changed very little over the past forty years, with the exception to methodologies and styles in the classroom. Teachers went overseas to teach, or students visited an English speaking country to study. Basic qualifications for teachers other than being native English speakers, usually included a college degree and maybe an English language teaching certificate. For students, the only qualifications have been the financial ability to live and study abroad.

Enter the new world order. Today there are over 200 online English teaching sites and this number is growing. Most online ESL teaching sites come in one of two basic formats; ones that supply the instructor with students and their own interactive materials, and ones that provide the learning platform and the instructor builds their own network of students. While some have moved to mobile apps to compliment their materials, most still function on home computers.  Their origin varies as well from small home grown websites like TalktoCanada to listed companies like Talk51. Regardless, they are everywhere and the only thing they have in common it appears is they are all desparate for teachers. Or one would certainly think so considering the high volume of posts on job boards and social media.

The desparation thing seems good, lots of work available, unlimited number of students etc. Until you realize that they only pay three bucks an hour. Well, that appears to be what some of the schools out of the Philippines are paying. Sort of the Walmart of English language learning I guess.  A few schools offer upwards of $25 per hour, but most seem to be in the  $10 to $15 per hour range to start. It looks like many sites try to lure teachers by stating that wages are dependant experience, qualifications and whether the teaching is one on one or groups of students. Some schools also require a minimum weekly commitment of hours . Of course, most of the teaching is presently aimed at China with the primary target being children aged 5 to 12.

Recruiting for online seems to be as big if not bigger than online teaching itself.  Posting are everywhere it seems and the methods for recruiting new teachers are also a little unorthodox. While many of the big well known sites are posting as usual on job boards, they are also using teachers to recruit by offering incentives for every teacher that signs up with that school. This is apparent on social media like Facebook.  There’s even a page dedicated to online reviews and referrals except the page manager has had to refine the rules for posting because of the enormous volumes of meaningless postings from members about great positions with lots of work, but no details.

Another notable difference with teaching English online is teacher qualifications.  While it’s true that more countries are accepting non-native speakers in the classroom, online is really leading the way with several sites accepting both non-native speakers as well as non-degree holders. One can only speculate the reason for this. Most likely it’s due to the lack of of qualified teachers available or even wanting to teach online, but it could also be that it’s extrememly difficult to verify a teacher’s qualifications anyway, so as long as they can teach, sobeit. After all, a good internet connection along with a good microphone and camera is probably the most important prerequsite for teaching online. And you must be entertaining.

Whatever the prerequists, teaching English online is not going to go away. In fact, it’s still in its infancy and is going to continue to grow for a very long time and just like any other high volume fast growing industry, it’s going to be very unstable. Sites are going to come and go. Weaker ones will be eaten by the biggger more aggressive ones. This situation is going to go through the same growing pains and then some that many developing countries have gone through in the past. All anyone can do is to expect the unexpected.  It seems everyday there is a new company advertising for teachers or more and more teachers are succumbing to the reality of teaching online by inquiring as to what school, site or platform is best. One can even purchase their own franchise if they have the funds and are adverse to risk. Just remember however, owning a franchise does not give you a bye on being entertaining.

Published: Saturday, May 27, 2017 5:47 AM by eslpanda
Viewed 1,004 times

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