ESL Certification On-line and Choosing a TEFL Program That's Right for  you

When choosing a TEFL program, the pros and cons can be tough to weigh when you consider on-site programs vs. online TEFL training programs.

Contrary to what many think about the differences between purely on- line TEFL courses and on-site TEFL courses is that actually when it comes right down to the nuts and bolts of teaching theory, classroom management and all the other stuff involved in the actual degree itself  chapter by chapter, concept by concept and teaching theory by teaching theory...

There isn't  as much difference as one may be lead to believe in terms of quantitative  exposure to teaching theory. The real difference is application of  those nuts and bolts.

Pros and Cons of a Typical TEFL Program:  Pure On-Line Courses vs. On-site Courses and a Harder Look at Other Aspects of Making Your Decision

With on-site you get more hands on time. Great. It's a good start but what is the real market value of this?  One.  You are demonstrating your knowledge of the course material often in front of tutors and not real students.

Often these courses will give you 20 hours of time in front of your "students" or TP. i-to-i offers this with their 140 hour course. (Every course is different so do your homework on this point.)

 In reality, what is this?  It's a couple days of real work, in the trenches doing the real thing. Simply put, it's less than a week of actually doing the do, walking the walk and living the life of a real ESL teacher.

At this point in the article we are NOT qualifying this statement. We are quantifying it. In seconds, minutes and hours on the clock, it equals a handful of classes. Perhaps a couple of handfuls  that you'll need both hands and maybe your toes to count the hours on. So this is the quantification of what you are paying for in an on-site TEFL program with a TP module. Please note we are not talking about a full-blown CELTA and NOT a pure on-line short course with zero TP.

Is an On-Line ESL Teaching Course for Me?

Choosing an on-line or on-site TEFL programOn-Site TEFL Programs
vs. On-line

At this point it comes down to your personality type. If you are confident in your personal presentation skills and have mastered to some extent the guts of the course then getting up in front of your students "cold" shouldn't be a problem.

This type is like a fish in water. Public speaking is a joy, they walk into a room and own it. For this type, if you want to simply get an entry level job go the cheapest route you can get to get your foot in the door. This means minimum hour courses no TP or teaching practice included. Just enough so that recruiters or school owners don't shred your resume and be done with it. Note however that a TEFL program with TP carries more weight in Japan but is not necessary in other Asian countries like Cambodia  for example.

If, on the other hand you are not that confident and want the exposure that the practicum offers, it is a wise choice to spend the extra money for an on-site ESL training program. Again it just comes down to what you are made of as a teacher. This type of ESL teacher is the type that is not sure if teaching overseas is a real option for them. They want to try and "give it a go" but need more accurate and real information to find out if it is something that they can actually see themselves doing beyond a gap year or a semester gig.

If you are this type thrown down the extra hundred bucks or so for more TP and get it done with either a combined course or go full on with an on-site course.

The Big Difference with Onsite TEFL Programs

In terms of cash, the difference is considerable because an on-site degree involves trains and planes to get to the actual teaching location where you'll get your training.  It speeds up the learning curve slightly, which helps you hit the ground running faster.

If you are really strapped for cash to the point where on-site is not a realistic option, as we recommend on our TEFL FAQ page,  you can get your feet wet for free by volunteering at your local community college teaching ESL. Looks nice on the resume and you will learn a bucket load in a low pressure situation. After all how much can they expect from their volunteer ESL teacher?

Another option is to scan the university notice boards and look for language exchanges. Again this gives you real ESL teaching experience for the price of a cup of joe and a little badly, badly needed fill for your resume. Tips on writing a resume for teaching here.
So in a nutshell the downside of  purely on-line TEFL certification is the lack of hands on time or actual student contact and a diminished chance to actually practice some of the stuff you learned.

ESL Certification Online: Upsides to On-line TEFL Programs

  • The considerable upside is the tremendous flexibility of the program and convenience.  You can be sitting in your favorite coffee house while grinding through the course...pretty sweet.
  • Also, and this bears repeating, if you don't know exactly where you want to kick off your ESL career then an on-line course is your best option. It gives you the chance to "digest" the course knowledge at the same time allowing you to rigorously research ESL teaching locations, cities and countries.
  • Considering also, while you are studying the program you can still remain employed in your job makes the financial upside even bigger.

Why On-Site TEFL Programs Really Shine

But there are of course two sides to every coin and the following one simply can't be overlooked. The time you spend in your home country studying the course materials come at a cost. That cost is social networking. Or an opportunity cost if you will.

  • The chance to meet other teachers and chew the fat.
  • Finding other jobs leads
  • Talking shop with other teachers and learning the ins and outs of the culture
  •  Reducing the impact of culture shock,
  •  Finding the  best places to shop, cheapest and best restaurants or comfort food places
  •  And of course the grand daddy of them all, learning the language real style not text book style from the natives. 

In short, the pros ad up quickly and just try putting a price tag on that one. This is where on-site TEFL courses shine.

TEFL Programs and teaching in JapanTeaching ESL in Japan

This  is also why a combined program that offers teaching practice (TP) along side the rigorous teaching theory is rapidly becoming a favorite for those looking to teach ESL in Japan. One quick glance at our own jobs board and you'll see a plethora of ads looking for TEFL certifications of some type.

It simply bridges the big decision of either going purely on-line or on-site with a happy medium. It gives you enough hands on to get a feel for what it really might be like teaching in Japan, carries more weight in the eyes of some (not all) organizations. Gives you a bit of an edge over others with no TP and doesn't put you into the poor house buying it.
When you combine this with their job hunting advice, access to teaching jobs, and on-line tutorials whenever you want it, it makes the choice even easier.

So in a nutshell the downside of purely on-line is the small amount of hands on time that doesn't help so much with those ESL teachers who are on the fence in terms of whether or not to embark on a career teaching ESL in Japan or in some other country.

Whether or not you go for an on-site TEFL program  the raw and undeniable reality is that within a couple of week of actual teaching, even if you didn't order the  hands on practicum or went purely on-line, you will have "caught up" so to speak to some degree to those who did in terms of actual teaching hours logged. Period.

And lastly no matter how good the on-site program is, nothing can prepare you for what will happen in the actual classroom because the scope of variables are too wide for any TEFL program to encompass. One might say the most sagely advice would be to expect the unexpected and roll with the punches.

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