Dipping my toe into online teaching

I like to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in the world of EFL. This is because it’s always interesting and that I like to try new things in my teaching.

One of the changes that caught my interest last year was Online Teaching. More online schools are appearing and schools who once offered extra online activities then moved to Blended Learning and are now offering full online courses. The majority of these seem to be 121’s but there are some groups.

So, with my interest tickled I enrolled in some training and became an online teacher.

1 day was all it took to get to grips with the whats and hows, this mainly revolved around gripping the school’s platform and materials which ranged from self-produced to purchased. What struck me was why were we using all this high tech stuff but with digitized books, wouldn’t digital resources or flash exercises be better?

Here are my thoughts on the experience of teaching 121 online:


1)It’s cool and interesting because you and the student can see each other, use tools and also take away a record of everything you cover

2)There is lots of material but you can also make your own

3)The interface was pretty easy to use and so was the tech


1)You need to buy a special phone/headset, have the right dialup speed, a proper webcam and a phone package that covers calls to a special number.

2)There are tech problems. One day the number didn’t work, another the students’ camera, one day it crashed and on and on.

3)You are often required to submit a plan and set and mark homework, none of which may be covered and when you get 10ish Euros an hour this is a problem. Yet, some people who go direct to companies can earn 40 Euros+ but often pay for their own software.


There’s no questioning, this is a growing market but companies nee dto provide more than just a scanned book and a foreign face. Specialised courses using videos, audio and technical wizardy all moulded around a specific student will be far more marketable than a GE class from a book taught by a fresh faced CELTA grad.

During this time I also ventured into Second Life teaching with some groups and it was very interesting.  In one activity I did mock job interviews with students from another university from my virtual office.

Over to you….

Is this really the future of EFL?


13 thoughts on “Dipping my toe into online teaching

  1. Hey Phil,

    May I just take a moment to say that you are a BLOGGING MACHINE. Yes, sir. Tipping the hat your-a-way right now.

    Is it the future? It’s already part of the present, and I think it will only increase to be a part of the future. The real question (and the one I’ll be blogging on really soon) is what does that mean for teachers and physical schools? I enjoyed David Petrie’s two cents on the issue (http://teflgeek.net/2011/11/24/the-future-of-language-schools/) and I have another angle I’d like to present for the discussion. Watch this space.

    A fine weekend to you, Phil!

    • Cheers Brad. I think I got a bit addicted but when you read other people’s and their Tweets you realise there are certain things you’d like to ‘put out there’ and discuss with other EFLers. I really enjoy hearing what people thing and about their experiences.

      Yes, will schools disappear? As tuition rises and visas get more difficult to acquire unis and schools have already set up courses in foreign countries so students don’t need to go to the UK. Online teaching is now the ultimate ‘on your doorstep, when you want it’ solution. The only questions is will teachers be needed? I’ve been studying French with Babbel and it’s pretty good but there’s no teacher. Some places do offer oral practice but if the techie side is good enough they might not be needed. I worked on a book project in 2008 where we made an online version and after each unit students booked a practice session online with a native. Sadly, it seemed too ahead for the time and ended up in a cupboard somewhere but now it’s all the rage.

      Look forward to your post.



      • I do think teachers are needed, and believe it or not for a very simple reason: their expertise in learning methods and also MOTIVATION… not many folks are really as motivated as you are to “study” online with sites like Babbel, hence blended learning with a teacher or “coach” as we sometimes hear them called more and more often these days will grow, think. Cheers 4 convo.

        • I’m still waiting to see a really good Blended Learning course. I much prefer ‘technologically enhanced’. At the moment a lot of online courses are just scanned books. I had a go at a BULATS one and it was just the book online. Well, I think I’d prefer to do that with a teacher. Now, if we’re talking videos, interactive content, animation etc then that’s worth doing online. It can also be used in class. I tried designing a BL course for the DELTA and then created a few at uni. From what I read online content just starts as ‘add-ons’, then integrates more as homework but the best is where online and offline are used seemlessly and tech is just another resource. I think if you go 100% tech then it’s better. What I mean is that I currently only have a projector so I use a laptop. I don’t have a register so I do them online straight onto the VLE, there are no books so I use my blog, EA and PPT/links, students write onto a class WIKI, they do tests on the VLE and I even let one kid use Skype to watch the class as he was at home ill.

          BUT NONE of this is ‘techie’ it’s normal or it’s ‘normalization’. This is the current classroom whether you accept it or not and for me it’s just how it works so I don’t think twice about it. Once my laptop couldn’t get WIFI so I used it on my phone and check students work as they wrote.

          My/our classrooms are now ‘enhanced’ because there is so much more I can do as every student has a laptop and using it is part of their life.

          The students are not at the stage of ‘online learning’ like with Wiziq though and just read PDFs and do some online discussions in their other classes. This is not up-to-date and is how some MAs operate. We are past this and online webinars and interative content should be part of every course.

          Thanks again Brad, you are the king of tech.

          • I hear you on a lot of online learning not being up-to-date and simply being a copy of the book. I would humbly say that I don’t think that’s the case at all with Edulang’s apps, and think we’re always trying to think a step ahead.

            Not even the “Duke of Tech”… just another chevalier 😉

            • Me too. You have extra interactive content and dictations plus loads of vocab. It makes it fun. Far better than an old listening lab.

              It must be tough to stay ahead as things move so fast.


  2. I think its popularity will continue to grow, but barring some sort of travel collapse, it won’t replace or take over regular f-2-f contexts for a long while. Teaching & Learning Online was actually a course I could have taken this year, but I have little desire to even try it out. Never a fan of 1-2-1 sessions in any format.

    • Really?I do a lot of corporate now and it’s all 121.It’s great and they are adults.With a motivated student you can really help them but many aren’t and are forced to do it. Re:Online 121’s, all my students liked it, probably because it seemed ‘cool’ but I think they also chose to learn and my school.

      • Really. Of course, context is everything. I don’t live in a place where English isn’t the main language. There’s little reason to go to a company to do a f2f 121 session with those that don’t speak the language. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be at that company in most situations. Our language students are visitors or new immigrants who are preparing to find those types of jobs.

        • Ah.Yes, but it does happen in international companies but most people seem to end up speaking int level BELF with simplified grammar. When I was in Asia English was the LF of the dept and all the foreigners used it to communicate with local staff.There were a lot of mixed messages. Sort of like when my teacher asked me if I wanted some ‘pleasure’ for the weekend. He meant ‘pressure’.

  3. online learning is already growing in other areas, and i see the same growth in language learning.as ever it will depend on how easy it is for teachers to use the technologies available.

    as a learner on the beginner computer science course from Udacity i am enthusiastic as the video lectures offered, interactive quizzes as well as forum discussions are great elements. i have also used khan academy which is also very good.

    i occasionally help a cousin of mine with his conversational english via skype. i think (?!) he enjoys interacting with me via this technology which is certainly cheaper and more immediate than voice calls. though not really exploted voip technologies in terms of other possible features such as shared whiteboads.


    • Thanks for the comment. Sounds like your course is definitely using technology well. Last year I took part in the TESOL EVO sessions and I thought the Webheads were fantastic because everything was integrated so well but I’m still waiting to be amazed by an online learning platform. Adobe Connect Pro looks great but people just have PPT. I think we need more stuff like English Central’s pronunciation recognition maybe. Having cool tools like that would really make it great.

  4. Pingback: How The ESL Industry Will Change (And Why You Should Care.) | Epicenter Languages

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