Are online TEFL courses worth it? Not if this happens to you

Nov 30, 2017 · 6 min read

The next thing you know you find yourself standing confused in a classroom, your students are speaking another language, they are not listening to you, the noise is making your head pound and you are thinking to yourself, “they didn’t teach me this in that course”.

That could happen to you as it did me.

Now back to the question.

Are online TEFL courses worth it?

It depends on the course and it depends on what you want to get out of it.

Can you get a job with an online TEFL?


Most schools in Asia would accept them. In fact you can get a job in Asia without any course somewhere. Although getting a job is just a start and it won’t be very fun if you don’t know what you are doing.

Any reasons not to take an online course?

  • If you are a traditional learner then it’s probably not for you.
  • If you want a group of people around you then it’s probably not for you.
  • If you have ADD then it’s probably not for you.

If you just want a certificate (the carrot or extrinsic reward) then well you can just get the cheapest TEFL, but if you want to actually learn something (intrinsic reward) and not end up like me in the introduction above then read on.

Cheap courses are typically cheap for a reason. They lack quality. How so? Well I have taken a few different courses and done a fair bit of research over the years.

Many of those cheap courses are text based courses. Some might say just “read a book” and some studies actually show that people tend to remember more of what they read in a book compared to online.

But the problem with reading, especially online is the fact no one really reads. According to some studies people only read 20–28% of the text on a page.

When was the last time you read a whole page?

We skim and we scan. So based on that you can deduct that you’re not going to remember much because you didn’t read much and you didn’t have any visuals.

Visuals are key.

Online TEFL going in one ear and out the other. Actually it’s not “online” or “TEFL courses” it’s words that are spoken or read.

Some people think all online TEFL courses suck. The people who think that are often traditionalists, CELTA snobs or people who took or are selling an in-class course.

The argument that they bring up is usually that you can’t learn if you are not in a classroom observing. There is some truth to that. You can learn about what to do by just reading, but it’s harder because you have nothing to visualize.

The short answer starting at 03:59.

It’s way easier to watch something being done and you can do it in a classroom or by watching video tutorials. It’s the same thing except one is live and the other isn’t.

It’s also a lot faster.

You might get feedback on your teaching in a CELTA course, but in an online course with videos you can watch them again, push pause or rewind. You have more control, but then again some online courses have short term access for 2–3 months, so then you may not have that luxury.

ESLinsider’s best course includes lifetime access.

Back to the videos...

And again just like we can’t generalize about all online courses you can’t generalize about video either.

Some courses use video, but the video could be boring lectures or maybe they are of adult classes (who you are less likely to teach). Again if you take an in-class course all of your in-class hours are often in a pseudo class.

These students are people like you taking a course. They are not like the students who you are actually going to be teaching.

They are not “real” students.

The best online TEFL training is going to teach you how to do your job.

Who are you going to teach?

If you are going to teach kids then you should practice or observe other teachers teaching kids.

I took a TESOL course prior to teaching in Taiwan in 2004 and most of it went in one ear and out the other. And then in 2016 I wanted to see what I’d get for $39 for an online course on Groupon and I don’t remember anything from it.

So after I started in 2004 I took up educating myself online and it was really difficult because I didn’t know what I needed and it took a lot of time to find activities and stuff that worked.

It was because I was reading online and as mentioned people only read 20–28% of a page.

Monkey see, monkey do.

If you want to retain what you learn in an online course you need to take an online course that uses video. What kind of video? They need to be short and instructional how-to videos geared towards teaching the age group you are going to teach.

Not lecture videos.

Lecturing whether it’s done on video or in a classroom is going to go through one ear and out the other.

Who will you teach?

Most jobs in Asia are for teaching kids 6–13. You can teach kindergarten or adults even, but most jobs are for teaching kids. So if you are like most then you need a course specialized for teaching kids.

You don’t need much theory or to study English grammar (if you’re a native speaker) which you’ll get in a lot of courses. Sure you need to speak properly but you don’t enter a classroom and say, “Today we are going to study the present continuous form of…”

That’s another language that your students don’t know especially if they are children or beginners-intermediates.

What you need

  1. You need to make teaching English fun and educational.
  2. You need to learn how to manage your classroom which is hard.
  3. You need to learn how to create lessons that are engaging.

Because if you don’t learn how to do these things you won’t like teaching much and you are likely going to feel stressed, unhappy and homesick.

And why were you even thinking of going abroad in the first place?

Published research suggests these courses will lead to better learning outcomes.


How do you want to feel in that classroom?

Timid, confused, stressed and unsure of yourself?

Or confident?

And how do you want your students to feel about you as a teacher?

The problems you are probably going to have…

What are you going to do when:

  • your students are speaking a foreign language
  • your students ignore you
  • your students don’t do as you say
  • your students call each other names
  • your students are being loud
  • your students are bored with your teaching
  • you have to teach 20 or 30 or more students
  • your students are just being difficult

What are you going to do?

And do you know why your students are going to act like that?


Do you think any online TEFL course is going to teach you how to handle those things?

I doubt it.

I had all of those above problems after I took a mostly “in-class” course. And if you take an online course like the one I took you’ll fair even worse.

You have options:

  1. You can leave this page and go back out into the confusion and continue your search. Or you can…
  2. Eliminate the confusion, and start getting more confident and closer to “your dream” of having a great experience abroad by starting this course that is especially designed to help you teach English to mostly kids in Asia.

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