Part 2 - Online TEFL courses: Do they do what you need them to do?
If you are looking for an English teaching qualification, but don’t know where to turn, you’re not alone. The TEFL industry is awash with different levels and types of course and qualification, which are validated, accredited, recognised and accepted at different levels. How do you know which one is best for you, based on what you want to do with it? This article will look at another important point to consider when looking for an initial training qualification - the way that it is delivered - and suggests some questions you should ask from any online training provider before signing up to a course.
With the current global situation, online teacher training courses are becoming necessary, but within the online mode, there are a lot of different approaches and structures of course. Some include input from course tutors through live tutorials and sessions (synchronous activity), and others are taken entirely through online tasks and videos, with trainees managing their time as they wish (asynchronous activity).
Question 1: How much synchronous activity is there on this course?
Synchronous training is important for you to be able to discuss the content you are learning, either with your co-trainees or with course tutors, and there is no replacement for the level of analysis that you can achieve through live tutorials, tasks and feedback on the work you are doing as you go through the course.
There are many ways of delivering effective training through asynchronous tasks, but the risk of only working through videos and tasks in this way is that there is little opportunity to develop anything more than your knowledge about how to teach. Knowledge is important, and in order to train effectively, there is a huge amount of language and methodology awareness to build, but without real-time interaction with students, tutors and your peers on the course, how much of this knowledge can be applied, and how far can your practical teaching skills be developed?
A lot of synchronous activity can be integrated into online courses through well-designed collaborative tasks, through apps and other platforms, and through traditional online learning methodology. The fact is that many courses cut down on synchronous contact with course trainers because of the expense involved. Time is money, and synchronous sessions take time to plan and deliver, so despite being beneficial to course participants, this is an area which is often sadly lacking on online TEFL courses.
Question 2: How will I apply the skills I learn if the course is totally online?
Practical application on TESOL courses can come in different forms, usually described as teaching practice, or assessed lessons. This can mean planning and delivering lessons to a single learner, a group of your co-trainees on the course, or online to a tutor, for them to see how you implement the methods you are learning. Whatever form it takes, teaching practice is a necessary part of any teacher’s initial training.
A common analogy for this is learning to drive: imagine you sign up for online driving lessons, where you are presented with diagrams of a car, the functions of each of its parts, and hours of reading informing you of which pedals to use when, the rules of the road, stopping distances and possible dangers. Once you finish the course, you’re ready to go on the road, right? Anyone who has experienced the bone-crunching jerks and squeals of trying to start moving in a car with a manual gearbox will agree that the theory of driving is not the same as the practical application. You need experience before going out on the road. This is the reason that many countries, schools and organisations will not recognise TEFL certificates that do not include a practical teaching practice component. Many countries, for example, take the 120-hour level 5 qualification status, which by definition includes a minimum of 6 hours of live classroom experience, as their minimum requirement.
The type of practical component which will serve you best depends on the type of teaching you are signing up to be trained for. If you are looking to work as a private tutor working online with individual students, then find a course which asks you to do this kind of work as the teaching practice. If you are looking to travel and work with classes of students in a bricks-and-mortar school, this may not give you the skills that you need.
Question 3: What are my options for a teaching practice component?
Solutions are emerging, however, which allow trainee teachers to achieve this amount of application in an online-only mode. It is now possible to be assessed on the lessons that you teach through streamed or recorded lessons, and receive the same level of live tutor feedback as you would on a regular, face-to-face course. Courses such as the Trinity CertTESOL include flexible components which require trainees to work closely with a learner to help them study through online needs analysis, testing and classes.
In addition, versions of the course are being released which are focused on online learning as a specialism, provided that teaching practice is performed with groups of students, not just individuals. The training industry is recognising the changes which are necessary under the current conditions, and it is likely that these changes will stick, reflecting the emerging markets in online education worldwide. Any course worth its salt will have flexibility in this area built in to its assessment framework.
Question 4: How will my practical development be shown on my certificate?
At the end of the day, the certificate that you receive from the training provider will stay with you, so it is important that it says the right thing to enable you to get the job you are looking for. When thinking about your training options, make sure you know what accreditation and course content is mentioned on the final certificate, and whether these are recognised in the places you would like to teach.
If the certificate includes information about the teaching practice you have done, check how that is worded, and whether that will be acceptable to employers or other authorities who will see it. Ask for an example certificate if possible, and make sure it does what it says it will do.
All in all, there is no reason why an online course is any less valid than a face-to-face qualification, but some courses make sure that they use the full range of online resources at their disposal to give you the best training possible, Others may be cheap, but on a closer look, you might find that the work you do to complete the course is not represented in the value of the certificate you hold at the end of it. It’s up to you to check whether the accreditation level, assessment and practical component are appropriate for what you want to do with your teaching career.
Tom Garside is Director of Teacher Training for Language Point Teacher Education, a training provider which is validated to deliver the internationally recognised Trinity CertTESOL in blended and online modes of study, and the new Level 6 Trinity College Certificate for Practising Teachers, a contextually-informed teacher development qualification for online and classroom language educators with a language proficiency of CEFR B2 and above.