When I first started teaching, I was never quite sure what to do to develop as a teacher. I was lucky enough to be working for a franchise which provided good support for new teachers – monthly training seminars and so on – but that all seemed pretty school dependent. Truth be told, opportunities for professional development were among my main reasons for taking that particular job; but what if I’d not been quite so lucky?
Times have changed in the teacher training world since then, and one thing I’ve noticed the rise of is online courses. Suddenly, your school not offering much in the way of CPD is no longer an excuse, or a barrier to developing as a teacher. Today I want to talk about online courses – and why they’re great for us EFL teachers.
Why should I take an online course?
If you’ve never studied anything online before, taking a whole course on the internet can seem a bit daunting. Even if you’re reasonably au fait with computers, it’s a different way of learning. You don’t build quite the same relationship with your fellow students as you do when taking a face-to-face course, and not studying at set times means that you have to take responsibility for motivating yourself. Saying that, there are numerous advantages to studying online.
- You’re not limited geographically. One of the reasons I took my first online CPD course was simply due to location. Although theoretically it would have been possible for me to have travelled into Moscow to take a face-to-face course, the three-hour round trip meant that wasn’t viable on weekdays – at least not when teaching a full timetable as well.
- You can study in your own time. Although online courses sometimes involve assignments with particular deadlines, for the most part you can work at your own pace. This means that online courses are great when you’re trying to fit things in around teaching (especially if your timetable isn’t always consistent on a week-by-week basis).
- It’s cheaper! Let’s face it, TEFL teachers aren’t exactly rich, and whilst your wages may be more than enough in the country you’re working in, it might be a different story once they’re converted into a different currency. In many cases online courses are cheaper than their face-to-face counterparts, making them helpful for those who are watching the pennies.
- They’re a great ‘taster’ for further study. There are lots of free online courses out there in addition to paid ones. These can be great if you’re not sure how interested you are in a subject, or if you’re considering taking an online course but aren’t sure if you have the energy, time or brain power to devote to it. MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) offer a risk-free way of trying these things out – or indeed seeing how you get on with part-time or online study.
How do I know if an online course is right for me?
- You want to study a topic that may not be available where you are. I’ve taken numerous online courses, most of which wouldn’t have been available where I was living and teaching.
- You’re thinking about taking a CPD course (or even going back to university), but you’re not sure if it’s right for you. As previously mentioned, taking an online course can be a great way to ‘dip your toes in’ to the water of further study. The British Council and the University of Southampton, for example, offer a co-authored course which gives you a free taster of their online masters degree in English Language Teaching. Great for if you’re contemplating doing a post-grad course, but think you might have forgotten how to study!
- You like the idea of part-time study, but aren’t sure how well you’d be able to motivate yourself. Again, taking an online course gives you the opportunity to try things out in a low/no-risk environment. It can be difficult to figure out how well you’d be able to fit studying in around working (especially if you don’t have prior experience of this). What better way to find out than try it and see!
- You’re not a technophobe. First of all, it’s worth pointing out that you definitely don’t need to be a technological genius in order to successfully study online. Every online course I’ve encountered includes an ‘orientation’ module, which allows you to get used to the systems used and the types of exercises you might be asked to complete. If the idea of using a computer for any purpose brings you out in a cold sweat, then maybe give online study a miss – but if you’re capable of reading blogs, you’re probably capable of figuring out an online course.
- You’re open to studying with people who might have different ideas and experiences. One of my favourite things about taking online courses has been having the opportunity to interact with people who’ve had lots of different experiences, both in learning and in teaching. On my first online course, the moderators were based in Bulgaria, I was a Brit teaching in Russia, and my fellow students were based across Central and Eastern Europe. The international aspect of it definitely made it a more interesting learning experience, and I’m still in touch with some of my fellow students four years’ later.
So, what are some of the best online courses (and course providers) available for EFL teachers?
FutureLearn often produce courses aimed at English Language teachers with varying interests and levels of experience. They also offer lots of introductory language courses (including Italian, Norwegian and Dutch) if you feel like empathising with your students and going back to being a learner! Their interfaces are easy to use, they include a wide range of different activities in their courses (including PDFs to download and read, video lectures to watch, audio files to listen to, multiple choice tests and mini peer-graded assignments). The material is released in weekly ‘chunks’, but not to fear, if you get behind everything is still available for a few weeks after the end of the course, giving you a chance to catch up. The best part? All of their courses are completely free (although you’ll need to pay if you want a certificate).
Some of their courses available are:
They re-run many of their courses so if you’re interested in something that’s already started (or indeed already finished) register your interest – they’ll let you know if/when they’re re-running the course.
Coursera again offer a huge variety of courses, including those aimed at English Language teachers. It’s worth bearing in mind that these courses do have a fee if you want to access the entire thing – but you can still access the video lectures and some of the other materials for free if you just want to try it out.
TESOL Certificate: Teach English Now! Part 1 and Part 2 (as these courses won’t include a practical component I wouldn’t recommend them as a replacement for a face-to-face certificate if you’re considering training as an EFL teacher. However they’d be a good way to dip your toe in and see if you think it’d be right for you.)
My first experience of studying online was the British Council’s Primary Essentials course, which is sadly no-longer available. The British Council are in the middle of re-vamping the online training courses they offer (previously there were ones on using technology in the classroom, teaching students with SEN, and teaching young learners), and so there should be some exciting new courses available soon.
They provide a self-assessment tool which allows you to reflect on and evaluate your own teaching, and then offer a recommended course of study. Although the courses aren’t free, they’re relatively affordable, and you have the option of paying on a module-by-module basis.
I don’t work for IH anymore, so I promise that they’re not paying me to say this 😉
Although they’re not cheap, if you’re serious about taking an online CPD course International House offer a fantastic selection. You can study subjects ranging from Online Tutoring, Teaching 1-1, Teaching Very Young Learners, to Advanced Methodology, Delta 1 Exam Preparation, and even Teacher Training. I’ve not taken one of their online courses, but have had experience of their face-to-face ones, and cannot recommend their teacher training highly enough.
Have you ever taken an online CPD course? Would you recommend it to others?