Taking the best online TEFL course – What You Need To Know

I assume you are reading this because you are one of the many people thinking about taking an online TEFL course. There are such a large number of such courses available that it’s hard to know which to take. In fact, Facebook groups and websites such as Quora are full of the same question ‘What is the best online TEFL course to take?’

We’ve got our own response to that question, but the fact is, that the best online TEFL certificate to have depends completely on who you are and what you are hoping to do with it. However, there are a few things you should know before you choose an online TEFL course.

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Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, if you click and buy through them, we get money. These are clearly labeled for total disclosure.

Before we start, in this post, the acronyms TEFL and TESOL are considered equivalent, and everything we are saying counts for online TESOL courses as well. If you are confused about the acronyms, and honestly, you are not alone in this, try this post: Acronyms in English Teaching.

Even the best Online TEFL certificates are not accepted for all jobs

The most important thing you need to be aware of when taking an online TEFL course is that there are a lot of schools that won’t accept them. That’s not to say that you won’t get a job. Lots of places don’t worry about what TEFL certificate you have, as long as they can tick the box to say you’ve had some training, and you’ll know something about the job. A lot of jobs in Asia will employ you with an online TEFL. You’ll get a job in China, South Korea, and Thailand. Most online schools will be happy with one.

If you want a job in much of Europe, if you want a job with one of the better schools like International House or the British Council, if you want to work for an organisation with good professional development and support, and/or make a career out of teaching English, then an online course may not be what you want.

Find out about different types of TEFL jobs abroad 

In some countries, you can easily get a job with an online certificate, but the companies who will employ you with one may not be able to, or want to, organise your legalisation. More professional companies ask for properly qualified teachers.

It doesn’t matter what an online TEFL certificate says in its marketing, they are never the equivalent to the CELTA. The CELTA includes assessed teaching practice of real students, and courses that are equivalents, such as Trinity certTESOL must also include this. Some schools want to see that the teachers they are employing have had actual practice teaching and had instructors give them feedback on their teaching.

Classroom components do not equal assessed teaching practice

While we are talking about onsite aspects of TEFL courses, they are some online courses that advertise ‘a 20-hour classroom component’ because “this is what schools are looking for”. Doing 20 hours of your input in a classroom doesn’t really make a difference for schools. If a school wants a classroom component, they want assessed teaching practice of real students. This doesn’t include teaching your peers on the course over a weekend.

The advantage of this that it will give you some experience of putting what you have learned into practice, which can be valuable to you when you get into the real classroom. However, it won’t make you more employable.

A cheap online TEFL course might not make you an effective teacher

You’ve decided to become an English teacher and that’s great. You’re going to help lots of people improve their English skills to travel, for education and for work. People are going to pay you for your services. Don’t you think these people deserve the best service you can provide? Simply being a native speaker of English, or holding a degree in English language, does not mean you will be able to do this effectively. It isn’t just about speaking to someone and correcting their mistakes. There’s far more to it than that. People do Degrees, Masters’ and Doctorates in how to teach EFL well.

There are some very cheap courses sold on Groupon that will give you a certificate, but many people who take it say that it took them a matter of hours to complete. You can even find the answers online. That might be ok if you just need a piece of paper, but not if you want to learn something. We’ve been sent exerts from confused students and they are sometimes full of spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and really confusing tasks.

Consider if you want to take a $25 course from Groupon, or if you can invest a little more in a course that will train you in how to give your students the best you can. In our opinion, the best online TEFL course is one that is run by professional and well-qualified English teachers and should take you around 120 hours to complete.

Arty picture of a computer and a pair of hands around a coffee cup, with the word 'dream', as many teachers do a lot of research into TEFL courses and dream about their future lives

They may not help you at all as a non-native speaking teacher.

The debate about native vs. non-native speaking English teachers is constantly raging. We work and have worked with some excellent non-native teachers over the years and believe that we should be treated equally. The schools and organisations that believe in equality and who will employ both natives and non-natives are generally the professional organisations who value skills and qualifications over passport. This means they are unlikely to accept an online certificate.

If you are a non-native speaker teaching in your home country, and you want to learn some more techniques and knowledge to improve your teaching, then an online course could be perfect for you. You do not have to travel to do it, they are relatively cheap and you can work on it while teaching your classes.

On the other hand, if you are looking to take a TEFL course to teach abroad, seriously consider if this course will be enough to distinguish you from the competition.

Check out our New Teacher Tales stories, to find some other non-native speakers teaching abroad and how they started out.

Even the best online TESOL won’t replace a degree

For some countries’ visa requirements to teach English, a Bachelor’s degree is necessary. China, South Korea, Taiwan, countries in the Middle East and other places will ask for you to have a degree. There are also some online English teaching companies, particularly those in China, who require one too.

Even if you are native speaker, taking an online TEFL won’t replace this requirement. If you don’t have a degree, you need to look at countries that don’t expect their English teachers to have a degree.

Read Ross’ story on teaching English without a degree

Anyone can run an online TEFL course

A more important thing to look into when finding the best online TEFL certificate is who is running it. The internet being what it is, anyone can now create a website and market a course.

It used to be that all TEFL courses were conducted face to face and trainee teachers would meet their trainers. These trainers generally had a higher level of teaching certificate than they were training on, so Masters’ or Diplomas in TESOL, and a lot of experience. Organisations specifically employed trainers for their programs and asked for qualifications. They did demo lessons for their trainees, gave their personal teaching experiences and anecdotes and you got an idea of what they knew.

Online courses don’t need trainers to do demo lessons, or observe trainees while they are teaching. Companies can basically sell an online program, with readings, videos and online tasks to complete. They don’t particuarly need to interact with their students. It seems that some people have taken such a program, copied it, and then market it to their own customers. Sometimes they might be experienced teachers, but they could quite easily only have a year or so teaching experience themselves, or not even be teachers at all.

If you are looking at a website for an online TEFL course, look at who the trainers are. Good organisations will put information on their trainers online, including their qualifications. They will use professional teachers with MAs and Diplomas in TESOL to design their course materials and act as trainers.

Picture of a girl on a computer, trying to find the best online TEFL course

Some online TEFL companies are franchises

On this note, a trend these days seems to be online TEFL franchises. Organisations who’ve ‘designed’ courses then charge others a fee to buy their franchise, meaning they market and sell the courses. They even give a free TEFL course to those buying a franchise. If you choose this route, look into who is running the franchise and what company they bought it from.

There are different types of online TEFL courses

If you pay $25, I assume you don’t believe you are getting the best online TEFL course. The cheaper courses are generally reading tasks, with multiple choice quizzes at the end. You keep choosing the options until you get the right answers and then your certificate appears.

For these, there is no tutor support. It’s just a computer. If you have questions or get stuck, you’re on your own.

Other courses provide video lessons from real tutors, with classes to watch online. They give you a personal tutor who works with you and is available to answer questions. You’ll pay more for this, yes, but it will be worth it in the long run.

There’s a catch for those ‘free’ courses

You’ll see various adverts for ‘free’ TEFL courses online, or dirt cheap courses on Groupon. The course may be free, but once you get to the end, you’ll find you have to pay for the actual certificate to be sent to you.

TEFL courses with guaranteed jobs are acting as agencies

A lot of marketing for some online TEFL courses offers ‘guaranteed work’ for those who take their courses. This is quite attractive. You don’t have to worry about looking for work after the course. This is all fine, obviously. However, be aware that these TEFL companies are not finding you work because they are nice and kind, or because you chose to take their course. They are doing it because the school you are placed with offers them a fee to find them teachers. So you pay them $300 or whatever it is to take the course, and then a school pays them $200 to pass you over to them as a teacher.

Anyone can say they are ‘the best online TEFL course’, ‘the biggest..’ or ‘the best known..’

I look at a lot of online TEFL websites and they almost all claim to be the ‘most widely accepted worldwide’ or ‘the best online TEFL certificate’. It’s marketing, right? Anyone can say whatever they want on their own website.

What you want to look for are the big companies that have been around the longest and had a background in TEFL before the explosion in online TEFL providers. Look when their Facebook page was set up. Look for companies that also have an onsite program, as these often branched out into online TEFL. You know that these have TEFL professionals working for them. You also know it’s not just someone on their laptop in their bedroom!

TEFL organisations can accredit themselves

There’s a lot of talk on TEFL course marketing about accreditation and ‘accepted worldwide’. Something to be aware of is that there is no central accreditation for TEFL courses. The most widely known and recognised courses are the CELTA, which is accredited by Cambridge English, and the Trinity certTESOL which is accredited by Trinity College, London. Both are UK exam boards. Even these are accredited by different organisations. These are both onsite courses, of course.

Some online TEFL courses are accredited by universities, and some by valid government accreditation organisations. However, some are accredited by organisations which simply charge companies money for accreditation. Others have set up their own ‘independent’ accreditation organisations and then use this to accredit their courses. Others will say ‘accredited’ and ‘accepted worldwide’ on their website, but then there is no information on exactly who they are accredited by.

If you are looking at accreditation for a course, first find out who the claim to be accredited by, and then Google the accreditation organisation and see if they accredit other courses as well. Even better is if they also accredit other fields than just TEFL. If you are taking this course to teach in China, ask them to prove that you can get your certificate authorised and accepted for this.

Some of those organisations they are boasting about are just paid teaching associations

On the ‘Accreditations’ page of several companies’ websites, they mention membership of IATEFL and/or TESOL.org. I’ve even seen it in their footer, including their membership number. This looks like they are more professional. However, these are simply paid teaching associations. IATEFL is a British association for TEFL teachers worldwide that runs conferences and produces professional development journals. It’s a great organisation, but it doesn’t accredit courses. Anyone can pay to join and get a membership number.

If you see these on an online TEFL company’s website, claiming that this makes them more accepted, that’s a red flag

There are others that have the Cambridge English logo and membership number. This doesn’t mean that their course is anything to do with the CELTA. It could just mean that they are also a Cambridge exam centre, offering FCE exams or TKT.

It doesn’t matter if you take a 120-hour course or a 320-hour course

The industry standard for a TEFL certificate is 120 hours. Many online TEFL companies now offer a ‘Diploma’ or ‘Master’ in TEFL or TESOL. These courses run to 180, 250 or 300+ hours of course, and often include specialisms in teaching young learners, teaching business English and teaching exam classes. This extra focus is great. You’ll learn more to apply to your job.

Do be aware though, that having a certificate called ‘Master in TESOL’ which took 200 hours to complete online is NOT the same as holding an MA TESOL. Taking a 300-hour ‘Diploma in TESOL’ does not mean you can say you have a TESOL Diploma when you apply for jobs. The two main TEFL Diploma courses, the Cambridge Delta and Trinity DipTESOL can take 1-1/2 years to complete, require at least 2 years of teaching experience (but really 5-7 is recommended) and include in-depth teaching practice. An MA TESOL is a 1-2 year university program. Both cost thousands of dollars and are UK Level 7 qualifications.

Online TEFL companies run affiliate programs with bloggers.

Bloggers have access to affiliate programs that pay them to promote a wide range of products. They write a post promoting a product, and they either get paid for the post, or they include an affiliate link in it, which means if you buy the product through that link, they get some money. You can see several affiliate links through our blog. We all have to eat and pay to upkeep these websites.

This means that bloggers who have never actually worked in English teaching can write posts promoting a specific TEFL course, claiming that they are ‘the best online TEFL course’ etc. And because their readers trust them, they believe this to be true. There are also bloggers who have worked in TEFL for a year who write such posts. At least these people have had some experience in the field, but not a lot. Their course will have been absolutely fine for getting them their job in China or Korea, as I’ve said, but they will not be aware of how accepted it is elsewhere.

There is a specific online TEFL course that I won’t name, that uses a lot of bloggers to promote it. They often claim to have taken this course, but it wasn’t actually around when they allegedly took it, and I don’t actually know any real teachers who started out by taking this course.

A girl on a computer looking towards the camera, who could be teaching English online

If, after reading this, then you are not sure whether an online TEFL course is right for you, then we’d suggest you read our post on What TEFL qualification you should do?

As I’ve said, though, you could be absolutely fine taking an online TEFL course, and it will get you a job with an organisation like EPIK in South Korea, or one of the many organisations in China or online.

Want to teach English in China? Read our post on Real Teachers’ Experiences teaching in China.

What to look for when taking an online TEFL course

In summary, before you choose an online TEFL course, do a bit of research and check that it will help you to get where you want to go. Some things to look at:

  • The qualifications of their tutors and course designers
  • If it’s just a franchise of another organisation
  • What the content includes: personal tutors, video lessons and tasks, or just multiple choice quizzes
  • How much the content will help you be a good teacher, if that’s important to you.
  • If they offer onsite courses as well as online ones
  • If they say who accredits them, and you can research this organisation and who else they accredit
  • If they use organisations such as IATEFL and TESOL.org in their marketing.
  • If they are ‘recommended’ by bloggers who are not, and have never been, actually English teachers

What online TEFL course to take

Looking at all these factors, there are several online TEFL courses that we recommend. Total disclosure, some of these are affiliate links (although not all are) and we do get some money if you sign up for one of these courses. However, we recommend these particular ones not because they pay us (they could all pay us) but because we have researched them and stand by their quality.

i to i

i to i created the first online TEFL course. The British organisation has been around for years and years – when we lived in Leeds I studied with one of their staff. They employ qualified TEFL professionals with Deltas and MAs and are accredited by a UK government organisation.

TEFL.org

Another of the original online TEFL courses, TEFL.org is also a British organisation and accredited by UK governmental organisations. They offer online courses of various lengths, as well as specialist modules in online teaching, business English and teaching young learners. Their website has lots of useful information and stories too.

ITTT

The American organisation International TEFL and TESOL Training (ITTT) offers both onsite and online TEFL courses of various lengths. They have a long history of running teacher training courses and their trainers have MAs in TESOL and linguistics. Their 120-hour course costs $239 or $349 including tutor support and a free business English or young learners course. You can get 15% off an ITTT course if you book through our link. We get commission for this link.

TEFL Pros

If you aren’t sure whether an online TEFL is right for you, TEFLPros will give you the first two modules of their course for free. It’s a good offer to decide if this is the route you should go down. If you like it and decide to pay for their full course, we will get some commission from this link.

Hopefully, this post has given you some idea of what to look at when looking at the confusing range of online TEFL certificates out there. We are not saying ‘don’t’ take a specific course at all. Everyone has their own experiences and many people are working on a $25 Groupon TEFL certificate. However, it might not be the best option for your situation, so armed with these questions, you should have an idea of what to find out.

Good luck and enjoy it.

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8 Responses

  1. Heather says:

    You have also bought in to the Native and Non Native descriptor. In the West Indies/Caribbean, we are native speakers of English and speak ONLY English. So we are confused when you call us Non Native Speakers of English. Who has decided that we are not? Can you advise what is our native language?

    • KateandKris says:

      We haven’t ‘bought into’ anything. The term ‘native-speaker’ has many meanings. It could mean someone who has spoken English from birth, either in a country where English in a first language, or another. Some countries consider ‘native-speakers’ to be someone from the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand….many include Canada, South Africa and Ireland, but others, oddly, don’t. Our comments in this post relate to what kind of online certificate to take. If you are from the West Indies, you may come across some discrimination, so a course with teaching practice may help you more. We’ve worked with teachers from the Caribbean, by the way.

  2. Phil says:

    One clarification on your article:

    “Online courses don’t need trainers to do demo lessons, or observe trainees while they are teaching. Companies can basically sell an online program, with readings, videos and online tasks to complete. They [Trainees and/or trainers?] don’t particuarly need to interact with their students.”

  3. Kelly says:

    Great, informative post. I did a TESOL course back in 2012 or 2013 with the thought that I may use it while travelling. When we got to Thailand I actually started to think about teaching for a while. This is when I found out that experience is so important! I have the TESOL and the Bachelors but I didn’t even get accepted for a voluntary position because I didn’t have any experience. So I mean, how are you supposed to get the experience?

    • KateandKris says:

      You don’t actually need experience to start out. A lot of schools will employ you without experience if they have the capacity to support you. Perhaps the volunteer project didn’t have experienced coordinators available to help you out. PM me if you want any contacts for Thailand teaching.

  4. Scarlett says:

    Thank you for this great information, I do have some friends who are interested in TEFL and I will share your blog with them. Great post guys!

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