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.

The best online TESOL course

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.

Not all online TEFL courses are the same

There is a huge range of online TEFL courses out there, and it seems that new ones appear on a weekly basis. It’s easy to see the marketing and think that one is the same as any other. However, a closer look will show you huge differences in price – from ‘free’ to $2000+.

This difference in price is because the content of these courses differs. The most expensive online TEFL courses are the Cambridge CELTA, Trinity certTESOL and ITA. These courses have classes with your tutor run online, generally using Zoom, and you do teaching practice of real students which you get feedback on from your tutors. These are the most widely accepted courses worldwide, and if your intention is a career in TEFL and/or a job outside of Asia, there are the ones we recommend you look at.

However, it isn’t the case that you won’t get a job if you do one of these. There are other practical online TESOL courses you can do where you write lesson plans and assigments, and/or get practice teaching your classmates, or sometimes do practicums where you teach some students and write up what you learned. In these you usually have a tutor to contact with questions and to give you advice along the way.

At the cheapest end of the scale there are certificates where you read some text and answer some multiple choice questions. The only person you interact with is the computer that you use to do the course. If you have any problems answering the questions, there is rarely anyone to help.

As well as being the cheapest, these are also the least widely accepted, largely because there is no practical element and the answers to the quizzes can often be found online. Again, that is not to say you won’t get a job with one of those, but options will be smaller.

If your aim is to teach online, then doing one of the practical online courses will be ok and should get you work. The practical element will mean that you can succeed in the interview and demo lesson because you will have this experience to draw on, and you will have more chance of impressing your students so they want to continue teaching with you. Competition for teaching jobs online is growing now and you want to make yourself as employable as possible.

If you choose to do a very cheap course, be aware that without the practical element, it won’t prepare you properly for the application process or the online classroom.

Read our post to find out about starting out as an online English teacher.

The same applies to teaching abroad. There are countries in Asia where you can work with a cheap online course, but more and more schools are asking for teaching to have some practical classroom experience. This is especially true if you want to be recruited from abroad and if you want your school to legalise you.

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 look at the CELTA, certTESOL or ITA.

Find out about different types of TEFL jobs abroad 

Classroom components do not equal assessed teaching practice

While we are talking about types of online 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 doing any type of peer teaching is 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 by schools that are asking for a ‘CELTA or equivalent’.

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 excerpts 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.

With an online TEFL, you can get a place on a language assistant scheme in Spain, even if you are not from the EU.

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 ccourse

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 particularly 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.

Not sure where to teach? Read our post on how to decide the best places to teach English abroad.

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.

Online TEFL course providers offering ‘job support’ don’t necessarily find you a job

There are a lot of cheap, online TEFL courses these days that advertise ‘job support’ in their marketing. Be aware that ‘job support’ varies a lot depending on the company. For many cheap ones, it just means they send you a list of companies to apply to. You can get this list online yourself, so it doesn’t add any benefit to your course.

Other online TEFL course providers offer a c.v clinic where they help you with your c.v and covering letter. Some have dedicated job advisors who advise you on where to apply, give you interview tips, advise you on contracts etc. If this is going to be important to you, before choosing a course, find out what the ‘job support’ actually involves.

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!

Doing an online TEFL to teach English online? Read our interview with teachers working online and the pros and cons of the online teaching companies they work for.

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. Both of these courses can be taken online.

Some other 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 they 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.

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

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.

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?

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 lesson plans, 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.

International TEFL Academy

If you are looking for an online course with teaching practice, and job support is key for you, then look at ITA. They have lifetime job support, including a very active alumni network, where past graduates teaching all over the World give each other advice on jobs, dedicated job advisors to provide feedback on your c.v. and cover letter, give you interview practice and advice on contracts. They have contacts with schools and companies worldwide to put you in touch with as well.

The course is not cheap, but they have very happy graduates who say that it is well-worth the money. You will find a job abroad or online after this course. Click on the picture below to see their brochure.

International TEFL Academy advert

Premier TEFL

Premier TEFL are a British company based in Yorkshire who offer a range of online TEFL courses, including very practical ones. The hybrid courses include observed teaching practice of other trainee teachers, a personal tutor and Zoom sessions. You have to complete assignments where you prepare lesson plans and design materials for your students. Their tutors are Cambridge Delta qualified.

There is a jobs portal with lists of jobs, but also one of their add-ons is a job coaching package, including a face to face session with a job coach, advice on interviews and tips on how to apply for jobs and do demo lessons. They also have add-ons in teaching online, teaching young learners and business English and how to prepare students for IELTS.

They often have sales and discounts, and you can get a 10% discount by clicking on the image below:

i to i

Very similar to Premier TEFL 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.

They have a wide range of online TEFL courses on offer, including the Trinity certTESOL and practical courses where you need to write lesson plans and prepare materials.

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.

TEFL Pros

If you aren’t sure whether an online TEFL is right for you, TEFL Pros 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.

The TEFL Pros course was developed by teachers working in Thailand and the materials they use are from Thailand, so if you are looking to teach in Asia, you’ll learn a lot. They also offer tutor support and job assistance. I know the two founders and they are really helpful and supportive. You’ll be safe in their hands.

Advert for TEFL Pros

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.

For more advice on teaching English, including country guides and interviews with other TEFL teachers, see our Teaching English page.

The best online TESOL course

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14 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!

  5. Melinda Macfadyen says:

    I’m looking to complete a CELTA , can you advise if you found companies overseas favoring CELTA or is TESOL or TEFL sufficient?
    Also would love some Thailand teaching contacts as you mentioned to someone above

  6. I am looking into teaching in Thailand next week, so this article popped up at a great time. I’ll be going through your I-to-I recommendation. Thank you for being open and honest.

  7. Ollie says:

    Thanks for the great article guys! One question..at one point you mentioned 120 hours online tefl course is the industry standard..
    Does that mean a 300 hour course won’t make you any more employable?

    And also, the websites you suggested have courses for level 3 and level 5? Is this just a selling technique, or is level 5 the one I should do to be most enployable?

    Thanks again

    • KateandKris says:

      No, it won’t. It will give you more information, but not make you more employable. A level 5 course is what you need.

  8. Jim says:

    Thanks for all the information.

    I have been teaching in Japan for 12 years at various kinds of schools, colleges and businesses.
    I’m thinking about moving to another Asian country. Probably in a year once the virus situation is better.
    I have a physics degree.

    Do I still need to get a 120 hour TEFL or will anything be fine for China , Vietnam or Thailand?

    Thanks

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