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Guide to Learning to Teach English as a Foreign Language Online

A Viable Alternative That Can Lead to Jobs Abroad

You can learn TEFL online
All you need to learn TEFL online.


Thousands of prospective or practicing teachers regularly enroll in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) courses, and like other education-related industries, TEFL training is migrating online. According to Statistica and many other research sites, the value of the global market for online higher education has already reached into the billions and is estimated to accelerate to as much as $167 billion or more in the coming years. A confluence of factors has led to the popularity of online courses. American universities are offering an increasing number of online courses, the 2020 pandemic and its consequences, and the traditional brick-and-mortar college, with its exorbitant costs, is becoming an albatross. The education section of newspapers is replete with articles about the newest innovations of course providers such as: EdX, Udemy, and Coursera. (Coursera sometimes offers free TEFL courses.) The internet has created a new El Dorado for education.

The development of online courses marked an important epoch in the history of the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) industry. For decades, trainees had to enroll in relatively inflexible and costly courses conducted in a traditional brick-and-mortar setting. Years ago, online courses had numerous detractors. Today, online courses are recognized as a viable option for EFL training, and new online EFL teacher-training programs have proliferated in recent years.  


The fact that online TEFL courses are relatively inexpensive is one factor in their growth. Their tuition fees are much lower than those of brick-and-mortar institutions, and occasional promotions make the courses even less expensive. Many trainees study online while working full-time jobs. Prospective teachers who enroll in a brick-and-mortar training program not only pay much higher tuition fees, but they must also incur heavy costs for transportation to the brick-and-mortar venue and housing expenses for the duration of their course.


Another factor for the burgeoning growth of online education is its flexibility. The trainee can study at his or her own convenience. For example, I did my online TEFL diploma on the weekends because my fulltime employment as an academic director kept me occupied during the week. As an online student, you can log in to your course from anywhere in the world, and move through the material at your own speed. This is in contrast to the extremely hectic pace of the traditional four-week program in a brick-and-mortar venue or in-class program. Also, the conventional programs do not offer flexible start or end dates. Online, you choose your course start date. Your trainer is an email away and is available to answer your queries or help you with any problematic assignments. There is no need to rush, but there is a time limit for the completion of the online credential. All in all, online learning is a convenient option for the peripatetic lifestyles of EFL teachers.


Online TEFL programs are not truncated versions of brick-and-mortar programs.  For instance, OnTESOL’s 250-hour diploma program is an enhanced version of Coventry House’s traditional one-month TEFL certificate course. These 250-hour courses require the students to master a formidable amount of material. Many online EFL courses include didactic videos of real EFL courses taught by experts. In a brick-and-mortar setting, on the other hand, trainees often watch other trainees teach. Online courses are also often accompanied by useful and interesting texts that also serve as reference materials after the course. 


Most online TEFL training courses assign a mentor or tutor to the trainee. (There are a few automated courses where no tutor is assigned.) The tutor guides the trainee through the course and provides useful feedback. Queries about the course segments and completed assignments are typically returned within forty-eight hours. Reputable courses employ tutors who are kind but fastidious and very knowledgeable. The tutor for my primary course had a compendious knowledge of the subject and a sanguine disposition. Upon successful completion of the course, tutors often provide references for prospective employers.


The lack of teaching practice has been cited as a drawback for programs that are entirely online. Therefore, many online courses now offer teaching practice post-course to trainees. This is arranged at a cooperating brick-and-mortar institution. The teaching practicum is not always necessary, however. Many students in online courses have years of teaching experience and merely desire a credential for career advancement, professional development, or personal enhancement.  

Students who enroll in an online TEFL training course come from a wide variety of backgrounds. The minimum age for enrollment is usually eighteen. Matriculating students should be native speakers or have a high level of proficiency in English. A college degree is not a prerequisite for enrolling in a course; however, many countries where EFL instructors are hired require a bachelor’s degree. In any case, the entrance requirements for online courses are not, in fact, much different from entrance requirements for brick-and-mortar courses.

Most EFL teachers today are eclectic in their approach to their craft. Similarly, the most useful online courses do not slavishly advocate any one method or way of teaching, and the numerous and diverse courses I have taken throughout my career have all enhanced my ability as a teacher.


Online TEFL courses vary in length. The shortest are twenty or thirty hours. Introductory courses are typically sixty hours. Standard courses are usually 120 hours in length. Long programs are at least 250 hours long. The shortest courses are devoted to a narrow topic such grammar, teaching children, or teaching IELTS; these courses are often taken after a basic certificate or by practicing teachers for professional development. The sixty-hour introductory courses are for EFL tyros and offer a general overview of the most important aspects of TEFL. Most employers look for candidates who have at least a 120-hour credential, though. The 250-hour programs have a certain cachet, and they cover grammar, lesson planning, and other topics in much greater detail; these programs are a challenging option for experienced teachers. For prospective teachers seeking to enter the profession, a 120-hour or longer course-with a teaching practicum-is probably the best option.


There are a myriad of alternatives for EFL teachers seeking an online course. The choice of courses depends largely on the employment goals of the teacher. If a person is interested in teaching children or businesspersons in Asia, for example, a certificate of 120 hours followed by a short course in teaching English to Young Learners (TEYL) or Teach Business English (TBE) is probably best. If you are not sure what course is most appropriate, ask the course provider for advice. A reputable organization provides quick, honest, and useful advice to prospective trainees, and supercilious replies are not acceptable. The director of one online school recommended that I consider studying elsewhere when he understood my background and goals. The advisor for another program patiently and thoroughly answered my numerous questions as I was researching online courses. In both cases, I received candid responses to my enquiries, and I ultimately chose a 250-hour program. If the responses you receive to your questions are not useful or if the respondent is too eager to have you sign up, look for another course provider.


I have taken more than a few online courses, and I was cautious about choosing the most reputable ones. Online courses-like their brick-and-mortar counterparts-vary widely in quality. In general, it is best to choose one with third-party accreditation. ACCET (Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training) accredits programs based in the United States. There are some smaller accrediting bodies, too, but a body that “accredits” only two or three online schools is probably a farce. There is no single agency that accredits online or brick-and-mortar course providers worldwide, so it is essential to do some research before choosing a program. Another source of information is course reviews (; this website also has lists special offers. It might also be worthwhile to check out the Facebook page for the program you are considering: does it contain useful and interesting information? The Facebook page can also provide contact information for recent or former students of the course you are contemplating. And finally, it is almost always better to go with a program that has a long track record rather than a school that has been in existence for only a year or two.

The lack of accreditation and lack of a history are not the only red flags for dubious course providers. Their websites may be poorly designed or contain spelling errors. One website offering online courses informs the reader “to clcik” for a sample course certificate. An offer of a 50% discount is another red flag: it makes it seem as though they are desperate for trainees. Third-rate online schools also make grandiose statements about having the “best” and “most recognized” course. Moreover, they make exaggerated claims about the employment prospects of their graduates. Even the nomenclature of the online school may be reason enough to look elsewhere: would you want to have the words “like tefl” or some other inane phrase on your certificate?

Self-motivation: Is Online Learning for You?

Online courses are not necessarily the best choice for everyone. Extremely gregarious individuals might prefer a more traditional brick-and-mortar course. To a degree, the online student learns autonomously, and that requires a great deal of self-motivation. By and large, it is a matter of personal preference and learning style.

In any case, completion of a TEFL certificate or diploma does not mean proficiency in the art of teaching. One recent graduate of an online TEFL certificate program wrote: “In reality, it is just a beginning.” ( Indeed, learning teaching is an ongoing process.

Major Online TEFL and TESOL Course Providers

TEFL Online | ITTT

ITTO Online TEFL TESOL Courses

International TEFL Academy

Global English



Related Topics
Teaching English Abroad Advisor
Online TEFL Resources

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