Teaching Online vs. the Classroom – How Do They Compare?

By
March 5, 2021
teaching English online vs. the classroom

Teaching English online has seen incredible growth in popularity in recent years and especially now, because of the current COVID-19 pandemic, which leads to consideration of the differences in teaching online vs. the classroom. Which is better for you — the virtual classroom, a traditional brick and mortar TEFL/TESOL school, or maybe even a combination of the two? Learning about the differences between these two options can help you decide which career path to pursue — or if you should pursue both!

What are the main differences between teaching English in the classroom and teaching online?

Students


Teaching in the classroom

For a comparison between online teaching and classroom teaching, it’s important to first start with the different types of students. If you’re hoping to teach English abroad or in your home country in the classroom, you have a lot of options in terms of students and age groups.

If you want to work with young learners, you could work in a preschool, kindergarten, or elementary school. Or, for teens, you might choose to work in a middle school or high school. If you prefer adult learners, you can work at a university or teach Business English.

After you know what age you prefer, if you’re working in a brick and mortar environment, you should also consider whether you want to work in a public or private school or if you’d prefer working in a training center. There are both advantages and disadvantages to teaching English abroad at a chain school or independent school. The key is to do your research and find the place that’s the best fit for you.

Also, keep in mind that with the current pandemic, depending on the city, country, and current restrictions, some schools might be putting hiring on hold or delaying start dates. Don’t let this discourage you, but just be prepared and know that things are often moving a little slower than normal, so try to be flexible and patient.

Here are the 10 best places to teach abroad in 2021!

Teaching online

For teaching English online, you’ll probably find that a vast number of companies specifically focus on young learners, and many of the large companies cater to Chinese students.

However, if you prefer older students, there are also companies where you can teach English online to adults. Just keep in mind that you’ll probably have fewer choices available, and some have specific hiring seasons based on demand. But, don’t worry, as long as you do your research, you won’t have problems finding a company.

Learn more about the requirements to teach online in this article: How to Teach English Online From Home.

Ben Dailey, teaching English online

Ben, teaching English online from Nicaragua.


Flexibility


One of the greatest perks of teaching English online is how flexible it is. If you’ve been looking for a job that will allow you to live a location-independent lifestyle, then online teaching is ideal for you. For example, if you want to spend six months living in Costa Rica before visiting your family for a few months, you can absolutely do this. Teaching English online as a digital nomad is possible regardless of where you are physically located in the world.

If you know that you want to live abroad but aren’t exactly sure where you want to live, you can always teach online and explore different areas. Then, once you find a city or country where you want to stay longer-term, you might decide to start teaching in a brick and mortar school, or even teach both online and in person.

Work hours


Most teachers who work in a traditional classroom have set hours. Teachers at language institutes that accommodate students before and after school or work may have split schedules that require both mornings and evenings, or even weekends. Teachers in a K-12 setting, on the other hand, will most likely teach a standard 8-4 schedule.

Online teachers have the flexibility to choose their own schedules, but it’s important to note that much of the demand for online English classes comes from countries in Asia, such as China and Vietnam, so as an online teacher, you may find yourself waking up at odd hours to teach a class in order to catch your students at peak teaching times.

Check out these awesome companies currently hiring online English teachers.

Rachel Digital Nomad

Learn what it’s like to teach for a popular online tutoring company in China, VIPKid, in this interview with digital nomad Rachel Story.


Salary


Salaries for classroom-based teaching jobs are set by the schools and generally align with the economic level of the country where they’re located. Click here for average monthly salaries for popular TEFL/TESOL destinations.

Salaries for online English teachers, on the other hand, vary depending on the company for which you teach, your qualifications and experience, and how many hours you choose to work (many online companies let you work as many hours as you like). An average hourly rate for an online teaching job at one of the major online English providers ranges from around $14-$25 USD.

If you work as an independent online English teacher, you’re free to set your own rates and schedule with your students, which, for experienced and highly qualified teachers, could lead to higher income.

Learn about teaching as an independent contractor in a TEFL/TESOL marketplace.

Requirements


The recommended certification is similar for jobs teaching English online vs. in the classroom. For both, the international standard TEFL/TESOL requirement is at least 120-hours of certification. This can be earned online or via a classroom-based or blended TEFL/TESOL course.

Additional requirements to teach in the classroom vary mostly by location and can include a bachelor’s degree or teaching experience. For a look at requirements for classroom-based TEFL/TESOL jobs by country, check out the Jobs at a Glance Chart.

Teacher teaching kids in Thailand classroom

BT grad, Bruce, teaching in a classroom in Thailand.


For teaching English online, it’s recommended that you take a certificate program focused on teaching in the virtual classroom specifically, such as the Bridge Specialized TEFL/TESOL Certificate in Teaching English Online. Online teaching jobs may also have additional requirements (a degree or experience working with kids, for example), though this varies from company to company and plenty of opportunities exist for teachers of all experience levels.

What are the pros and cons of teaching English online vs. the classroom?

First, let’s go over some of the pros and cons of teaching English online.

Pros of teaching English online


  • Teaching English online can be an exciting way to meet people across the world without having to leave your home. You’ll learn about your students’ culture, experiences, and perspectives in the lessons.
  • You’ll also have the opportunity to share your own experiences and way of life, contributing to the mutual understanding between cultures and building global bridges one student at a time.
  • Many online English companies even come with prepared lessons for each class. This means that for most companies, you won’t have to spend time lesson planning or preparing for classes. You can just show up and teach.
  • Besides that, the flexibility to set your own schedule whenever and wherever you are in the world (with a stable internet connection) is a wonderful convenience for all types of lifestyles.
  • Some teachers find teaching online a convenient side gig to their full-time job while others find full-time work as an online English teacher. Still, others become digital nomads and use teaching English online as a way to support their travels around the world.
  • Whether full-time or part-time, you’ll find that many online English teachers can expect to earn a higher hourly wage than they would teaching in person.

teacher petting elephant in Thailand

An English teacher exploring Thailand.


Cons of teaching English online


  • One of the cons of teaching English online is that it can take some time to grow a student base and to see the payoff.
  • Typical lessons are 20-40 minutes long, so you’ll likely need to teach many students in a short period of time, which can be tiring.
  • Also, as most classes are one-on-one and hosted on an online platform, they demand some extra creativity, energy, and adaptation to teach an engaging and fruitful lesson to your student.
  • You may also find yourself teaching lessons at odd hours depending on the time difference between you and your student.
  • Another factor is that some months or seasons are busier than others, which you’ll want to consider, especially if you plan to teach online as your primary income source.
  • Also, many online companies pay once per month rather than weekly or bi-weekly. This means that you’ll want to plan your expenses ahead of time and manage your cash flow, knowing that you’ll only receive one payment per month.
  • Finally, you won’t have that immediate contact with the culture as you would in a traditional TEFL/TESOL classroom setting.

Pros of teaching English in the classroom


That being said, teaching English in the traditional classroom setting has its own pros and cons.

  • Most classroom-based teaching positions offer a fixed salary and thus more stability on a month-to-month basis.
  • Depending on your employer, the job may come with additional benefits such as health insurance and a retirement plan.
  • You’ll also have a group of students, which means you can plan dynamic and interactive lessons that involve the whole class. It can make for a rewarding teaching experience to participate in your students’ learning and growth in person.
  • You’ll teach normal hours and likely have additional staff support from your school’s administration.
  • Having in-person colleagues, whether locals or other foreign teachers, can be an easy way to build a community of friends.
  • If you’re traveling to a new country to teach English, you’ll get a first-hand encounter with your students’ culture, which is not only an amazing experience but also helps you to relate to your students on a deeper level within the classroom.

teaching in the classroom with students in Turkey

An ESL teacher with her students in Turkey.


Cons of teaching English in the classroom


However, there are some relevant cons to teaching in the traditional classroom setting.

  • Your salary is fixed, so unlike with teaching online, you may not have the opportunity to work as many hours as you want.
  • Though you’re teaching during a normal school day, you might need to prepare for classes or grade papers on school nights and weekends.
  • Your classes may be large and involve more disciplinary action than in an online setting.
  • There is also the likely rollercoaster of culture shock in a new country, as you adapt to a new language and culture.
  • Depending on the location, you might spend a considerable amount of time commuting to and from your school each day, or even multiple schools if you teach in more than one location.

So, which is better, teaching English online or in the classroom?

Now that you know some of the clear differences between online teaching vs. classroom teaching, you may find the benefits of teaching online vs. the classroom outweigh the disadvantages. Or, you could most value the opportunity to teach in a physical classroom with a group of students.

But for many teachers, there’s a third option: A combination of teaching English online and in the classroom can provide the sweet spot between these two unique teaching environments.

Can I really do both? What does it look like to teach in the classroom and online?

Since we’ve already done a comparison between online teaching and classroom teaching, let’s talk about what might be the best of both worlds: doing both!

  • Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, most teachers and students are incorporating a blended learning ESL model, and this is considered the “new normal” throughout the world. Blended learning is a great way for students to get the most out of their learning experience, by incorporating both synchronous and asynchronous learning.
  • And, now that most brick and mortar teachers are getting accustomed to the online learning environment, teaching online as a side gig for K-12 teachers is a wonderful option. Whether you’re looking to make a little extra money or want the security of having multiple streams of income, teaching online can be a great addition. By doing both, you’ll enhance your skill sets and have even more options as you look for other online or classroom positions in the future.
  • Finally, even if you feel like your plans for teaching abroad are on hold because of COVID-19, you can always start teaching online right now, wherever you are, and then still plan on moving abroad in the future.

Read an interview with Bridge grad, Gedisa, who taught in the classroom in Taiwan before shifting to teaching online.

Whether you decide to teach English online, in the classroom, or both, there are many types of rewarding jobs you can get with the right certification and preparation. Consider the pros and cons of each — you’re sure to find an option that’s right for you!

Ready to apply for an English teaching job abroad or online? Prepare for your TEFL/TESOL interview with these tips!