One of the best things about this new method is that it is so flexible. Students can speak to their teacher from anywhere in the world, and teachers can speak to their students from anywhere in the world. No commuting is necessary. Teaching and learning online is ideal for both parties to create a perfect timetable of lessons based around their various other responsibilities.
Both teacher and student need to have a decent internet connection to maximise the potential, and a webcam is more-or-less essential. Luckily, most modern laptops have these built in as standard. Without the right technology and a reliable connection, lessons are not likely to be anywhere near as valuable for the learner as a real-life lesson.
Tutoring large groups is more problematic online. Most teachers who have tried this are likely to admit that online teaching and learning is not effective for groups of more than two students. Most online learning is one-to-one, an ideal situation given that classroom management issues are much likely to pose a problem for the tutor when the student is not distracted or pressured by peers.
However, student motivation remains a crucial issue for online tutors and there are certain techniques which can be employed in this setting. The text box beneath the video screen is very useful for giving hints that you don’t want to actually say out loud. If you and your students like to use PowerPoint, you can screen-share quite easily on Skype and others. As in the real life classroom, interactive lessons with plenty of opportunities for expression on the part of the students are generally very beneficial for learning success.
As an online teacher you need to be very well-organised indeed, setting homework either during your lesson or via email shortly afterwards and ensuring that the student submits the work enough in advance of your next online meeting so that you have time to assess it. Be sure to provide feedback during your next lesson and allow the student sufficient time to ask any further questions relating to your comments.
There are one or two legal points which must also be considered if you wish to become an online teacher of English. If your students are under the age of eighteen it is essential that you have written permission (or an authentic email) from their parents. You will also need a basic contract between you and your students ensuring that neither party will lose out if student or teacher cancels at short notice (for example, within 24 hours of the scheduled lesson).
Many online teachers begin by taking advantage of a language school which already has many students seeking English language tuition. This inevitably means a contract and payment is usually via a PayPal account so you will need to factor in the PayPal charges. Occasionally we see adverts for online teachers from schools in countries including Russia and the Philippines. To begin with in this scenario, you may be employed on an hourly rate. There are growing complaints of exploitation of online teachers, many of whom feel that their hourly rate is a paltry sum of money. If in doubt, do not sign the contract!
Much more rewarding, both financially and in terms of self-respect, is to ‘go it alone’ as a freelance, self-employed online teacher. This takes a lot of hard work, especially in the field of self-promotion and online networking. After all, how will people find out about your services unless you put in a lot of effort to publicise them? You will need a Facebook page and a Twitter account at the very least. When you have built up a large database of contacts and experience you will find that students who are happy with your services will pass on your details to new customers.
There are a few highly successful online teachers who have built up brands around themselves and make a full-time living from this new platform. For the majority, however, online teaching should be thought of as a part-time or additional source of income to begin with.
Have you had success as an online tutor? If so, please let us know your own tips for success in the comments box below.