I’ve written sceptically about a free TEFL course and then interviewed the company before, but when I came across the one from ESL Insider I had a feeling something was different about this one. Seems I was right:
The site/ The course
Could you give us a short history/ profile of the site and yourself?
Sure, I have taught English in China, Korea and Taiwan. I started ESLinsider in 2009. It’s a video-based how-to guide for ESL teachers with a focus on teaching English in Asia. There are other resources on the site as well like e-books and PDF files for teachers. The free TEFL course is a recent development.
Why offer a free course?
My conscience told me I couldn’t do it any other way. I don’t really have a lot of good things to say about TEFL course providers. Many deceive and tell lies to newcomers. I wrote an article called “TEFL/TESOL Courses Are a Waste of Money”, so I really don’t feel like I can charge money for the course. And I don’t want to backtrack and change what I have done. A free TEFL course fits.
Is it really truly free?
Yes, it is. There’s no catch.
How long have you been offering the free online course?
It’s new – less than a few weeks.
What has the uptake been like? What kinds of people have been taking it?
I think it’s too early to tell. There is not yet a significant amount of traffic to the site.
What is the pass rate?
I’d also say that it is too early to tell. At the moment a student must obtain an 85% or higher to be issued a certificate. That could intimidate some, but I didn’t want the course to be too easy. However it’s easy enough as long as the student applies his or herself.
How do you think it compares to paid courses?
It’s a better value^^ I can’t really compare it as I haven’t taken a number of online courses. I have only taken one course and that was in-class.
Does the course include anything you weren’t told during your own initial training? Does anything else distinguish it from other TEFL courses?
I felt the course I took was too theory based. So my mission for the course is to make it more practical. I felt that the use of activities was underplayed, so this course will supply plenty of instruction on integrating activities, exercises and games.
I also felt that the course I took lacked an emphasis on classroom management. So this course will provide a solid section on classroom management strategies and plans. I think its use of video also provides a richer learning experience as students can see right into the classroom.
Do you make any money out of it or have plans for how to do so?
I don’t make any money from that site right now. I have some ideas, however it’s not my immediate concern. My immediate concern now is making a better course.
Doesn’t that mean you are losing money on each certificate you have to send out?
No, it doesn’t. There is no tangible product. After successful completion of the course the student is issued a high quality image of their certificate. They are then told how to print it out.
Any plans to change or expand the course in the future?
A new one is in the making now as we speak. This one will be far more interactive, thorough and in-depth.
Don’t you think that anything that drives prices down is negative in our already underpaid and underappreciated “profession”?
I see what you mean. The price of digital content is pretty close to free and really eventually many digital products do become free. I think the price of courses, at least online ones, will continue to fall. I initially did a search to see what the going rate of an online course was. It wasn’t extensive, but the ones I found were around $150-289.
I also searched a bit for “free courses” and found one or at least it said so, but after looking into it further it cost $44. I also just recently read on Yahoo Answers that someone found a deal on a TESOL certificate on Groupon for $70. So I think the price is already falling to zero. And there are also a few schools that offer a free TEFL certificate as part of their training. But you know some people may always buy the more expensive course because they equate that with value.
How much (extra) is an accredited online course worth, in your opinion?
I am not sure. I have done a little bit of research on accreditation and I am not sure how valid some of those claims are. It seems like some courses may not actually have accreditation and/or be the ones who set up the accrediting body. It seems like there may be national accrediting bodies, but not international ones.
From my point of view accreditation doesn’t necessarily guarantee a better course. Some employers may be aware but, I think that many are not aware of this or perhaps just don’t care about it.
Isn’t there also a danger of the cheapness of online courses driving people away from proper courses with observed and graded teaching practice?
Maybe or maybe not. I don’t think online courses typically have a good reputation on the web. I think the general consensus is that they are less reputable than an in-class course. However, in some cases an online one is the only possibility for a teacher.
I also agree that there is another dynamic involved in-class that isn’t present online. However, I think most in-class courses or at least the one that I took, offer only a mock teaching environment. That environment isn’t very similar to the environment that you will be teaching in which isn’t very useful.
I think that environment is going to be different school to school, country to country and TEFL providers cannot provide that, at least not most as far as I know. So I think the best training or TEFL course environment would be on the job. I know of schools/companies in Asia, like Hess for example in Taiwan, that offer a free TEFL course that is in-house. That’s just the environment, I am not saying that a schools on site training is necessarily better or not. I’d just say that the environment is better.
How would you compare teaching in the three Asian countries that you have? Which would be best for a beginner teacher?
That’s a long story. I made some videos and wrote about that, but I wouldn’t be sure where to start. I’d say that the actual teaching in each country isn’t so different. The difference lies in the schools. Schools can vary quite a bit. And I’d say that Korea is probably the easier one to get started in granted the free housing, airfare and the fact that they do most of the visa work for you.
Biog: Ian Leahy has taught English in China, Korea and Taiwan. He is the creator of ESLinsider and its free TEFL course.