Pros & Cons of Online vs On-Site TEFL Courses

by Gyl Golden

Making the decision about which TEFL certification is largely dependent on how and where you want to use it. Are you looking for a possible long term profession or a short term gig in between jobs? Are you more concerned with padding your savings account or just having the experience? Consider the pros and cons of each and find out which is right for you.

Smiling students look up at their English teacher
Smiling students look up at their English teacher. Photo Courtesy of Gyl Golden

What is the difference between an on-site TEFL course and an online TEFL course?

This is a very popular question and one that you should be clear on before executing your plan to live abroad. There is a huge temptation to take an online TEFL course as opposed to a full time, onsite course simply because an online course is exponentially less expensive. However, remember, you get what you pay for. 

In general, if you are serious about seeking a paid position as an English teacher, you should take an onsite, full-time TEFL course in the country or region where you want to live and work. Yes, it’s a big investment in both time and money but consider this, if you want to start a new career in a new country, understand that it will require just that; time, energy and money.

Advantages of earning TEFL certification through on-site courses:

1. You can adjust gradually to the country/culture where you want to live and work while you still have a support system (training centers usually provide services such as airport pickup, assistance arranging housing during the course, and local orientation). It’s easier then, to extend housing or even find cheaper housing during the month you're taking the course in order to remain after the course is finished.

2. You can be sure your certificate will be recognized by local employers and the training center can give you invaluable contacts and advice regarding reputable local employers as well as those who pay the best.

3. You can have real practice in the classroom. A standard TEFL certificate is 120 hours on-site, including at least 6 to 10 hours of supervised teacher practice by a certified professional on real students (not peer trainees). That is one of the items that employers look for when considering new hires. They want to see a certification program that provided Observed Teacher Practice.

A class having a lecture

4. You can benefit from the invaluable interaction and exchange that a classroom environment provides. With teacher practice and study, comes reflection on what type of teacher you want to become. That evolution happens by teaching and studying with your peers and this often continues after the program has finished as many of your colleagues will stay in the region. As such, you already have a network of friends and potential associates started where you’d like to live.

5. You can get experience with local students. Your "teacher practice" will be composed of native/local students which will be representative of those you’ll be working with when you start your job.

6. You can get your foot in the door. Teaching jobs in Europe and Africa aren't normally found from abroad. You really need to be here with a cellphone and resumes in person to get interviews. There are rarely exceptions to this. 

Advantages of earning TEFL certification through online course:

1. You can learn more about the TEFL field. Online TEFL courses and a good introduction that will help you see if you may actually be interested in teaching English abroad.

2. You can have a refresher on English grammar. Online TEFL courses will be a good introduction to grammar and phonology of the English language, which you may not have touched on in-depth since your grammar school days.

A man on his computer

3. You can make up your mind before committing. Taking TEFL courses online can be useful if you’re not sure what you want to do or where you want to go, but want to get your feet wet. You could choose online and plan on getting some onsite experience in the future. 

4. You can easily fit it into your schedule. Online courses offer flexibility, if you are unable to free yourself for one month to take an onsite course, but really want to get started.

*Important Note - If you do decide to take an online TEFL course, beware of companies that propose “observed teacher practice” after you receive a TEFL certificate. Get a contact name and the address of where the teacher practice would be held and contact the person in charge to confirm that the possibility really exists.

Ultimately, if you want to teach English abroad, you have to come on over. It tends to be easier to get this project started by taking a TEFL course in the country/region of your choice. This approach allows you to take advantage of that one month time frame to make the transition as smooth as possible. Also, even if you’re not sure you’ll stay, it’s a good time to research all the issues that are not necessarily clear on the internet like housing, quality of life, and job possibilities. Showing up to a foreign country can be daunting, but if you want something you've never had, you have to do some things you've never done.