Teacher Kim Ooi writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated February 08, 2019
Kim Ooi

Online teaching vs classroom teaching

For my entire teaching career so far, I have been a classroom-based teacher.

However, recently I’ve started tutoring a student online and thought it would be a good idea to compare the two.

So which one is better, online teaching or classroom teaching? Here’s my opinion.

Advantages of online teaching

If you look at online teaching ads, they will tell you that online teaching has several advantages, such as:

  • Flexibility for both the student and the teacher who can choose a mutually convenient time to meet.
  • The teacher can conduct classes with students from multiple time zones without the need for physical travel.
  • If you work for an organization with electronic collections, you have 24/7 access to teaching materials as well as online journals and magazines.
  • Because it’s usually done one-to-one, the teacher can see immediately if the student does not comprehend the material.
  • Standardized coursework reduces the need for lesson planning.
  • Online teaching organizations may offer ongoing training and development, and even benefits such as pensions and profit sharing.

Online teaching

One of the benefits of teaching students online is the flexibility and not having to leave your home.

The reality of online teaching

What is the reality of teaching online though?

My Mandarin school, for example, teaches online via Skype 24/7. This means their teachers have to endure extremely unsocial hours.

One of my China-based teachers quit her job because she found having to work at 4am to teach students in the USA extremely tiring.

If you work independently as an online teacher, it’s even worse.

In my experience, many students who want or need to learn English cannot afford to pay for private lessons.

If you’re an independent online teacher, you may find yourself having to choose between an extremely low hourly rate and not having any students at all.

What is the pay like for online teachers?

You can generally earn up to US$25 per hour teaching students online (note the words ‘up to’!).

If you don’t have experience or the qualifications needed – and this depends on the provider – you will earn significantly less than this.

Let’s say you’re earning US$20 an hour. If you live outside the US, does this convert to a decent salary in your currency?

Earning money teaching online

Are you being paid fairly as an online English teacher? Do the math, says teacher Kim.

Consider that you may be working in the evening and during the weekend.

And, if you were teaching in a physical classroom in your own country, how would this hourly rate compare?

The online teaching industry is largely unregulated and unscrupulous teaching platforms might underpay you.

My words of advice: do your research thoroughly. And be careful!

Other disadvantages of online teaching

Online teaching is often not a stable job. A student can leave or cancel their class at the drop of a hat.

When teaching online independently, you may never know how much you’ll be earning and when you’ll be paid (or if you’ll get paid at all).

It can be a very lonely existence. Even though my Mandarin teachers work for a company and have colleagues like the rest of us, their work is mainly home-based.

This means they spend most of their time in front of a computer at home and rarely get to meet their colleagues in person. 

The range of teaching methods that you have at your disposal is limited.

You’ll have to rely mainly on audio and visual methods. You won’t be able to use any kinaesthetic methods like games or role-plays.

Finally, you’ll not be able to experience your students’ country and culture.

From eating turtle to visiting the famous Terracotta Warriors, teaching in China is an incredible opportunity that needs to be experienced first-hand to be fully understood.

Teaching online means you will not experience another country like China

The amazing Terracotta Warriors in Xian, China.

Classroom teaching

Classroom-based teaching is where a teacher physically meets their students in an actual bricks-and-mortar building.

Classroom teaching is the preferred choice of many teachers. In my opinion, it has some key advantages over online teaching.

Advantages of classroom teaching

There are a number of advantages of teaching in a classroom:

  • You will have a legally binding contract and won’t have to try to attract students on your own.
  • Provided you are competent and do your job conscientiously, you’ll have the security of knowing that you will get paid every month.
  • You’ll have access to a wide range of classroom facilities and thus will be able to utilize a wider range of teaching methods.
  • You’ll have the physical space for activities like games, role-plays and debates. You can even take your students outside if the weather is good!
  • Classroom-based teaching is more fun and you’ll do a lot more than just teach (e.g. you may be invited to judge competitions and attend concerts and plays).
  • You’ll have a bunch of colleagues and students to go out with, and your school may even take you on excursions.

Socializing with colleagues is an advantage of classroom teaching over online teaching

The ability to socialize with colleagues and students is one of the advantages of classroom teaching.

Disadvantages of classroom teaching

On the other hand, classroom teaching also has some disadvantages.

Firstly, classes in developing Asian countries like China tend to be quite large.

You won’t be able to give your students the kind of individual attention that you can as an online teacher.

Your students may not like to ask questions for fear of losing face so it can be hard to know if they’ve understood your lesson.

Secondly, classroom-based teaching is inflexible.

Teachers usually cannot choose when they want to work. Once the timetable is drawn up, it is quite difficult to change it.

Some teachers I know have been able to reschedule their classes on rare occasions.

However, in order to do so they would need to find not just a mutually convenient time but also a free classroom. This can be tough.

Thirdly, classroom teaching involves more work.

An online teacher’s work is mainly limited to lesson planning, teaching and giving feedback on any homework that they assign.

A classroom teacher will also have to design, invigilate and mark exams as well as manage their classroom.

What about moving to another country?

This could be a pro or a con, depending on which way you look at it!

For some people, moving to another country is not easy.

You may miss your family, friends and pets that you’ve left behind.

You’ll have to attempt learning a new language from scratch, get used to a different culture, make new friends and make a new life for yourself.

You’ll also need to get used to new teaching and learning methods.

For the more adventurous among us, moving to another country is the opposite – it’s fun, exciting and brings lots of opportunities.

You’ll learn from experiencing a new culture and you’ll make new friends along the way.

Moving to another country to teach can be fun and exciting

Moving to another country (like China) to teach can be fun and exciting.

You’ll also get to eat new and interesting food, see amazing sights that you’ve never seen before (and probably will never see again) and travel, travel, travel.

It really depends on your outlook on life, and what drives you as a person.

I’m often asked what it’s like living and teaching in China. For the most part, it’s great!

China is a safe country, the people are friendly, and you can eat delicious dumplings to your heart’s content (and there are plenty more reasons why you should teach in China).

So what’s the verdict?

If you ask me, classroom teaching wins hands-down. There’s no competition.

However, it does depend on individual circumstances. If you have family commitments that prevent you from travelling, online teaching may be the preferred option.

Whichever one you choose, make sure you’re familiar with all the pros and cons before you start teaching so there’s no surprises down the track.

You might even decide to do both!

What do you think is better - online teaching or classroom teaching? Share your thoughts below.


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