Tips for Teaching and Tutoring English Online
Distance-based learning has come a long way from the correspondence courses of the past. It’s now possible to complete entire semesters of curricula without ever setting foot in a traditional classroom. While many disciplines have embraced online learning as a tool, it comes with its share of additional considerations. Teaching or tutoring English in an online setting can be a beneficial way to master time management and allow students from anywhere to engage with the language on a global level. These four practices can enhance online education to ensure students get the most out of the learning experience.
While it may seem clear that the instructor at the lectern is in charge of classes at a university, in an online setting that sense of command is easily lost. Establishing credibility is paramount to help students understand the importance of focusing on online English lessons. Students need to understand why the teacher is an expert in the field, whether that comes from being a native speaker with a solid education or from decades of practice and a degree in the language.
Putting that information first and foremost in shared communications stresses the experience and enhance the credibility of the instructor. Integrating technology with English education gets the best results when students are engaged and confident in the instructor’s ability and credibility. Credibility also diminishes or removes entirely the need for teachers to mute student microphones or stop chat functions during instruction or lectures. These powerful tools are often seen as draconian by students and only work as a last resort when command of the class is clearly lost.
Determine Relative Proficiency
Each student is likely to come at English education with a different background and level of proficiency. In an online setting, instructors can more easily divide classes into groups of students based on relative skill. The Ohio Department of Education spells out many of the methods used to gauge proficiency in American English studies. They include:
Oral and conversational skills tests.
Question and answer sessions to determine comprehension.
Understanding and employing these methods ensures that everyone in the class or online session feels their time is well spent without feeling overwhelmed or left behind. This type of class segregation works especially well when teaching students of greatly varying skill levels. Students who have excellent verbal experience but less instruction in the written word should be encouraged to use chat and other written communications as often as possible.
What are the greatest challenges to teaching English online?
Students in some parts of the world may already have some powerful misconceptions about online learning. These include not only the thought that distance-based instruction is less credible, but also the concern that their education may not be taken as seriously by other schools or employers. Overcoming these misconceptions is often a task best handled very early in the educational process. Tackling such concerns from day one allows the instructor to get started on the right foot and helps students maintain focus.
Some students may come into online learning with the expectation that online instruction is easier, and others may hope that it allows them to focus on other things during class time. Obviously, these misconceptions can dramatically harm the learning experience if not addressed outright. Students should understand that the coursework is likely to be the same, if not even more involved, than classroom curricula.
Deliver User Experience
Ultimately, these keys all contribute to user experience. The term is often found when it comes to designing software, but they also apply to designing online learning experiences. Language instruction combines both instruction and experience, and online tools let teachers converse with students both orally and in the written word from anywhere in the world. The user experience is paramount when it comes to making sure that nothing distracts from critical class time.
Educators teaching or tutoring via their own websites must understand that web design is crucial when it comes to attracting and connecting with online students. Online tools should be as free of lag as possible, and fatal errors or crashes are unacceptable in a learning environment. Using a shared online system designed for education, such as those available through or developed by universities, is usually preferable to cobbling together various chat and video meeting tools along with test-sharing and grading documents or spreadsheets.
Keeping these four keys in mind, it’s far easier to optimize online learning than many teachers realize. Consider recording classes whenever possible. Creating podcasts of important online lectures and allowing others to audit classes by sitting in silently on one or more sessions can increase the feeling of legitimacy and build confidence in both current and potential students. As with all forms of education, keep the focus on the student experience and treat all elements involved as tools for crafting the right program for the needs of the learner.