8 Best Online Teaching Software for a Freelance Teacher
With an explosion of online teaching due to the pandemic, many freelance teachers have been scrambling to find the right solution to conducting online lessons for their students. The needs that teachers expect from an online teaching software are as diverse as the range of students you might be teaching. Kids, teenagers, young adults, and business professionals all have different expectations for an online classroom that must be addressed.
As a teacher, understanding what your students expect is crucial not only in order to offer your students the best quality of education, but also to make yourself standout from other teachers in the mass race to online teaching.
Many teachers will undoubtable look for a “quick fix” solution and simply use their Skype account to conduct online lessons. But in this world where physical schools will remain closed for the indefinite future, freelance teachers must realize that soon everyone will be bombarded with ‘low cost’ online lessons. It is extremely important to remain competitive and stand out in the online ESL market, which was already very competitive even before the pandemic.
So what’s the real solution?
Today, we take a look at a number of online teaching software currently being used by teachers around the world see how they all stack up against each other. We created this list after surveying over 100 teachers and educational providers that we work with, and then doing our own independent test trials of each system. We also contacted many of the providers directly to inquire about special offers and unlisted features, which we will discuss here.
Firstly, let’s talk about this Zoom thing. You probably hear about it 24/7. The immediate popularity of this platform has been a combination of both viral marketing (their PR and marketing teams are doing a damn good job) and the simplicity of signing up for a free account. Notwithstanding these points, we will look at the Zoom’s functionality later in this blog.
Before we get stuck into all the systems, it’s important to clarify some fundamental components of the various platforms that are out there.
Every online learning platform out there was created for a different purpose, and can fulfil a different set of functions. Knowing which software provides the functions needed for your school to operate efficiently is the key to choosing the right platform.
A virtual classroom is the key resource you’ll need to be a fully fledged online teacher – and the difference between a good virtual classroom and a bad virtual classroom can really be the difference between being seen by students as a professional or an amateur.
The majority of software that schools are using to conduct virtual classes (Zoom included) are not truly virtual classrooms, but actually business software designed for virtual corporate meetings. That being said, there’s no doubt that business webinar software can be used to function as a virtual classroom; all it takes is a talented teacher and a bit of customization, which most provide.
But in our opinion, language teaching is a complex and very specific process that requires the full functionality of a virtual classroom.
A whiteboard is the key component to any virtual classroom. Good virtual classrooms should have multiple whiteboards, which you can easily flip through during a lesson like slides in a PowerPoint.
A breakout room is essentially a classroom within a classroom. By setting up breakout rooms, you can allow pairs or small groups of students to have private conversations with each other, just like in a real classroom. Some virtual classrooms allow breakout rooms to utilize their own whiteboards or chat boxes as well.
The ability to utilize breakout rooms is an important feature of a virtual classroom if you’ll be teaching group classes with upper intermediate to advanced learners. For teaching conversational-based classes, it is absolutely crucial, although for kids and other lower-level students it is far less important.
Due to the aggressive marketing of online teaching/conferencing software following the pandemic, most online learning providers are offering extremely attractive free plans. Perhaps this is to compete with Zoom (which has an extremely popular free plan), or perhaps they’re just being generous to budget conscious consumers in a time of need.
But the free plans that you see are meant to appeal to the masses, just like Zoom, and not to professional English teachers. So while the free versions might be great for calling grandma and grandpa on Easter, they might not be so great for running your online teaching business.
Having a professional account opens up an infinite number of more features, and removes crippling limits (such as Zoom’s infamous 40-minute kickout timer) that will ultimately make you look very unprofessional in the eyes of your paying students.
Furthermore, many free plans are merely marketing ploys aimed at attracting customers during the mass rush to online teaching and video conferencing that the pandemic has created. It would be logical to expect that once the pandemic has passed, they’ll start pressuring you to switch to a paid plan.
Unless otherwise noted, we will only be discussing the paid professional plans for each software when they exist, as the free options are not compatible with the needs of most freelance English teachers.
We’ve have examined each software based off four criteria: User Experience (both for you and your students), Customization, the Virtual Classroom, and of course Pricing. Other factors that we’ve considered are mobile/app friendliness, integration options, and added multimedia functions.
We’ve rated each software at how well it performs in each category on a scale of one to five. A five means it’s absolutely perfect and can do everything you need it for, while a one means it’s practically useless for a professional online teacher.
Skype is one of the oldest and most well know video calling systems. It’s safe to say that pre-pandemic, Skype was the go-to system for video calling and conferencing for most consumers.
While it is possible to teach over Skype, and Skype has made slow steps at developing more features beyond its basic video calling service, it still falls far short of being a virtual classroom. If you must use Skype, we highly recommend using it in conjunction with Many Cam, which we will discuss later.
Simple and straight forward, hence why it’s so popular. Much of this is due to the fact that most of your students are probably familiar with Skype. Having to download a desktop client for some is not nice, however the desktop application is very simple and most people already have it.