If you’ve thought about teaching private ESL lessons online one of the first questions you probably have after how you will get students is what platform you will use to connect with them. We’ll go through five of the most common platforms to give you a better understanding of what is out there and what you need to consider before selecting the teaching platform that is right for you.
What do I need in an online video conferencing platform?
The first thing you need to consider is how much interaction and control you want in your lessons. Not all video conferencing platforms are the same and not all of them are going to be suited for teaching. Having annotation tools, for example, can be very useful during a class but is not offered on all platforms. You need to think about what types of lessons you are going to be teaching and how much interaction and functionality you are going to expect during your lessons. If you are going to be relying on PowerPoint for example and will be focusing more on conversation then you may not require annotation and other tools. However, if you have designed lessons and would like to circle and highlight sentences and individual words and write on the screen to make it easier for your students to read what you are saying, then choosing a platform with more functionality built-in will be a priority. When looking for an online video conferencing platform first sit down and think about how you like to teach and take a look at the lessons you will be using and how you will be presenting them during the class to make sure that you get the most out of the software and can provide maximum benefit to your students.
What is the best way to use an online video conferencing platform?
As mentioned the first thing you are going to want to figure out is how you are going to utilize the software. Do you have a lot of template lessons and worksheets that will require you to share the screen in the class? Are you going to be showing videos to your students? These are all going to affect how you use the software to interact with your students. Ideally, the software you pick to use should add benefit to the lesson outside of just the video conferencing. You should be able to easily share your screen without glitches and the video freezing up constantly. You should be able to utilize an annotation feature as well as having your students use the annotation feature if you choose to let them. You should also think about whether or not you are going to want to record the video conference for future review or to share with your students. Planning out your lessons and what features you are going to use to add benefit to the lessons will make using the online platform you choose that much easier and will help lessons proceed more smoothly.
Should I pay for an online video conferencing platform?
Everybody wants something for free. When you are creating your private tutoring business you are probably going to be thinking about spending as little as possible in order to maximize your profits. But the old adage holds true that you get what you pay for. This is true with most things in life and video conferencing software is no different. What you have to remember here is that you are building a business and the better your tools the better your business is going to be and the more students you are going to be able to book based on a reputation for quality. There are many free video conferencing platforms available. But are you willing to risk the software freezing in the middle of class? Are you willing to risk the software crashing or a new update causing bugs that significantly impacts your classes? Are you willing to refund hundreds of dollars a month because you weren’t willing to spend less than $50 a month on a quality program that would solve all of your needs? Being frugal and saving money when starting a business has its place. However, the video conferencing platform you choose is what is going to be your sole connection to your students and as such any problems you have is going to reflect on the quality and level of service you offer. By investing a bit of money on the backend you are ensuring that you will be able to conduct classes almost entirely without problems which will help to ensure a steady stream of income for you from students who are willing to pay for your quality and reliability.
What are the best platforms for online teaching?
For the purposes of this article, we will be discussing Skype for business. While it is possible to teach classes using the free version of Skype, there are many features that are only available on Skype for business that most tutors will be utilizing within their classes.
- Teaching English online using Skype for businesses allows teachers to utilize Microsoft offices with the Offices 365 Premium for businesses. This will allow you to share documents with ease when teaching classes and all of the other benefits of Microsoft offices.
- With Skype for businesses, you are allowed to have over 300 users in your conference ensuring you will have plenty of options for student numbers from 1-to-1 classes with students to group classes and even webinars if you choose to host them.
- Each account is allowed 1TB of file and data storage allowing for you to easily record and backup sessions with your students for later use or to share with your students if you choose.
- Skype for businesses does not have an in-suite annotation feature. Instead, the annotation is used in Microsoft Powerpoint. So, if you are not teaching lessons on Powerpoint you will be unable to utilize this feature.
- Skype is known for experiencing technical issues with some degree of frequency. While this is going to be unavoidable on any platform some of the issues that Skype has experienced in the past have been severe enough that they would affect any classes that you would have had booked. This will be unacceptable if you are trying to set a reputation for reliability.
- Skype has been known to have quality issues with voice and video which could affect classes even with an HD webcam and high-quality external microphone.
Zoom has become a leader in the video conferencing software industry and is quickly overtaking Skype in popularity for business users. This is the platform that I have used the most for teaching, though, admittedly this has been in the service of a company and not for private tutoring.
- Using Zoom to teach English is very convenient with the annotation tools available. In almost all of my classes, I make frequent use of the annotation abilities in order to highlight specific words on the courseware my company uses or to even draw (poorly) pictures to help illustrate words or ideas if my students are having trouble understanding. There is also a feature for projecting different background allowing you to easily change what is behind you.
- You can easily host multiple students in a single class with the students able to enter using the room number. I have had up to five students at a time with almost no trouble as far as students being able to log in or links not working.
- Zoom records all meetings so you will easily be able to save the class and let the student review it later.
- While Zoom is a good platform, from my personal experience using it to teach classes can be glitchy. At times in the past, I have had students get dropped from the class or the call freeze up momentarily and reset everyone. This not only will interrupt the class but if it happens frequently enough a parent may request their money back from you or desire a free lesson in compensation for an incomplete class. While many of these problems can be mitigated by keeping the program up to date, it should be known that there is always a possibility of interruptions happening due to the platform.
- Sometimes the video does not save properly and you do not get the recording. If part of your commitment to parents is a recording of the class for review later, then you may have trouble fulfilling this promise one hundred percent of the time. Having a backup source for recording the class may be in order if you do opt for using Zoom.
As with most Google products, Hangouts is both reliable and relatively easy to use. There are a number of extensions that can be downloaded to optimize Hangouts for teaching online as well.
- Hangouts is from Google and is usually both reliable and mostly glitch free. While I have not used Hangouts for teaching specifically, I have hosted numerous conferences on the platform with absolutely no timeouts, frozen screens, or any other problems that would reduce your hard-earned reputation for reliability in the eyes of your students or their parents.
- Google Hangouts integrates directly with YouTube allowing you to stream live on the platform. While this may not be a huge benefit as far as your classes go it will allow you to easily archive the video for future use.
- Unlike the other video conferencing platforms we are discussing in this article Google Hangouts is provided to you at no cost. This will be a major plus if you are looking to get started with little to no startup costs for your private tutoring business.
- The one major drawback to Google Hangouts is that it will significantly limit your potential students as Google is not available in China without a VPN. Because of this, you will either need to have a backup option if you have students in mainland China or you will have to accept that a large number of students are outside of your market.
- The setup for Hangouts is a bit more than for the other platforms which are one-stop setups. Since Google works off of some integrations, such as YouTube, you will need to understand how to set these things up so there is an extremely small learning curve.
- The annotation features for Google are incredibly limited when compared to other options on this list such as Zoom or WizIQ. Because of this, you will not be able to do as much in the way of drawing in order to interact better with your students.
Unlike the other online video conferencing platforms we’ve talked about on this list so far, WizIQ was developed specifically for teachers. This gives it an advantage in the respect that it will have more features that will benefit private online ESL teachers.
- Created for teachers to develop fully functional class modules and to live stream classes. This means that you can create your own content and personalize your students’ experience. Potentially, this could be a major plus when selling your services to parents. You can also create your own tests and quizzes to administer to students in order to track their progress.
- WizIQ has a very intuitive and feature-rich whiteboard and annotation system. I place a high priority in this area as from my experience being able to easily annotate ideas for students is a sure way to more effectively communicate with them online.
- One of the features that I really believe sets WizIQ apart from the other platforms is your ability to track students analytics as they progress through the classes. This can be very handy not just for helping you to understand what level your students are and how you can help them better. But, also it can serve you well as a marketing tool to show parents that their child is improving under your tutelage thereby helping you to retain students for longer periods of time.
- One of the most consistent complaints that WizIQ receives is that their system can at times be buggy. While this may or may not affect the actual classes, as I mentioned above any interruptions you have in your online classes are going to be perceived as unreliability on your part. So you want to make sure as with all of the other platforms on the list that you have a backup option in case something goes wrong.
- Another strong complaint that is frequently leveled against WizIQ is that the support can be lacking and hard to get a hold of. There is a read-only support forum that you can use to answer most of your questions, but, if you find yourself in need of a human being to help you out then at times you may have some trouble or you may not.
- One other pain point that many people who have tried the system faced was the issue of students with poor internet connections having significant problems trying to enter the classes and frequently being dropped from the class after. While this is not necessarily an issue with the platform itself, the resource-intensive nature of this platform over others may be problematic for some of your students.
ezTalks is very similar to Zoom in what they are offering. Each offers almost the same benefits on their free basic subscription with the only difference being that ezTalks limits all meetings on their free service to 40-minutes and Zoom only limits their group meetings to 40-minutes on the basic plan but allows for unlimited time for one-to-one.
- Where ezTalks does beat out zoom is the pricing which is cheaper per-month than Zoom and only operates on three tiers which are basic, professional, and a custom enterprise plan whereas Zoom operates on a four-tiered pricing system with basic, pro, business, and enterprise.
- ezTalks shares the same features as Zoom with the ability to share the screen and allow both parties to annotate making it easier for you to illustrate ideas for your students.
- You will also be able to store your recorded videos for later review by yourself or you can also download them and send them to your students.
- The major drawback of ezTalk is that, when compared to Zoom, there are significantly fewer reviews so it is hard to tell what drawbacks the platform may suffer or what issues you may come across.
What’s our recommendation?
Each of the above-mentioned systems has pros and cons that are going to have to be weighed out by looking at what your individual needs are. My recommendation for the best platform to work with is Zoom for the ease of use and reliability when compared to other platforms. The two runner-ups on this list are Google Hangouts and WizIQ. What keeps me from recommending Google Hangouts is that it is blocked in China which means that a very significant population of potential students (over 100,000,000 between the ages of 2 and 15) would be unable to sign-up for your classes. WizIQ I believe is a great option for more advanced private tutors looking to set up their own individual classroom and content, but, for many people may be overkill and the average private ESL tutor looking to teach online may be turned off by the price. At the end of the day, I believe after having used Zoom myself to teach over 2,000 online ESL classes that it is a solid platform and that as long as you stay on top of updates you should be able to minimize any potential problems that could arise. That being said, having a backup plan is always recommended and will go a long way in preserving your reputation for being reliable in the eyes of your students and their parents.