The MOOC Solution: How to Become a Better ESL Teacher

Want to know what makes a teacher great?

Hint: It’s not having the best resources in the classroom.

Give up?

A great teacher is someone who never stops learning. Instead of sticking to the old and outdated methods of yesterday, they’re constantly trying to find new theories and ideas to share with their students.

You’d think that this kind of teacher lives, eats and breathes education.

They probably don’t do anything else in their spare time, just hone their teaching skills.

Right? Wrong!

Thanks to the popularity of online education, everyone has the tools to become an excellent teacher without sacrificing their personal lives.

4 Ways to Sharpen Your ESL Teaching Skills Through MOOCs

Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are now the go-to choice for English teacher training for the following reasons:

  • An unlimited number of participants are able to join a course
  • MOOCs are more affordable than in-class training sessions
  • Teachers can learn at their own pace, outside the classroom when it’s convenient for them

In short, ESL MOOCs are a great way for educators to sharpen their teaching skills without having to dramatically change their day-to-day lives.

Who doesn’t want to learn the latest teaching methods and earn valuable credentials for a fraction of the cost, or in some cases, free?

Continue reading to learn more about ESL MOOC providers that offer high-quality content and materials you can complete in your own time.

1. If You’re a Non-native ESL Teacher, Start with The American English E-Teacher Program

The American English E-Teacher Program is offered by the US State Department through the Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs.

This program offers free in-person and online training courses for non-native English teachers at the beginning of every quarter.

I recently completed a course on Using Educational Technology in the English Language Classroom through this program. The MOOC was offered by the University of Iowa as part of the Spring 2018 American English E-Teacher Program.

What especially attracted me to this program was the course content. The American English E-Teacher Program incorporates tried and true resources into their curriculum, including TED Talks to help students practice speaking and listening and innovative readability tools that assess online texts.

Visit their course listing web page to learn more about course dates, or to enroll in an upcoming program. The site is also great for learning more about the different courses being offered.

Just remember: These MOOCs are free to join, but some do require you to pay for a certificate of completion. Something to keep in mind if you’re taking the course for career advancement and not just to learn about new teaching strategies.

You can learn about teaching tips, classroom materials and more by following the American English Facebook Page or visiting the American English website periodically. There, you can find a wealth of useful information and teaching aids, as well as updates on the latest free ESL MOOCs available.

2. Boost Your General Teaching Skills with the British Council

The British Council is another international organization that devotes a lot of time and resources to helping English teachers learn how to problem solve effectively in the classroom and incorporate different teaching styles in their lessons.

The courses offered by the British Council are permanently available on the FutureLearn platform free of charge. Lessons cover a number of different topics, including working with young learners and teaching English in the workplace.

Great for getting tips, resources and materials, the British Council’s MOOCs give teachers free access to each course for eight weeks at a time, which is usually ample time to complete the lessons in a course. However, if you want to receive a certificate of completion, plan on purchasing the unlimited access upgrade from FutureLearn for $79.

Still, some courses do offer free certificates, so be sure check when registering.

More resources from the British Council

Webinars also present great learning opportunities for eager teachers looking for free resources.

While not exactly MOOCs, webinars are a great way of learning more about specific, relevant topics. And best of all, the British Council keeps the recordings of past webinars, which can be viewed at your convenience.

Personally, I found webinars to be an incredibly useful tool for professional development. They contain a lot of helpful information covering a wide range of topics, allowing me to reflect on my own teaching practices and look at areas to improve upon.

You also might want to check out the MOOCs available to English learners as well. They’re free and can be used for sharing ideas and recommendations with your students. For example, this course on writing emails is useful for understanding the content and approach needed to teach business English courses. Since learner MOOCs are focused on specific work-related topics, they can be a good source of inspiration when you’re developing additional content and resources.

3. For Everything Else, Try Coursera

The overwhelming popularity of e-learning caused a number of educational platforms to sprout up over the past couple of years. As someone who enjoys learning new things, I’ve actually taken educational courses offered on many of the top learning platforms, and some of my best experiences have been on Coursera.

Coursera is unique because of its specializations feature. Specializations are essentially bundles of different courses that focus on specific learning objectives. For teachers, this can include subjects like technology in the classroom or practical teaching strategies.

One of my favorite specializations that I recently completed is Teach English Now, a course offered by Arizona State University (ASU). The specialization consists of two courses, split up into four sub-specializations, which ultimately equal a 150-hour TESOL certificate issued by ASU.

This TESOL certification is focused heavily on technology, in addition to teaching methodology and skill-specific training. You can apply for the first course, and upon successful completion, become eligible for the next course until you eventually complete the entire specialization. The best thing about the Teach English Now course is that it was administered completely online, including the practicum.

The entire specialization costs around $300, but I was able to do it at a heavily discounted rate as Coursera offers financial aid to qualifying students. With that said, financial aid applies to individual courses, not specializations.

Other great MOOCs offered on Coursera are:

The professional e-portfolio course is great for teachers searching for a new job and would like to bolster their own credentials, especially when applying for jobs overseas.

Bear in mind that the validated course certificates generally have a fee of $49 on Coursera. Of course, you can always apply for financial aid, pass the first course and then move on to the next.

4. Study Pedagogy with Book Publisher MOOCs

Believe it or not, textbook publishers have also begun offering MOOCs for teachers and learners.

Cambridge University Press is currently offering a great MOOC called Exploring the World of English Language Teaching through FutureLearn. This course is free and runs on an ongoing basis, and is especially helpful new and aspiring teachers interested in learning the basics of pedagogy.

If you’re looking to train students for the IELTS, Cambridge has an excellent orientation course on the exam, also available on FutureLearn.

Pearson Education, another popular publisher, is currently offering free webinar series that run every quarter. These informative series are totally free, run for about an hour and even issue a certificate at the end of the session.

But when using material from publishers, keep one thing in mind: Publishers’ MOOCs and webinars are often opportunities to advertise books and new materials, so you can expect to encounter plenty of advertisements and surveys as you study. Nevertheless, they’re worth the inconvenience and do provide very useful insights.

Bringing It All Together

Professional development is an essential part of becoming an effective teacher. But for many educators, squeezing in classroom courses while working can feel like a challenge—if not completely impossible.

Online learning solves this problem by enabling teachers to further their professional development without putting their personal lives on hold. Unlike traditional educational courses, MOOCs are generally self-paced, offer great content from renowned institutions and are a great way to learn new teaching techniques.

With several options at your disposal, professional development is easier than ever.

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