Online English Teaching Platforms Compared

Updated: May 20

UPDATE MAY 2020: Check with sites individually as the market is very fluid right now, due to the COVID outbreak. Lots of people are trying to sign up as teachers, and lots of people are learning languages from home.



As I've described previously, I decided to quit my career in IT and become an English tutor. Initially I wanted to work in the classroom; circumstances haven't worked out that way so far. So I've been teaching online.


There are a vast number of ways to do this. Companies come and go; some are aimed at kids, some adults; some target geographical regions. China and the Far East are particularly popular.


I thought about compiling a definitive list of these companies, but (a) there are way too many of them, and (b) Mike at Good Air Language already does an excellent job at this. Instead, I'll just document my thoughts and experiences as I work through a range of companies.


Note: I only work with adults, and I'm only interested in sites who allow you to set your own hours. I don't go for minimum numbers of hours/days, as it doesn't work with my travelling. What all these companies have in common is:


  • they do all the marketing and provide students for you

  • they handle payment processing for you

  • they offer a degree of dispute resolution and technical support

  • they take some kind of commission for doing this


Cambly


Cambly was the first company that accepted me as a tutor, and therefore the first I experienced. The signup process is pretty straightforward; apply on the site, create a profile including a video of you talking to prospective students. After a period of days, weeks or months (depending on how much they're looking for tutors) you'll get accepted or rejected.


My acceptance took about 2 weeks. Mrs Wench was about 5 days. I've read of people being on the shelf for months. So your mileage may vary.


Cambly pay is low. They pay per minute of time spent talking to a student. That works out at US$10.20 per hour, but only if you talk for the full hour.


When you start out, your work will be mainly through 'Priority Hours'. Here you're given a much higher profile, and students will be driven to you. It's a bit like Uber for teaching. Many students are trial students; they get 5 minute free calls to a teacher.


These calls can be pretty frustrating. Some of them are kids messing about. Rarely, you get abusive or sexual calls. A bad hour may consist of 2-3 trials, 30 minutes of waiting, and a 15 minute call with a more interesting student. On the other hand, a good hour might be 2 x 30 minute calls with students who are genuinely looking to learn.


Where Cambly wins out is if you can put up with the Uber side of things, and become a Cambly tutor to some regular students. I never got to this stage, as I moved on to another platform. However, I may return, and Mrs Wench has quite a few regulars now. Here you get the chance to build a relationship and watch a student progress over time.


Finally, it has to be said that Cambly is not the most stable of platforms. The back end falls over from time to time; the messaging service is intermittent; and the company doesn't do the greatest job of responding to technical issues or disputes. They seem to be making some investment, so fingers crossed.


Verdict: An honest, budget-basement platform. Few frills, average support, a mixed bag of students. Cambly pay isn't great, but they do pay - on time - every Monday, via PayPal. Students are from all over the world, many from Saudi Arabia and Turkey.


Good for: Cambly tutors can count on regular income from a range of student types, if they can put up with the technical problems


Bad for: Making good money working with regular students


Sign up process: 🟢🟢🟢⚫️⚫️

Ease of use: 🟢🟢🟢⚫️⚫️

Earning potential: 🟢🟢🟢⚫️⚫️


Cambly Corner Facebook group

italki


italki was the second company which accepted me as a tutor, and I immediately liked it more than Cambly. The web site is stable, slick and professional (apart from their Classroom - about which anon).


Signup is, again, fairly straightforward. Answer some questions, create a profile including a video recording of yourself, and wait for them to get back to you. italki took about 3 weeks for me. At the time of writing, Mrs Wench has been waiting for about 3 weeks without being confirmed - although she is apparently on a "priority list" for their next tutor intake.


[Update: She was put on a 'priority list' after about 4 weeks. A couple of weeks after that she was accepted.]


On the few occasions I've had to reach out to support, either technical or to do with booking or other problems, italki has been fast, professional and helpful. The students are from all parts of the world - obviously, depending on your time zone. You set availability up, define the classes you're offering, and wait for students to request lessons.


You can offer trial lessons, and classes on particular themes (free conversation, interview practice, business English). Length can be between 30 and 90 minutes, plus you can offer packages of 5, 10 or 20 classes at a discount for students. You set your own rates, and italki takes a flat 15% cut.


If I have a criticism of italki, it's that the amount of work is pretty variable. Maybe I haven't hit a sweet spot of availability, prices, or content; but it can feel a bit like feast or famine. It's been around for a long time and is expanding; I think trying to balance out students versus teachers is behind the variability.


Also - their 'Classroom' feature is hopeless. It's meant to be an integrated video chat feature, but more often than not the sound and/or video just don't work. Many italki teachers (myself included) just won't use it. I understand teaching companies want to 'lock in' conversations to their platforms and avoid people stealing students privately; but Skype, Zoom and others have been doing this for years and it works. italki Classroom... doesn't 🤷🏻‍♂️


I had to make decision early on: italki vs Cambly. It was an easy decision to make, and I left Cambly behind. Here's more information about my experience with italki commission, rates and income.


Verdict: italki is a nice, long-standing, professional outfit. Students are invariably more serious than the average Cambly student; it's quite easy to convert trial lessons into regular students. You set your own rates, and they pay up to twice a month via PayPal or Payoneer. In my opinion, when it comes to Cambly vs italki, italki wins hands down.


Good for: Slightly irregular income with good opportunity for developing regular students. Decent income if you're offering the right thing at the right time.


Bad for: A consistent income you can rely on.


Sign up process: 🟢🟢🟢🟢⚫️

Ease of use: 🟢🟢🟢🟢⚫️

Earning potential: 🟢🟢🟢🟢⚫️


italki Teachers and Tutors Facebook group



For general information on teaching on italki, check out my Unofficial italki Teaching FAQ!


Preply


Preply is a Ukrainian-based site which has been around since 2012. Although it appears to offer teaching in a range of topics other than English, I'm pretty sure from checking around on line (Wikipedia, for a start) that it's predominantly an EFL site.


Signup was pretty straightforward. Strangely, however, I didn't get any confirmation that I'd been accepted. The first I knew was I got an email from a potential student. After the student's message was a note about "making a good impression by replying with a friendly message"; fair enough. This was followed by another section indicating that "Their Study Shows..." how responding quickly means the student is more likely to take the lessons.


Erm, ok.


12 hours later (I kid you not) Preply sent me a follow-up email. My potential had contacted 18 other teachers, and I was likely to miss the chance to accept the lesson!


I was beginning to feel like a tourist in a souk.


12 hours after this - my account was suspended. OK, technically that's not true; my profile was hidden, which meant students could not see me to book classes. Turns out if you don't reply to all messages within 24 hours, you get hidden.


You don't get unhidden until you play catchup and reply to all the outstanding ones - even if, presumably, they've moved on.


This isn't the worst though. I wasn't really sure what the commission model was for Preply. Cambly just pays $0.17/min; italki takes a flat 15% cut. Once I signed up and dug deeper, I worked out exactly how it works.


For your first lesson, Preply takes 100% commission. After that it operates on a sliding percentage scale. To be clear: Preply takes 100% of your rate for the first lesson with every new student you teach. I find that to be... well, frankly usurious.


You can easily see a situation where you book 3 'trial' (ie, initial) lessons with new students. If none of them decide to buy a package with you, that's 3 hours unpaid where you could have been earning on other platforms.


And the sliding scale? It goes from 33% for your first 20 hours taught (not counting new students), to 18% once you've taught 400 hours or more.


I never got as far as unhiding my profile. Their emails are largely marketing and sales in tone ("Hurry up and register for our webinar", "How to get your students to book a package after a trial lesson"). It feels very much like a company set up to drive sales, rather than one with a real interest in teaching.


That said, I see from online forums that many of their teachers seem to be happy, and I'm sure for a certain type of personality it's a good way to operate. It's just not one I feel remotely comfortable with, and I won't be using them


Verdict: Impossible to give a fair review as I couldn't get past the methodology and perceived pushiness. You set your own rates, Preply takes a cut between 100% and 18%. It might be perfect for you - it's not for me.


Good for: From reading teachers' experience, plenty of them do seem to be earning a regular income and getting plenty repeat students. They are recruiting at the time of posting [Feb 2020], and don't need certified English teachers.


Bad for: People who want to teach rather than become sales reps!


Sign up process: 🟢🟢🟢🟢⚫️

Ease of use: N/A

Earning potential: N/A


Unofficial Preply Tutors Facebook group


As I work my way through other platforms, I'll add to this page. For now, I'm off to do some teaching😀



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