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WhatsApp, Zoom, Teams or Skype for online English teaching?

WhatsApp, Zoom, Teams or Skype for online English teaching?

As an independent online teacher, which platform is best for online teaching?
Which is the most popular and offers the best features for your classes?
Should you offer just one option or multiple ways for students to connect with you for lessons?

Expert online English teacher Louisa Walsh gives you some advice:

When I started English teaching online over ten years ago, Skype was about the only show in town and it has remained my go-to until recently. However, since 2020, Zoom has really gained momentum and so I now also give lessons on Zoom, WhatsApp and Teams, too. I’ll list the pros and cons of the free versions and give my verdict on each.

Skype:
It works differently than Teams and Zoom in that you sign up for an account and get a unique Skype ID. In order to call, you’ll need to search for your contact first via their ID or the email they used on sign-up.  Some find connecting in this way tricky. Skype has less functionality but its simplicity and stripped-back feel can be a plus.

Positives:

  • click and go: no need to schedule meetings, just click to call your student at your agreed lesson time
  • no time limits – ideal for lessons longer than 40 minutes
  • the chat history is retained so this is great for easy revision with your student

Negatives:

  • no breakout rooms, hands up feature or integrated whiteboard so it’s not appealing for groups
  • no facility to record a lesson without a 3rd party application
  • searching for your contact initially can present some first contact problems  

Louisa’s verdict:
I love it for one-to-one teaching to adults. Kids and groups will need something more.

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Zoom:
Zoom take-up since 2020 has sky-rocketed and so as a teacher, it’s well worth getting your head around the functionality. To connect, you’ll need to set up an account, learn how to set up meetings and send the meeting link to your students.

Positives:

  • lots of functionality break out rooms, mute all on entry, whiteboard and annotation options  
  • record sessions to the cloud or on your computer if you wish
  • familiarity – 2020 was the Zoom year (apparently!)

Negatives:

  • limited functionality on a Chromebook presently (should be resolved by June 2021) and some Apple devices
  • only 40 minutes call time allowed on the free version

Louisa’s verdict:
Zoom’s functionality makes it ideal for groups or teaching kids. However, the variety of features can be off-putting. Many feel unsure about how to optimise Zoom for English classes. However, Zoom’s popularity makes it hard to ignore. Get on and learn how to use it if you haven’t already. Try this Zoom Basics for English teaching course where you can learn the essentials and practice using it live. 

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Teams:
Popular within companies, Microsoft Teams is increasingly replacing Skype for business. Reportedly better for privacy and security, popular Microsoft offerings like Word, Excel and PowerPoint can also be created within the app and shared for easy collaboration. To connect, you send a meeting link to students.

Positives:

  • if your student suggests using it, they are likely to be comfortable with the tech
  • you are not cut off at 40 minutes, unlike the free Zoom version
  • easily fits within the Microsoft suite of products for those familiar with Word, Excel etc.

Negatives:

  • not as popular with students unless your student is already using it at work
  • no breakout rooms or mute-all option, so limited functionality when compared to Zoom

Louisa’s verdict:
It’s not great for groups due to its limited functionality and is not popular outside of the workplace, so I’d suggest this not your frontline option, unless your student requests it.

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WhatsApp
Since WhatsApp is predominantly used on a cell phone, it is not ideal for standard teaching as you can’t easily view material or chats during the lesson – the buttons and screen are mostly too small. WhatsApp is most useful for students on the go or for those without access to a computer/tablet.

Positives:

  • very easy to connect - just call and speak via a video call or standard voice call
  • popular and easy to use – it can be a great low-tech lesson option

Negatives:

  • wobbly hand-held phones do not good lessons make!
  • it’s near-impossible to use pre-prepared material in the lesson so there are limits on what you can teach

Louisa’s verdict:
A teaching tool of last resort, I only use non-video WhatsApp calls with advanced learners who want conversation practice predominantly. However, if you are using WhatsApp, try to get a stand or inexpensive popsocket (see image) to make sure you have a steady hands-free solution at least.

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The above reviews cover the most popular apps and platforms for online English classes in the UK. Of course, things may be different where you are teaching. In China, Line or WeChat dominate.

If you are unsure what to offer to begin with, I’d start with Zoom, due to its widespread use. In terms of popularity and functionality, it leads the pack.

However, I’d also make it clear you do offer English classes on other platforms/apps upon request, so as not to limit your appeal.  Then you can learn to use new platforms as you need.

  • Author: Louisa Walsh
  • Date: Thursday 25th February 2021

Comments

Mike Konig

In Japan, another popular application is LINE. Most people use it for
real time texting, but there is a free phone call option also. I sometimes
use this for my lessons on my tablet. But, since my WiFi is weak, the video
portion of this does not work well on my computer. If I just use the voice
only function, it works okay. Just, students need to be alright with me being
seen and not heard....On another note, I use Microsoft Teams for another
lesson I do with multiple people. I also like the chat board for writing notes
and clarifying sentence patterns.....With both LINE and Teams, while teaching
multiple students, everyone needs to be well versed in taking turns. If one
student decides to dominate and not listen to others, it could be the hour
from Hell. I wish LINE and Teams had a mute button to button up over active
learners. Just wanted to throw my two yen‘s worth into the mix.

Beth

Thank you Louisa, this was very helpful!


Louisa@global-english TESOL

Thanks for your input Mike. I know of LINE but not more about it so that's really interesting. Well done getting around the weak WIFI. Teams for multiple people makes sense and yes - turn taking can be an issue. with younger ones I call on them by name to try and get around this issue. Glad to hear they WANT to speak in your classes, though, Mike. Thanks for adding your contribution - good to know about LINE and the functionality you enjoy on Teams. All the best with your teaching.


Paul Knab

I agree with Louisa on Zoom, being the recommended platform. I like the whiteboard saving option. It saves a copy of the vocabulary, sentences you type etc on a document to your computer. I then email copies of tbe saved documents to my student for review and practice. It works well with other lesson materials such as Off2class too. It's definitely my go to, over the Others,

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WhatsApp, Zoom, Teams or Skype for online English teaching?