The Dark Side of the Online English Teaching Industry

The Dark Side of the Online English Teaching Industry main pic-min

I wrote two articles in the last few years that outline the state of the Online English Teaching industry as it was back then.

Check them out below:

The Bad Side to Teaching English Online

Online Teaching – A Brighter Future for ESL Teachers?

Things were bad…

Did they get any better since then?


If anything, it looks like things have become a lot worse.

Read my updated review of the dark side of the Online English Teaching industry and let me know your views in the comments below.


In the last few years, the online English teaching industry has exploded.

When it first began, it was regarded as a somewhat positive innovation. Students could easily find an English class, no matter where they lived in the world.

And teachers could work from any location. It promoted the growing idea of the nomad worker.

The platforms promised both students and teachers the idea of more flexibility and more convenience.

They also promised the students more affordability.

And once the idea caught on, it wasn’t long before there were many companies all vying for attention.

But soon the cracks started to appear…

It didn’t take long before the teachers realised that they were being exploited.

Yes, the classes were cheaper for the students. But that was because the teachers were being paid very little.

Companies could just hand out fines to the teacher for anything they went wrong in the class.

Any tech issues were regarded as the teachers’ problem and they would be punished for it.

On top of this, the companies didn’t have to adhere to any kind of regulations or rulings that might normally be applied to schools or teaching organisations.

It was like the wild west.

In the following article, I want to outline all the reasons why the online English teaching industry is a multi-billion dollar scam

It’s not good for the students. And it’s really not good for the teachers.

Read on — and tell me if this sounds all too familiar…

The Dark Side of the Online English Teaching Industry (1)

The Teachers Are Exploited And Poorly Paid

This is an undeniable fact about the Online English Teaching industry.

The platforms spout a lot of supposed benefits such as working remotely, but the pay…

The pay falls very short in terms of the work the teachers actually do.

Many teachers complain of earning wages that fall way below minimum wage standards in their own respective countries.

One guy I know personally was earning around $10 an hour. And this was back in the ‘Good Old Days’ about five or six years ago.

Things have got a lot worse since then.

Just a quick scroll on the relevant groups on Reddit and you will hear of teachers being paid much less than this now.

I read of one teacher being paid just $1.20 for a 25-minute class.

That means this teacher is on an hourly rate of $3.60 an hour.

How can anyone survive anywhere in the world on that? It’s just impossible!

The Dark Side of the Online English Teaching Industry (2)

The Teachers Have No Employment Rights

The Online English Teaching platforms use the same business model as companies like car ride companies, food delivery companies, warehouse companies, etc etc.

And that is that the people working for these platforms are hired as independent contractors.

I get the impression that is often waved around like it’s a benefit by the Online English Teaching platforms. But essentially, it means that the teachers have no employment rights at all.

Teachers working for these platforms have:

  • No job security
  • No sick pay
  • No holiday pay
  • No pension
  • No social benefits
  • No safety net


You, as the teacher, are effectively self-employed.

While at the same time, at the mercy of the large corporations handing out all the work.

The Dark Side of the Online English Teaching Industry (3)

The Teachers Get Burnt Out

The nature of the Online English Teaching industry is that it is 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Because the students can, effectively, be from any part of the world. This means that teachers need to make themselves available any time — or all the time, if they want to get any classes at all.

Most of the students come from China. That is where the large bulk of students are located.

So this can cause serious issues for teachers working in different time zones.

A student in China has a class that starts at 4pm China time.

This could be 2am to 4am in America.

Or the student has a class in the evening in China at 8pm.

This is 6am to 8am in America.

Or 8pm to 10pm in Australia.

Okay, but some students might want a class in the morning…

Let’s take a look.

A student has a class in Shanghai at 9am.

This is 7pm to 9pm in America.

Or 2am in the UK.

You get the picture?

You might need to make yourself available whenever there are classes. Which could mean you are working very unsociable hours.

Maybe you can do this for a few weeks, a few months.

But how long before your body and mind start protesting?

Teaching can be exhausting.

And if your mind is not operating at near full capacity, how can you do the classes properly?

The Online English Teaching Platforms Provide No Training

In fact, they expect YOU to turn up to their classes, fully trained and with all the right qualifications.

By not providing any training, the platforms hinder the development of the teachers that work for them. They also short-change the students that have classes via the platforms.

If the teacher were working at a legit education organisation, there is very likely to be further training.

That might be only in the form of some part-time workshops where the teachers can share ideas and knowledge.

But the Online English Teaching platforms provide nothing at all.

Not good for the teachers.

And really not good for the students.

The Classes Are Superficial

The emphasis is on shoving the student through a series of English learning hoops without diving deeper to help them revise and learn through context.

The platforms want the teachers to fast-track the students through the classes.

Speed is a priority over any real understanding.

If you have tried to learn any language at all, you would understand that you can’t just do ONE class on a topic and assume that you understand all the words and phrases.

You have to go over this topic again and again until the vocabulary stays in your mind and you can recall it at will.

If a student signs up for classes on one of the Online English Teaching platforms, they may get classes with topics like:

  • Describing our home
  • Public transportation
  • In the supermarket
  • Going to the bank
  • Pets and animals


But they speed through the words and phrases too quickly.

They may not understand all the new words. And they certainly would not know how to use these phrases in the right context.

There would be further misunderstanding in terms of cultural nuances or the correct grammar to use for certain phrases.

This leaves the student unable to actually use any of these English terms in a real-life scenario.

All the platforms are doing is getting the student to tick boxes of subjects and topics they have done on their platform.

But have they taught the students how to talk about these topics in English clearly?


Cookie-Cutter Curriculum

And that brings me very neatly to how the lessons are prepared on the Online English Teaching platforms.

The lesson plans are prepared in a series of highly standardized, one-size-fits-all curriculum templates.

This does not allow for the student’s needs at all.

Some students learn at a slower rate than others. Or there might be the need to teach different students using different teaching styles.

With language learning, the emphasis should be on the personal requirements and needs of the students as individuals.

The classes should be tailormade for each student.

Some would argue that real-life schools adopt similar methods. But I think the teachers there are aware of this.

They are also able to help students individually.

But the Online English Teaching platforms cannot do this. I would go so far as to say, they simply don’t care either.

This kind of curriculum leaves both the teacher and the student frustrated.

The teacher cannot fully engage with the student and help them to the best of their individual needs.

And the student cannot learn efficiently.

Lack Of Communication Between Teacher and Student

And the final flaw that I want to outline about Online English Teaching platforms is the lack of communication between the teacher and the students.

This is not really directly aimed towards the platforms themselves, but at online teaching as a concept.

Anyone that has taught English in a real-life situation, where you can physically see the students in front of you, and has taught students in an online class, knows there is a big difference between the two.

In a real live class situation, there is a much greater depth to the communication between teacher and student. This is essential in any learning environment.

With online teaching, much of this communication disappears completely.

And due to the very nature of only seeing the student during the allocated time, the student never has the opportunity to ask the teacher questions after class.

The class ends, the screen shuts down, and that is it.

Bye bye. Maybe see you next time.

When working for Online English Teaching platforms, the teacher is unlikely to meet the same students again and again. The teacher certainly is not allocated a group of students that stays with the same teacher throughout the course or duration of all their classes.

So the teacher cannot build any rapport. They cannot get to know the students very well. They certainly cannot get to know them as real, live human beings and the difficulties they personally experience when learning English.

They are literally just a face on the screen.

In this respect, online English learning is not effective. It is merely convenient.


The Online English Teaching industry, while providing convenience and accessibility to language learners worldwide, is marred by a range of issues that have far-reaching implications.

The exploitation of teachers through low pay, precarious working conditions, and lack of professional development not only harms the teachers but also compromises the overall quality of the classes and general English education of the students.

Moreover, the dilution of learning caused by superficial teaching methods, cookie-cutter curricula, and the absence of authentic ‘live class’ communication opportunities undermines the true essence of language acquisition.

To ensure a more equitable and effective Online English Teaching landscape, industry stakeholders must address these critical concerns. The platforms need to take responsibility.

Fair compensation, job security, and professional development opportunities for teachers must be prioritized to create a sustainable and supportive work environment. Additionally, a shift towards personalized, student-centred classes and curricula that emphasize authentic communication and interaction will foster a deeper understanding and mastery of the English language.

By acknowledging and rectifying these issues, the Online English Teaching platforms may evolve into an overall system that genuinely empowers both educators and learners on their language learning journey. Strong emphasis on the word ‘may’.

In conclusion, the Online English Teaching industry’s exploitative practices and superficial pedagogical approach pose significant challenges for teachers and students alike.

The allure of convenience and accessibility must not blind us to the detrimental effects on both the quality of education and the well-being of educators. A transformative change is needed to prioritize fair treatment of teachers, comprehensive professional development, and student-centred learning experiences. Only then can the industry truly deliver on its promise of effective language education for all.

What do you think?

  • Do you agree with any of the comments I made above?
  • Or do you disagree?

I would love to know your views.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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