Online Teaching vs Classroom Teaching – 7 Surprising Differences

By Editorial Staff •  Updated: 11/11/21 •  Teach Online

Teaching online vs classroom teaching has a lot of built in differences. A lot of our teachers are previous ESL teachers or current school teachers and in this content we want to share some surprising difference you may discover with teaching online when compared to face to face learning in a classroom environment.

Both have their pros and cons so this guide will help you decide if going full time with teaching online is right for you. We’re going to cover:

We will also the advantages and disadavntages of each. Sidenote, if you want to go full time with teaching online it’s totally possible. Start part time and then make the transition once you’ve established yourself and know how online teaching works and are confident you can get the hours you need.

Online Teaching vs Classroom Teaching

Teaching online comes with numerous benefits as well as specific negatives. The benefits far outweigh the negatives, but they should be noted. With teaching online you teach class using your laptop, headphones and various props.

Depending on how you teach, that is if you’re working with an online teaching company or if you’re teaching through a freelance website (see our italki review) will determine your students and schedule.

The advantage of working with an online teaching company are the the hours are stable and consistent week to week. The reason is because most online teaching companies are functionally after school platforms.

Going the freelance route is more difficult because you need to recruit your own students, develop your own material and arrange your schedule week to week. But the upside is that you can potentially make a lot more money and you can teach adults instead of just children.

For online teaching, the students will typically have online class starting at 4 pm to 8 pm Beijing time. See our updated guide on Chinese regulations to better understand the law.

The advantages of teaching online

Teaching English online has numerous advantages:

Good hourly rate

If you’re a qualified teacher you can make $22-30 an hour with ease from the comfort of your home with a laptop. A qualified teacher for an online teaching platform is an American, Canadian or a person from England (with a neutral accent) who holds a bachelors degree or equivalent, some sort of experience working with kids and the willingness to get a TEFL certificate.

If that is you, we strongly suggest you checkout VIPKID or Palfish. VIPKID is the industry leader for teaching on a laptop. VIPKID hires only North Americans. Palfish is perfect for those wanting to teach on their smart phone and hire native speakers including those from the UK.


Up to $30 an hour with bonus. 25 minute lessons. Teaching material provided. Only for American and Canadians.

Online teaching is the perfect job for a stay at home mom, ESL teacher looking to increase their salary or a professional looking to make money online with a fun side gig.

No grading, tests, quizes, extra non-teaching activities

One thing that all online teachers love is that you just teach and go. That means you teach your class and then you’re done. Anyone who as worked as an ESL teacher in Thailand or Korea knows how schools like to tack on extra activities in addition to teaching.

Clubs, events, school performances, gate duty etc. It’s quite annoying, particularly considering the low salary teachers in Thailand are paid. With online teaching you simply get paid for teaching and nothing more.

This is great because online teaching is a highly efficient use of your time.

Not responsible for a class

Teachers are typically assigned a homeroom and a subject. This is no different in Thailand, Korea, China or Japan (unless you’re working at an after school program). As such, it’s just hours upon hours of paper work for a class.

Filling out report cards and performance reports for 800 students will take an entire week. This sort of work is on top of your work as a teacher. As such, it’s an burdensome aspect of being a teacher that non-teachers don’t understand.

You have to constantly take work home with you and are paid an low salary to top it off. With online teaching, you’re responsible to provide a short few sentences for feedback regarding the student you just taught. That means no real need for extensive teacher supplies or tools like laminators, planners and so forth.

No lesson planning

Lesson planning is extremely time consuming. If you have a 45 minute class you need to teach as an ESL instructor that will typically involve an hour of lesson planning at a minimum.

It’s all this additional time consuming work that makes an “easy” teaching job into something that takes up 10 hours+ of your day. With online teaching you don’t have to lesson plan. While you do need to spend time familiarizing yourself with the online lesson, after you have enough practice and repetition at it, it becomes something that requires no pre-planning.

Casual Clothing

Not everyone likes waking up and putting on a dress shirt, tie, beige khakis or a skirt. With online teaching you can wear jeans and a nice shirt. We have teachers based in Vietnam who teach online with VIPKID and they love the flexibility of being able to roll out of bed at 8 am and not have to hurry anywhere because they don’t start teaching until 4 pm.

Learning how to be self employed

Online teaching is great intro into the world of self employment and freelance. While many say they would love to be their own boss, it’s just meaningless talk. Being self employed requires you to take care a lot of things employers take care of. Health insurance and taxes are the most notable ones that come to mind.

Regardless, this is still a positive because you learn how to make money with a job, why not learn how to make money as a freelancer?

No exhaustion

For non-teachers, they assume a 20 hour classes per a week schedule is an easy, as if you’re only working 20 hours a week. That’s part time they will exclaim! Not understanding that a 20 hour schedule is 20 hours of actual in class time which also requires hours lesson planning, tests and quizzes for hundreds of students as well as you needing to give a 4 hour speech every day of the week.

Mix in the fact that children are extremely loud and tiring, being a teacher for young learners is a physically exhausting profession. Of course it’s rewarding as if you’re a teacher students love, it makes work a joy. But it still takes a tremendous amount of energy.

With online teaching, you’re never tired from class. You can comfortably teach 4-5 hours a day online.

The disadvantages of teaching online

Teaching online is not the perfect job. It’s an excellent part time income to a job or as part of your income as a freelancer. As such it does come with a few negatives you should be aware of:

Early hours if based in North America

Most online teaching companies you teach online to Chinese students. That means early mornings if you’re based in the USA. The hours for platforms like VIPKID, Magic Ears or Qkids are 4 pm to 8 pm Beijing time. That typically means 4 am to 8 am in America.

The teachers who can really take advantage of online teaching are those who are willing to live abroad in a better time zone. Numerous ESL teachers have made the switch to online teaching due to the higher pay and less demands on time. But if you’re a US based teacher, online teaching is a great 1k side income on top of your job.

Burnout if you start teaching more than 25 hours a week

We have teachers who are based in Spain teaching 35-40 hours a week and making $4,000 a month. While this is a great online income, particularly if you’re based in a country with a low cost of living (Spain you can live comfortably on $1,300 USD a month), you will start to get burned out with online teaching if you exceed 5 hours a day.

Online teaching is fun, but the sweet spot for teaching is 12 to 20 hours a week. At this level it’s a fun part time income you can do in addition to something else. It also can become quite annoying with sitting around a lot, so consider a quality chair for online teaching to make things easier.

Struggling to get hours

With various companies new teachers sometimes struggle to get hours. Many say companies “over hire” but that is sometimes just used as a lazy excuse. Often times with platforms where the parents book you, teachers fail to complete their profile fully (see our VIPKID introduction guide) or are simply a bit impatient. Bookings take time and you should strive to standout among other teachers.

On platforms where the company books you, you need to maintain a good rating and establish yourself. Companies like Magic Ears will happily book a teacher with a proven track record. That track record takes time of course to build.

In short, online teaching is a slow process of learning how to teach and becoming a good teacher. Start with it as a part time gig before wanting 22+ hours a week.

No vacation or benefits

Most people have jobs and are surprised to learn what being an actual self employed freelancer is like. Namely, no vacation time or benefits when you’re an independent contractor. The upside however is that you simply take time off whenever you want, no asking for permission from a boss required.

Managing your taxes

Taxes are more complicated when you’re self employed. For Americans, filing taxes when you have a job is an easy and straight forward thing. You report income and typically take the standard deduction.

But when you’re self employed you must pay self employment tax. That means you need pay 15% of your earnings come April minus and deductions you claim. Granted, this is one benefit to being self employed. You can deduct things like your laptop, office space, various expenses. All can be itemized to reduce your tax burden.

If you decide to start teaching English over 20 hours a week, sit down with an accountant so come tax time you’re not freaking out about needing to pay the IRS $1000 or more (which is normal).

Online Teaching Compared to Teaching in a Classroom

Being an ESL teacher has the built in benefits of any job. You get to work an interact with people, teaching kids is fun and rewarding and you become part of a community. But long term, you’ll want the freedom that being an online teacher provides.

You can live and work from anywhere and it’s an excellent first step into being a self employed professional. Once you learn how to make money without a job you won’t ever want a job again.

Editorial Staff

I'm David Unwin and I head the editorial staff here at Teach and GO. I've taught as an ESL teacher in Thailand for 5+ years at all levels of education, from elementary to University. I was also one of the first 1000 VIPKID teachers. I and my team now share my extensive experience as a teacher here at Teach and GO. Learn more.

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