This is sure to be a topic that people have different and strong opinions on. I have seen people comment both ways on this certificate being great and others saying it’s awful. So, I’m going to spend this week breaking down what I see as the pros and cons of the International Open Academy (IOA) aka Groupon TEFL certificate. Be aware- this website contains affiliate links to the IOA certificate, and I also completed the very same certificate to satisfy the Chinese government requirements of a 120-hr TEFL certificate. Still, I’m trying to offer an honest appraisal of what I see as the good and bad points of the certificate. I’ll alternate between the pros and cons of this online qualification.
This is the obvious advantage. The online certificate can be completed for only $19. This is a steal. With many CELTA courses costing $2,000 or more, this is a fraction of the cost. To be fair, the experience & knowledge gleaned from the IOA program is not going to be in the same universe as what you’ll learn in a CELTA. Many other online TEFL certificates may be more rigorous. However, they usually cost over $100 (and some much more than this). IOA is available at a fraction of the cost.
- Rigorous Academic Nature of the Program
The IOA certificate is a 120-hr certificate. However, if you really require the full 120 hours to complete this certificate, I would be totally shocked. I clicked through the program and took the tests and scored 88% across all the modules. I spent less than 90 minutes to complete the entire certificate. To be fair, I had just completed the Florida state exam for ESOL certification, so I was familiar with most of the material in the course. If I had not recently studied all of this, it would have taken me significantly longer. Having said that, I can’t see the qualification taking anywhere near 120 hours to complete. If you’re putting less time in, you can expect to be getting less out of the program.
+ Low Risk
There is so much uncertainty in the online ESOL teaching environment. I’m very fortunate to be with a great company for many years and have all my time slots booked. However, many teachers are not so lucky. This is especially true of new hires. Tons of prospective teachers are asking questions like, “Will this company book for me? How many hours will I be guaranteed? How long does it take to get to full-time hours?” The answers really vary depending on the teacher and the school. Many teachers are reluctant to make a significant investment in their own training if they’re not going to be able to secure a decent income (or perhaps any income at all). At $19, the IOA represents a low risk route to get in the door at most companies.
In my opinion, this represents the biggest opportunity for the certificate to improve. You only need to score 55% to pass. This is exceptionally low. Also, the nature and scope of the test questions make it incredibly easy to pass. As a result, many teachers complete the program without a lot of the experience and knowledge that they should have before being in a classroom. Even at the university level, people often say that you can judge the quality of a degree by the quality of its graduates. If people are able to get through the program without any knowledge of language teaching, the reputation of the certificate is going to continue to suffer.
+ Opportunity for Self-Directed Learning
Learner autonomy is a huge part of online learning. Learners need to be self-directed. If students choose to learn only what they are assessed on, they won’t get much out of this certificate. However, there is some very useful material in the program- but students are going to have to make an effort to learn, apply, and extend this on their own. Application of what is learned in the program is going to be especially difficult since there is no observed teaching practice. Having said that, if prospective teachers want to get the most they can out of this program, there is some very useful material in the course.
- Interactivity / Tutors
This is one of the biggest drawbacks of the course. I did an online TEFL certificate with Bridge TEFL that was fairly rigorous and included an online tutor as a form of support. This is absent in the IOA program. It is entirely self-directed reading and online assessment. Having said that, Bridge is a costlier option. When you are entirely new to the field of ESOL, having a tutor or mentor to help you make sense of things is huge. There are other online certificate programs, such as Promise Opens Doors, that offer this type of support and even teaching practice.
The IOA certificate is very much a program that helps teachers get in on the ground floor. If you read the blog last week about deductibility of business expenses, then you know that an initial qualification necessary to do a job is NOT deductible. So, if you do your IOA certificate, you are unable to deduct that $19 from your taxes. However, as a self-employed US taxpayer, you ARE able to deduct training or qualifications that help you to keep your job or do your job better. So, if you decide, after using your IOA certificate to get a job with a company, that you’d like to get a CELTA to expand your skill set, that certificate may be deductible. If you spend $2,000 on your CELTA and are in the 20% tax bracket, that saves you $400! If you did the CELTA first (as your initial qualification), then you would not be able to deduct this expense.
Reputation / Professional Growth
There are a lot of people who come down on the IOA qualification, for many of the reasons mentioned above. If you’re serious about teaching as a career, you definitely should look beyond this initial qualification. If this is your only qualification, you may find it difficult to advance your career- even if you put in a lot of extra effort to get everything you could out of the certificate. To be fair, this short online course is not a substitute for a university qualification in TESOL- and it isn’t designed to be. It’s an initial qualification to get teachers in the door and give them some background on teaching culturally and linguistically diverse students. If you are certain that TESOL is going to be a career path, then look toward MA TESOL programs that can really catapult your career and expand your professional knowledge.