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8 Best Online Teaching Software for a Freelance Teacher

Apr 17, 2020

Online Teaching

Did you ZOOM over here to read this!? Well, that’s no surprise! 

With an explosion of online teaching due to the pandemic, many freelance teachers have been scrambling to find the right solution to conducting online lessons for their students. The needs that teachers expect from an online teaching software are as diverse as the range of students you might be teaching. Kids, teenagers, young adults, and business professionals all have different expectations for an online classroom that must be addressed.

As a teacher, understanding what your students expect is crucial not only in order to offer your students the best quality of education, but also to make yourself standout from other teachers in the mass race to online teaching.

Many teachers will undoubtably look for a “quick fix” solution and simply use their Skype account to conduct online lessons. But in this world where physical schools will remain closed for the indefinite future, freelance teachers must realize that soon everyone will be bombarded with ‘low cost’ online lessons.  It is extremely important to remain competitive and stand out in the online ESL market, which was already very competitive even before the pandemic.

So what’s the real solution?

Today, we take a look at a number of online teaching programs currently being used by teachers around the world see how they all stack up against each other. We created this list after surveying over 100 teachers and educational providers that we work with, and then doing our own independent test trials of each system. We also contacted many of the providers directly to inquire about special offers and unlisted features, which we will discuss here. 

Firstly, let’s talk about this Zoom thing. You probably hear about it 24/7.  The immediate popularity of this platform has been a combination of both viral marketing (their PR and marketing teams are doing a damn good job) and the simplicity of signing up for a free account.  Notwithstanding these points, we will look at the Zoom’s functionality later in this blog.

Before we get stuck into all the systems, it’s important to clarify some fundamental components of the various platforms that are out there.

Every online learning platform out there was created for a different purpose, and can fulfil a different set of functions. Knowing which software provides the functions needed for your school to operate efficiently is the key to choosing the right platform. 

Virtual Classroom

A virtual classroom is the key resource you’ll need to be a fully fledged online teacher – and the difference between a good virtual classroom and a bad virtual classroom can really be the difference between being seen by students as a professional or an amateur. 

The majority of software that schools are using to conduct virtual classes (Zoom included) are not truly virtual classrooms, but actually business software designed for virtual corporate meetings. That being said, there’s no doubt that business webinar software can be used to function as a virtual classroom; all it takes is a talented teacher and a bit of customization, which most provide. 

But in our opinion, language teaching is a complex and very specific process that requires the full functionality of a virtual classroom.

A whiteboard is the key component to any virtual classroom. Good virtual classrooms should have multiple whiteboards, which you can easily flip through during a lesson like slides in a PowerPoint.

 

Breakout Room

A breakout room is essentially a classroom within a classroom. By setting up breakout rooms, you can allow pairs or small groups of students to have private conversations with each other, just like in a real classroom. Some virtual classrooms allow breakout rooms to utilize their own whiteboards or chat boxes as well.

The ability to utilize breakout rooms is an important feature of a virtual classroom if you’ll be teaching group classes with upper intermediate to advanced learners. For teaching conversational-based classes, it is absolutely crucial, although for kids and other lower-level students it is far less important.

Free Offers

Due to the aggressive marketing of online teaching/conferencing software following the pandemic, most online learning providers are offering extremely attractive free plans. Perhaps this is to compete with Zoom (which has an extremely popular free plan), or perhaps they’re just being generous to budget conscious consumers in a time of need. 

But the free plans that you see are meant to appeal to the masses, just like Zoom, and not to professional English teachers. So while the free versions might be great for calling grandma and grandpa on Easter, they might not be so great for running your online teaching business.

Having a professional account opens up an infinite number of more features, and removes crippling limits (such as Zoom’s infamous 40-minute kickout timer) that will ultimately make you look very unprofessional in the eyes of your paying students.

Furthermore, many free plans are merely marketing ploys aimed at attracting customers during the mass rush to online teaching and video conferencing that the pandemic has created. It would be logical to expect that once the pandemic has passed, they’ll start pressuring you to switch to a paid plan.

Unless otherwise noted, we will only be discussing the paid professional plans for each software when they exist, as the free options are not compatible with the needs of most freelance English teachers.

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We’ve have examined each software based off four criteria: User Experience (both for you and your students), Customization, the Virtual Classroom, and of course Pricing. Other factors that we’ve considered are mobile/app friendliness, integration options, and added multimedia functions.

We’ve rated each software at how well it performs in each category on a scale of one to five. A five means it’s absolutely perfect and can do everything you need it for, while a one means it’s practically useless for a professional online teacher. 

Skype

Skype is one of the oldest and most well know video calling systems. It’s safe to say that pre-pandemic, Skype was the go-to system for video calling and conferencing for most consumers. 

While it is possible to teach over Skype, and Skype has made slow steps at developing more features beyond its basic video calling service, it still falls far short of being a virtual classroom. If you must use Skype, we highly recommend using it in conjunction with ManyCam, which we will discuss later.

 

User Experience

Simple and straight forward, hence why it’s so popular. Much of this is due to the fact that most of your students are probably familiar with Skype. Having to download a desktop client for some is not nice, however the desktop application is very simple and most people already have it.

Rating: 4 / 5

Customization

None. Skype is Skype; that’s why it might as well be the generic word for video calling.

Rating: 0 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Non-existent. No whiteboard function, PDF viewer, nor even the most basic classroom functions.

Rating: 0 / 5

Pricing

Free!

Rating: 5 / 5

Overall Rating: 2.4 / 5

Google Hangouts

The original and most widely known (pre-pandemic, that is) video conferencing software, Google Hangouts makes it easy to connect with a large group of people. 

As amazing of tool as it might be to connect with your family over Easter while in quarantine, Google Hangouts has virtually no functions of a virtual classroom and should be avoided for teaching purposes. We highly recommend using it in conjunction with ManyCam, which we will discuss later, if you absolutely must use Google Hangouts to conduct classes.

 

User Experience

Similar to Skype, the user experience is very simple and smooth, and almost no learning curve. It  runs in the browser so no additional extensions or software are required.  Most people have Google account, so students will not have to signup for anything.

Rating: 4 / 5

Customization

None. Google is Google. If you pay for G Suite, you can add an avatar and a customized background, but that’s it.

Rating: 1 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Non-existent. Just like Skype, this is a video calling software, not a virtual classroom.

Rating: 0 / 5

Pricing

Free!

Rating: 5 / 5

Overall Rating: 2.5 / 5

Zoom

So what does all the hype about Zoom really mean? Is there a reason, beyond viral marketing, that everyone seems to be using Zoom for everything from calling grandma, to joining online pub quizzes, to teaching languages online?

Beyond it’s branding, Zoom is a solid all-round program that covers most aspects of what you likely need for your online classes, though there are some major drawbacks. 

 

User Experience

Everything is simple, very intuitive, and straightforward. Functional and refined to be easily used as a virtual classroom. Thanks to the pandemic, many of your students will likely already be familiar with it. 

Rating: 5 / 5

Customization

You can add an avatar, but that’s about it.

Rating: 1 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Has all basic features of a virtual classroom as well as breakout rooms with the paid plan. However whiteboard features are very basic, and editing is a bit cumbersome. No annotation of PDF slides. Not recommended for young learners. 

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Pricing

$15 per month for the professional plan, which allows for breakout rooms and removes the 40-minute time limit.

Rating: 4 / 5

Overall Rating: 3.4 / 5

ClickMeeting

ClickMeeting is a lesser-known, simple, and yet highly powerful webinar software. It is entirely browser based and very user friendly, combined with a surprising number of virtual classroom tools.

Beyond its virtual classroom, ClickMeeting provides a number of other useful tools that could help you manage your online teaching business. It even has ecommerce options including a payment gateway, so you can collect payment from students directly on the virtual classroom!

 

User Experience

Signup and usability is great and simple. The user interface is clean and has great user-friendly features. 100% browser based, so no installations or downloads required.

Rating: 4 / 5

Customization

Full customization and control of the colour scheme, logo/avatar, images, and almost everything. Your students will never know they’re on ClickMeeting. You can even add custom calls to action to generate sales and encourage students to book more lessons.

Rating: 5 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Very simple, aesthetically pleasing, and surprisingly powerful with features. No breakout rooms however, which can be a deterrent to higher leveled students.

Rating: 4 / 5

Pricing

$10 a month for the most basic professional plan, though the customization and payment gateway features are extra.

Rating: 4 / 5

Overall Rating: 4.2 / 5

GoToTraining

GoToTraining is a spin-off of GoToMeeting, a software which has long been a favorite for virtual business meetings. A step above Webex for business conference functionality, GoToTraining takes it to another level and gives teachers a powerful set of tools to manage a classroom remotely.

If you are a serious teacher focusing on business English and need a robust and powerful virtual classroom that your students will likely be familiar with, GoToTraining might be the best option. 

 

User Experience

The system has a huge amount of options and customizations which makes this an excellent solution one for more advanced users and IT savvy teachers.  The end user experience is good, but can be a little overwhelming for less tech savvy students. Not recommended for use with young learners, but an excellent solution for teaching business professionals.

Rating: 3 / 5

Customization

You can add your avatar and customize the page colour, but that’s it.

Rating: 3 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

GoToTraining has a fantastic virtual classroom with a robust set of features, however it is designed for corporate training sessions and not language learning. It is also designed with the needs of business professionals in mind, so it may be quite complicated for a younger or less technically inept students. Breakout rooms are only available in expensive enterprise plans.

Rating: 3 / 5

Pricing

€14 per month for the most basic professional plan, which has all the features you’ll need as a solo freelance teacher (minus breakout rooms). 

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Overall Rating: 3 / 5

Vedamo

Vedamo is an incredibly powerful piece of educational software that combines all the features of both a LMS and virtual classroom (though you can choose to use on or the other if you wish). 

Its interface is incredibly aesthetically pleasing for admins, teachers, and learners alike. The virtual classroom is specifically designed for language learning and has a lot of tools that come in extremely handy for young learners. If you are a school with mostly very young and young learners, this is a fantastic system!

 

User Experience

Whether you are using their standalone virtual classroom or LMS, the user experience with Vedamo is superb. Fresh, modern, and sleek design that can be easily used students of all ages with no technical background at all.

Rating: 5 / 5

Customization

Add an avatar and customize colours, but not much more.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

It has everything a virtual classroom could ask for, plus specific tools for language learning. Sharable templates meaning you can reuse custom designed lessons and download teacher-created lessons from their online community.  The whiteboard has the most functionality and ease of use that we’ve seen, which makes Vedamo and excellent choice for young learners and other low-level students.

Rating: 5 / 5

Pricing

€20 per month. Same price as Zoom yet much more sleek and useful.

Rating: 5 / 5

Overall Rating: 4.6 / 5

LearnCube

A very similar program to Vedamo both aesthetically and technically, LearnCube is a simple yet powerful platform built for language teaching. 

Although it lacks breakout rooms and the maximum class size is 8, if these are not a dealbreaker for your classes, LearnCube may be the best option as its other features are superb.

 

User Experience

Their system is very simple to use and aesthetically pleasing. Signup and registration is very easy as well, and it is entirely browser based so no software downloading is required.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Customization

Lots of customization options. Add your avatar, a custom background image, and customize the colour scheme.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

Very aesthetically pleasing virtual classroom. It’s also possibly the best geared virtual classroom for language teaching, with components such as quick links to bring up teaching resources from their cloud-based library. However, current limitations allow only up to 8 students per session and no breakout rooms. Though these features are currently in development.

Rating: 4 / 5

Pricing

$14 per month, or $26.60 if you want Premium ESL content as well.  

Rating: 5 / 5

Overall Rating: 4.5 / 5

ManyCam

ManyCam is an extremely unique, flexible, and highly powerful piece of software. While it’s not a virtual classroom, or even a video chatting or conferencing software, it can turn even the most basic video calling app into a powerful virtual classroom. What it does is integrate with whatever video calling app you’re using, whether it be a virtual classroom, or even Zoom, Skype, or WhatsApp, and allows you to overlay anything onto your camera view.

This is a very easy way to turn a simple free program like ZOOM or Skype into something amazingly fun and entertaining, especially for young learners and teenagers.  For a true online freelancer, this should be a must have in your arsenal. 

 

User Experience

This is a well thought out and polished product. Though it requires a download and has a bit of a learning curve, everything is controlled from the teacher’s end, so no extra work or downloads for the students. However, the amount it can do is absolutely incredible. 

Rating: 5 / 5

Customization

Virtually unlimited. With annotation, overlay, green screen, video-in-video, plus loads more capabilities, there are truly an unlimited number of options available to customize your virtual classroom if you use ManyCam. 

Rating: 5 / 5

Virtual Classroom 

None built is as you’ll have to rely on another video calling platform. Though what it can do is transform a basic video calling app into a powerful virtual classroom, with almost every feature you’ll need. However it is entirely teacher-driven so your students won’t be able to interact with the classroom features. Obviously, you won’t have any breakout rooms unless you use this in conjunction with a virtual classroom like Zoom or Vedamo.

Rating: 2.5 / 5

Pricing

Has an excellent free version, which has all the features you’ll need if you’re using it in conjunction with a fully featured virtual classroom. If you want to use it with a simpler video calling platform like Zoom or Skype, we recommend the basic plan which is only $29 per year.

Rating: 5 / 5

Overall Rating: 4.3 / 5

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So what’s the verdict?

Obviously there’s no one right answer. Every educational provider has unique needs to fit their students and class types. Furthermore, every school has a different motivation for launching online classes. Perhaps you’re just looking for something to get you through the next few months of the pandemic. Or maybe just something to use temporarily if a student is sick and doesn’t want to meet you in person. But perhaps you’re looking to start your own freelance teaching business as a long-term venture. 

For simple, quick-fix solutions, Zoom (in combination with ManyCam) seems at first glance like the best option. It’s simple, powerful with features, very affordable, and widely used already. However, when compared to similarly priced solutions like Vedamo and LearnCube that are built for language education, Zoom gets squashed in the competition. 

When it comes to teaching kids, Vedamo and LearnCube both squash Zoom in the competition. But if you’re teaching adults, Zoom still has a lot to be said for as it supports breakout rooms (though Vedamo offers this as well).  So in the end of the day – it’s up to you. What features do you need to enhance your online teaching?

If you’re looking to develop a proper professional online teaching business for long term potential, LearnCube, GoToMeeting, and ClickMeeting provide a number of options to develop your business beyond just the virtual classroom. While these features may not be worth it for the casual teacher, if online teaching is truly your online teaching venture is a real business, it’s certainly worth spending some time looking into the customization and business options that they offer.

 

 

Know any other great online teaching software that we didn’t cover? We’re here to help! Shoot us an email to hello@englishwizards.org and we’ll have a look at it. This list is merely a work in progress by our community!

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