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December 2021 - Year 23 - Issue 6

ISSN 1755-9715

Teaching English Online: A Degradation of Degrees or a World of New Possibilities

Aleksandra Janković is a fourth-year student of English language, literature and culture at the Faculty of Philology, Belgrade University. She has been teaching English and Serbian online for four years and has participated in several volunteer programmes related to language teaching. Her main interests are applied linguistics and English language teaching (ELT).



Owing to globalisation, English has become the most widely spoken      language in the world. Recent advances in technology have exerted an enormous impact on all aspects of our lives, including the way we learn languages. With computer-delivered lessons gaining in popularity, this is a prosperous time for online tutors, who need to respond to numerous challenges inherent in teaching. Given that anyone who speaks English fluently nowadays may endeavour to teach as a sideline, the purpose of the current paper is to determine which qualifications English online tutors most commonly hold, and whether their training and education are correlated with lesson quality and learner satisfaction. This study is based on a sample of 220 tutors and 34 students, who completed two separate questionnaires. The results demonstrate that proper teacher training and education do play an important role in defining who is a competent teacher, to a much greater extent than any other factor. However, as there is scant research on the topic, the results are by no means conclusive and further studies regarding this issue would be worthwhile.



The rapid rise of the English language to the position of a global lingua franca accounts for the ever-growing number of its learners worldwide. McKay (2012) describes English as the “most widely taught foreign language, with over 1 billion... learners” (as cited in Rose, 2019, para. 1). Consequently, teaching English has become one of the most coveted professions in the world, especially when it comes to online tutoring.

In order to teach English online, one is no longer required to hold a university degree. As teacher training is becoming more prevalent on the Internet, there is a profusion of accrediting agencies that award recognised certificates and diplomas upon completion of their courses, such as TEFL/TESOL, CELTA or DELTA certificates (Murray, 2013). For instance, Benady (2020) praises a Level 5 TEFL course, which enabled a certain Amy Weaver to forsake her job as a casino dealer and become a qualified English teacher in only six months. Finally, it is also possible to teach without any formal qualifications, solely by being able to use the language fluently.

The quality of online learning is a hotly debated issue among researchers in the field. (Murray, 2013). Hauck and Stickler (2006) believe eagerness to learn languages with the help of information and communication technology (ICT) is “reflected in a vast array of experimental, if often uncoordinated, use of computers for language teaching”, adding that “enthusiasm alone will not necessarily lead to successful learning experiences”, but tutors’ expertise (p. 465). Therefore, some of the most essential skills a competent online tutor should possess can be grouped into the following four categories: pedagogical, managerial, social and technical skills (Sulčič & Sulčič, 2007). There are conflicting attitudes towards the significance of technical skills, i.e. the ability to use ICT effectively. While some authors emphasise the divergence between teaching in a classroom setting and teaching online, which would not be possible without technology proficiency (Hauck & Stickler, 2006; Murray, 2013), others accentuate content knowledge and pedagogy instead (Buitrago, 2013; O‘Hare, 2011).

Furthermore, tutors’ competencies are believed to have a direct influence on the quality of their lessons. A study conducted by Mercado (2013) shows that students whose tutors are professionally qualified tend to be more successful and perform better. Sulčič and Sulčič (2007) concur with this, maintaining that proper teacher education and training is germane to learner satisfaction; however, their research findings suggest that part-time students are likely to rate their tutors more highly than the regular ones.

Finally, since private tutoring is an activity “operating to a large extent behind closed doors” (Gaunt, 2009, as cited in Kozar, 2013, p. 76), the data collection process is often challenging, as a result of which research on the topic is scarce. Due to this, and the fact that teaching languages is nowadays not commonly viewed as a profession entailing any special competencies (Abalı, 2013), this writing attempts to shed light on widespread beliefs regarding how important it is that online tutors have formal teaching qualifications, namely a university degree in the English language, and analyse their correlation with lesson quality more thoroughly. It aims to examine not only tutors’, but also students’ opinion on this issue, with the focus on tutors’ pedagogical, managerial and social skills exclusively, disregarding the use of ICT, which is, in itself, a prerequisite for teaching online.


Research methodology

In order to ensure that the results are representative and generalisable, a total of 254 respondents from all around the world partook in the study, 220 of whom were tutors and the other 34 students. The sample of tutors comprised both native and non-native English speakers, the numbers being 57 and 163 respectively. Likewise, 11 of the students surveyed had a native speaker as their tutor, while the remaining 23 had lessons with a non-native speaker.

Two questionnaires (one for each group of respondents) were created using Google Forms and administered online over the course of nine days, from April 5 to April 13, 2021. The questionnaires, consisting of multiple choice questions and five-point Likert scales, were posted on numerous Facebook groups and language learning forums, so as to obtain a large number of responses more easily. Therefore, the sampling technique used was opportunity sampling. The first set of questions was designed to investigate the tutors’ background, as well as the types of lessons offered, whereas the second set of questions was related to the respondents’ stance on the necessity of teaching qualifications.

Using questionnaires was conducive to collecting this type of quantitative data, as the main research objective was to get an idea of people’s general opinion. Additionally, the participants were given the opportunity to complete the questionnaires at their own pace, anonymously, which helped minimise the positive response bias. However, this method is not void of flaws either. Self-report data can be misleading and, in this study, data triangulation was not used due to time restraints.

One of the main limitations of this study is the fact that there are no specified criteria for determining who is a competent English teacher (Tsui, 2009, as cited in Ho & Tai, 2020). The only possible solution was to divide the tutors into those with a degree, a teaching certificate, or no qualifications at all. Secondly, the student response rate was unexpectedly low, which resulted in a disproportionate number of respondents. However, this did not skew the results, as both groups of the respondents received a separate questionnaire. Finally, although the students did rate their tutors, their responses do not provide an insight into the tutor’s education and training, but only reveal an overall picture of their satisfaction.


Discussion and data analysis



When it comes to the tutors’ education and training, the vast majority of the respondents (57.27%) stated they had a TEFL/TESOL certificate, out of whom 42.86% had some additional qualifications as well. The second most prevalent qualification was a bachelor’s degree in English, followed by a master’s degree in English, selected by 25.45% and 14.55% of the respondents respectively, while 11.36% of the tutors surveyed had no qualifications whatsoever. The fact that approximately 12% of the total number of the non-native speakers had no qualifications, compared to only 9% of the native English speakers, proves that, on the whole, native speakers do not simply rely on their fluency to teach.

Almost all of the tutors surveyed taught skills such as speaking, reading, listening, etc. However, not everyone felt confident teaching writing, English for specific purposes, or test preparation (e.g. for Cambridge exams, IELTS, TOEFL, etc.). For instance, 55.36% of the bachelor’s degree holders said they taught test preparation, as well as 68.75% of the master’s degree holders and both PhD holders (100%), unlike only 4% of the unqualified tutors. These numbers suggest that the more educated a tutor is, the more likely they are to undertake teaching more intricate aspects of the English language. Interestingly enough, work experience did not prove to have a considerable bearing on what types of lessons the tutors offered. One tentative proposal might be that, valuable as it is, experience does not affect content knowledge, but may only help develop one’s teaching approach.

When asked which areas they wished to improve on, the top four answers included designing lesson materials and activities (36.8%), how to assess students’ progress (35%), vocabulary range (33.6%) and pedagogy/teaching methodology (30%). Moreover, only 14 out of the 220 respondents stated they should not improve anything. The only substantial discrepancy could be perceived in the number of tutors with and without a university degree who recognised the need for enhancing their pedagogical approach. In other words, approximately one third of the tutors with no qualifications and those with only a teaching certificate gave this answer, versus one fifth of the degree holders. While it is true that teacher training courses focus on various teaching methodologies, this topic is only covered superficially due to their short duration, unlike degree courses, which may have accounted for these numbers. Finally, work experience once again proved to be an irrelevant factor, as even immensely experienced tutors expressed a great desire for improvement and further training on how to teach online.

Some of the most common problems the tutors reported were poor time management (25.45%), difficulty maintaining classroom discipline (24.55%), struggling to provide adequate explanations (15.91%) and planning lessons properly (13.18%), in addition to 14.09% of those who confronted no problems. However, these responses were evenly distributed, with no large disparities in relation to teaching experience or competencies.

It is not surprising that the graduates and postgraduates generally disagreed with the idea that having a degree was unnecessary as long as one had some other teaching certifications, as against a large number of the tutors with certificates who strongly agreed, and those with no qualifications, who were predominantly undecided.  On the other hand, although the vast majority of all the respondents did not deem fluency to be more important than teaching credentials, it is worth emphasising that 5.3% of the native speakers, compared to as many as 15.3% of the non-native speakers, did so. This implies that native English speakers rate teaching credentials more highly, despite their considerable language proficiency.

Lastly, as regards the role of teaching experience, no variables materially affected the responses, inasmuch as the participants broadly agreed that experience was a more valuable asset than having a degree. Nonetheless, a staggering 92% of the respondents rejected the claim that anyone could teach English nowadays since it is an international language, which indicates that fluency and experience alone are insufficient in order to enter the teaching profession.



The students reported different reasons for taking private English lessons online, the most common ones being improving speaking (82.35%), pronunciation (58.82%), listening (52.94%), and grammar (47.06%). In addition, when asked according to which criteria they selected tutors, the most frequently given response was the tutors’ teaching qualifications (61.76%), followed by the price of lessons (52.94%) and the tutors’ work experience (32.35%).

The students’ view on certain aspects of teacher education did not closely correspond with the tutors’. To illustrate, the students were utterly divided on the issue of whether teaching credentials were necessary if the tutor spoke the language fluently. Likewise, the majority of the respondents (41.18%) neither agreed nor disagreed on whether the tutor’s language proficiency was more important than their teaching methodology. However, this appears to be the case due to their lack of knowledge on teacher training.

It should be noted that, while one half of the total number of the respondents acknowledged the necessity for teaching certifications, eighty percent of them selected their tutor by that criterion in actuality. Therefore, it could be concluded that the tutor’s educational background does play an essential role in the tutor selection process. This may elucidate why 31 out of the 34 participants surveyed asserted that their knowledge had noticeably improved with the help of online lessons, especially taking into account the fact that, in this case, learner satisfaction was not influenced by any other factors, such as how often or how long the students had been having lessons for.

Overall, nearly four fifths of the learners either agreed or strongly agreed that their tutor was a great pedagogue, knew how to motivate them, organised lessons well, gave proper feedback and was able to provide good explanations. The largest number of dissatisfied learners (15%) perceived their tutor’s ability to plan lessons adequately and motivate them to be unsatisfactory. In this study, the hypothesis proposed by Sulčič and Sulčič (2007) was proved wrong, in that both part-time and full-time students evaluated their tutors in a similar way. The final proof of the high lesson quality could be found in the conviction shared by the majority of learners that online lessons are fairly effective, whereas 29.41% of them favoured traditional lessons in the classroom.



This study has gone some way towards understanding that, contrary to popular belief, the status of the English language at present has not led to a devaluation of the teaching profession, and may suggest that the outlook for decent English language education is bright. The study was designed to determine the effect of teaching credentials on lesson quality and the results obtained revealed that, even though experience was highly valued, it did not impact on the tutors’ performance considerably, unlike university degrees, which proved to be the only important variable in terms of the tutors’ pedagogy and content knowledge.

Similarly, teacher education emerged as a reliable predictor of students’ success and contentment. A large number of the English learners took account of their tutor’s qualifications and, consequently, reported a high level of satisfaction with the quality of online lessons. Notwithstanding the degree holders’ prominence, the unqualified tutors and those with certificates only appeared to be far from mediocre. All in all, the fact that teacher education is still held in high regard and seen as desirable, even among native speakers, is an important indicator of a promising future for all undergraduate and postgraduate students of English.

These findings contribute in several ways to our limited understanding of online tutoring and learning and provide a basis for further research on the topic. The study will hopefully expose the flaws in the existing system and be of interest to teacher educators and course developers, for it is abundantly clear that teacher training courses would benefit from placing greater emphasis on methodology, lesson planning and designing teaching materials. In addition, not only could it encourage current tutors to upgrade their skills and broaden their knowledge, but also demonstrate to prospective undergraduate students that they are very likely to receive a well-rounded education.

Should further research be undertaken, it could be done on a larger scale, over an extended period of time, so as to make certain that the results are valid and more generalisable. Carrying out an in-depth analysis of various teaching certifications is strongly recommended since all courses vary markedly in their quality and duration. This would help make a clear-cut distinction between first-rate and second-rate courses and draw conclusions about which ones yield the best results. All in all, considerably more work will need to be done in order to ensure a greater degree of accuracy on this matter.



Abalı, N. (2013). English language teachers’ use of, competence in and professional development needs for specific classroom activities. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 70, pp. 181-187.

Benady, D. (2020, November 26). ‘You don’t need a degree to be a Tefl teacher’: everything you need to know about teaching English abroad and online. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Buitrago, C. R. (2013). Identifying training needs of novice online English language tutors. Gist Education and Learning Research Journal, 1692-5777(7), pp. 134-153. Retrieved from

Hauck, M., & Stickler, U. (2006). What does it take to teach online? CALICO Journal, 23(3).
DOI: 10.1558/cj.v23i3.463-475

Ho, W. Y. J., & Tai, K. W. H. (2020). Doing expertise multilingually and multimodally in online English teaching videos. System.

Kozar, O. (2013). The face of private tutoring in Russia: Evidence from online marketing by private tutors. Research in Comparative and International Education, 8(1), pp. 74 – 86.

Mercado, I. P. B. (2013). Relationship of the online English teachers’ competencies to selected variables: Implications to online English teaching. American International Journal of Contemporary Research, 3(12), pp. 39 – 43. Retrieved from

Murray, D. E. (2013). A case for online English language teacher education. The International Research Foundation for English Language Education. Retrieved from

O’Hare, S. (2011). The role of the tutor in online learning. In G. Williams, P. Statham, N. Brown & B. Cleland (Eds.), Changing Demands, Changing Directions. Proceedings ascilite Hobart 2011 (pp. 909 – 918). Retrieved from'Hare-full.pdf

Rose, H. (2019). The future of English in global higher education: Shifting trends from teaching English to teaching through English. CALR Journal. Retrieved from

Sulčič, V., & Sulčič, A. (2007). Can online tutors improve the quality of e-learning? Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology, 4, pp. 201 – 210.
DOI: 10.28945/943


Appendix A

The questionnaire for tutors:

1. I am a:

    • native English speaker
    • non-native English speaker

2. Which qualifications do you have to teach English?

  • a bachelor’s degree in English
  • a master’s degree in English
  • a PhD in English
  • a TEFL/TESOL certificate
  • a CELTA certificate
  • a DELTA certificate
  • none
  • other: ______________

3. How long have you been teaching English online?

  • less than a year
  • 1 – 2 years
  • 3 – 5 years
  • more than 5 years

4. In my lessons I teach:

  • speaking
  • grammar
  • pronunciation
  • writing
  • listening
  • reading
  • test preparation (e.g. for Cambridge exams, IELTS, etc.)
  • Other: _______________

5. Which of the following areas do you feel you should improve?

  • my knowledge of the English grammar
  • my fluency
  • the range of my vocabulary
  • my pedagogy/teaching methodology
  • planning lessons
  • designing lesson materials and activities
  • how to assess my students’ progress
  • none, I don’t think I should improve anything
  • Other: ________________

6. What are some of the most common problems you encounter in your online lessons (EXCLUDING problems with technology and internet connection problems)?

  • I don’t know how to explain something my student asked about
  • poor time management
  • not knowing how to plan my lessons properly
  • difficulty maintaining classroom discipline
  • the inability to establish a friendly relationship with my students
  • Other: _________________

For the following questions, choose a number from 1 to 5, where 1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = neither agree nor disagree; 4 = agree; 5 = strongly agree


7. An online tutor doesn’t need to have a degree, but should have at least some sort of training or a teaching certification.

1   2   3   4   5


8. An online tutor doesn’t need to have any qualifications, as long as they can speak fluently.

1   2   3   4   5


9. Online tutors who are native speakers of English do not need any qualifications, but non-natives do.

1   2   3   4   5


10. Teaching experience is much more important than having a degree.

1   2   3   4   5


11. A tutor’s knowledge of the language they teach is much more important than their knowledge of teaching methodology.

1   2   3   4   5


12. I think anyone could teach English since everybody speaks it nowadays.

1   2   3   4   5


13. I would like to receive some additional training on how to teach online.

1   2   3   4   5


Appendix B

The questionnaire for students:

1. I take online lessons in order to practise/learn:

  • speaking
  • grammar
  • pronunciation
  • writing
  • listening
  • reading
  • test preparation (e.g. for Cambridge exams, IELTS, etc.)
  • Other: _______________

2. I choose tutors based on:

  • their qualifications (e.g. whether they have a degree or a teaching certification)
  • price of lessons
  • how much teaching experience they have
  • whether they are native speakers
  • Other: _______________

3. My tutor is:

  • a native English speaker
  • a non-native English speaker

4. I have been taking online lessons for:

  • less than a year
  • 1 – 2 years
  • 3 – 5 years
  • more than 5 years

5. I take lessons approximately:

  • less than twice a month
  • 2 – 4 times a month
  • 5 – 8 times a month
  • more than 8 times a month

For the following questions, choose a number from 1 to 5, where 1 = strongly disagree; 2 = disagree; 3 = neither agree nor disagree; 4 = agree; 5 = strongly agree


6. An online tutor doesn’t need to have a degree, but should have at least some sort of training or a teaching certification.

1   2   3   4   5


7. An online tutor doesn’t need to have any qualifications, as long as they can speak fluently.

1   2   3   4   5


8. Online tutors who are native speakers of English do not need any qualifications, but non-natives do.

1   2   3   4   5


9. Teaching experience is much more important than having a degree.

1   2   3   4   5


10. A tutor’s knowledge of the language they teach is much more important than their knowledge of teaching methodology.

1   2   3   4   5


11. I feel my knowledge of English has improved thanks to the online lessons I am taking.

1   2   3   4   5


12. I think my online tutor:

- Is a great pedagogue:                                                                        1   2   3   4   5

- Knows how to motivate me:                                                             1   2   3   4   5

- Knows how to organise lessons well:                                               1   2   3   4   5

- Gives proper feedback:                                                                     1   2   3   4   5

- can answer all my questions and explain everything I ask about:    1   2   3   4   5


13. I think online lessons are not as effective as traditional lessons in the classroom.

1   2   3   4   5


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