Best Platforms for Teaching Online

Want to Teach Online? Here Are Four Platforms that You Can Use

In my last post, I talked about how to use Google Hangouts on Air to teach live language lessons to an unlimited amount of people.

Since then, I have received a lot of questions from people in my community about what platform is best to use when teaching one-to-one or small group lessons.

Most people start using Skype, and when I first started, this was the only real platform that was available. But, over the past few years many more platforms have been introduced, and recently I’ve been using Google Hangouts, Zoom, and WizIQ.

In this post I’m going to go through the four options and discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each. Let’s start with the most popular: Skype.

Skype

Skype Logo

Skype is the most used option when it comes to facilitating one-to-one lessons, and is actually the main advantage of using Skype as most of your potential students will either have it or will have heard of it. There are two versions: free and premium.

With the free version you can:

– Call anyone who as a Skype account.
– Send instant and video messages.
– Take part in group calls (only using two webcams).

To get group video calls and screen sharing you will need to upgrade to the premium service ($9.99 per month).

I’ve been using Skype for years now, and it’s only been the last couple of months that it’s started to freeze, crash, and have other problems. I still use it for my long-term students, but I’m starting to teach new students on other platforms due to the technical problems, and also because it is a little limited.

The quality of the calls is good on the whole, and from experience, it compares with Google Hangouts. I feel the main reason to use Skype is because it’s the most used application out of the three, and many teachers have actually built their brand around it.

Another advantage when using Skype is that it saves all your text chats; this gives you the ability to look at what you have done with students in the past, and also helps you when you’re trying to figure out who an old contact is.

However, to be able to share your screen you have to pay for the premium service. In addition, Skype doesn’t have the features that the other three have, and is pretty basic in this department; for example, to record the lessons you will need to use third party software.

Click here to learn more about Skype

Click here to watch my video on how to use it

(Update July 2014: Skype now includes free group calls and screen sharing)

Google Hangouts

Google Hangout Logo

Not to be confused with Google Hangouts on Air, Google Hangouts is similar to Skype, but is much more fun to use, has no premium version, and has many more features.

Here is what you can do with Google Hangouts (all for free):

– Call anyone with a Google account.
– Use your webcam for video calls.
– Chat using the chat box.
– Share your screen.
– Embed Youtube videos.
– Use a whiteboard (through an application called Cacoo).
– Record the hangout.
– And, you can have fun using Google effects

Google Hangouts Effects

Using the Google Hangout Effects

There are also different apps that you can install and use, with new ones being created all the time.

To start a Google Hangout you need to have a Google Plus account and you have to download the app before getting started.

What I like about Google Hangouts is that there is so much that you do for free, and I imagine that they are going to add more features all the time. The effects at the moment are just a bit of fun, but I hope they add the ability to upload your own backgrounds; this would make role-playing much more effective and engaging (by using backgrounds so that you can practice ordering from cafes, buying tickets, business meetings etc.).

Google Hangouts doesn’t save the chats from the hangouts (at least, I can’t find this option anywhere; they do save the chats that take place outside of the video hangout though).

One way to get around this is to do what my friend Beatriz over at www.nativespanishteacher.com does. She creates a Google document for each student and then opens this during the lesson. She makes notes and the student has the opportunity to add to the document too. It’s like live chatting but within a document, and the chats are automatically saved.

Having to be on Google + to use Hangouts may put some off, but the platform is becoming much more important in the social media market, and I predict this trend to continue.

Click here to find out more about Google Hangouts.

Zoom

Zoom Logo

I learned about Zoom from the guys over at Turks Learn English, and they use this platform for their group lessons. The biggest reason to use Zoom is due to the brilliant connection it offers. I’ve used this for some of my one-to-one and group lessons, and the connection has been much better for me than the connection offered by Skype and Google Hangouts.

With the free plan you can:

– Host HD video and audio lessons.
– Host group lessons (40 minute max).
– Share your screen.
– Embed videos (and play the audio from the video).
– Have private and group chats.
– Schedule and have recurring lessons.
– Kick people out of the meeting (great for lessons with children!).

To get unlimited time for the group lessons (and to get some other features) it costs $9.99 per month. It’s easy to sign up through Google or Facebook, and the application is very small in size and very fast. When you arrange meetings you have the option to make them recurring, and it automatically adds the meetings you arrange to your online calendar of choice.

Here is what the screen looks like after you have downloaded it:

Zoom Cloud Meeting Software

I love Zoom because of the connection; I haven’t had any problems with delay, echoes, or the other annoying audio problems that you sometimes get with Skype and Google Hangouts.

In addition, the free version is great and will give most people everything they need.

Click here to learn more about Zoom

WizIQ

WizIQ Logo
I’m currently in the middle of teaching my first course on WizIQ, and I gave a couple of lessons as part of the ELT Techniques Course hosted by Jason R Levine in December. So far, I’ve been really impressed with this platform, especially when it comes to facilitating large groups.

Here is what you can do with WizIQ:

– Upload course content (PDFs, videos, power point slides, spreadsheets) so that only those in the course can access them.
– Give live lessons that are automatically recorded, and can be download.
– Give assignments within the course; your students can submit them, and then you can give feedback privately.
– Set multiple choice tests.

The live lessons that I’ve been giving have been in the format of presentations, but you can have up to 6 webcams in one lesson, and also create breakout rooms (where, for example, you pair off your students and they can talk with each other privately during the live class).

Here’s what the classroom looks like:

Wiz IQ Classroom

In the main area you can share your screen, upload presentations, videos etc., or use the whiteboard. On the right you can see the live chat with my face above that. Another feature that I like is the ability to create and publish polls during the class.

The plans start at $19 per month, and this presents great value if you are teaching large groups and/or you have a good schedule of smaller groups and one-to-one lessons. I can’t comment too much on the connection because I haven’t used it for video conferencing, but it has worked seamlessly for the presentation style course that I’m currently offering.

Click here to learn more about WizIQ

Which One to Choose?

If you’re just starting out and mainly teaching one-to-one, I would recommend going with one the free options. Most people turn to Skype first, but I think that Zoom and Google Hangouts have the best features, and in Zoom’s case, a much better connection. However, Skype does have the advantage of being the biggest name out of the fours options.

WizIQ is a great option for those who are at the stage where paying the $19 a month for extra features is good value, and especially if you have large groups.

My best advice is to try out the different options, choose one, and then start teaching. You can always change platforms, and even teach using a combination of two or more.

Over to You

Let me know which platform you prefer, whether I’ve missed anything, and if there are other options out there. Leave your comments below.

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  • Emine Sharma

    Awesome! This was very helpful. Jack, when you were first starting how did you develop your curriculum?

  • appletree123

    Cool article Jack, thanks!

  • kenid

    Thank you for sharing your experiences on these platforms. For me, Skype is good if I am doing a 1-2-1, and if the Internet connection that I am using is not being shared by others. One time, I had feedback from the person on the other side on Skype that I sounded tinny. (And this was on a premium account). The telemarketer from WizIQ was very persistent, calling me 4 times, to sign up for a premium account. (I made the error of posting my contact number on a free account).

    • Charles Cornelius

      Yes, WizIQ were pretty insistent with me too. They must have called me 8 times, partly because the software didn’t work properly (which they made out was down to my browser rather than their software). I also found it way too bloated for my needs, even on the free version.

  • HizGrace

    Jack, thank you so much for this article. It was very helpful. Can you please share suggestions about how to handle payments for lessons. Do you use PayPal? Is payment made before or after the lesson? Any other suggestions are greatly appreciated.

  • kajalsengupta

    I am using WizIQ for last five years and love its features. If you develop a course on WizIQ then the payment is handled by them, you need not worry. For private students Paypal is good option.

  • Ben Steyn

    Thanks for a very informative website!

  • Charles Cornelius

    Thanks for the informative article, Jack. I almost always use Skype, but mainly because I always have done. However, when I use it on a public WiFi hotspot such as in a cafe, I have to go audio only because it can’t maintain a stable connection. Might check out zoom.us. Another application used for online teaching is Tencent QQ, a good idea if you have Chinese students. http://www.imqq.com/

    • Thanks for the suggestion Charles. I’ll check it out.

  • Hi there Jack. This is very informative and useful. I wonder if you can update this sometime in the near future since it’s been 2 years since you wrote this post. I’m just getting started in the online teaching field. Zoom by far is the best in my opinion as far as the quality of video and audio. I am going to be teaching 1-1 or very small groups 2-6. Thanks a million.

    • Thanks, Ajarn. Not a lot has changed since I wrote the post. Zoom is great, I agree!

  • Kyran Luis

    Hey Jack,

    Have you seen LearnHowNow.com before?

    If not, worth checking out!

  • Carolina Suarez

    Hi thanks Jack for this post. I’m trying to find some online software than can resemble a language lab, that is, I’m looking for a way to be able to divide an online class into different pairs, have them talk to each other privately (roleplaying a given situation/discussing different topics) and still be able to listen and provide feedback to each pair while they are performing the task (intercom function in old language labs). Do you know of any free software I can use?

    • I think Zoom offers this feature (break out rooms). As does WizIQ.

      • Carolina Suarez

        Thanks!!

  • Andrew Watts

    I have been using WizIQ, which is fairly good but these are the issues I have had:

    Issues with connection on rare occasions.
    Also it does not work well with Google Crome.
    When I send out invites to students to come on to the class it does not always reach them.
    The recorded lessons were Adobe Flash files which were cumbersome. They now have a MP4 option but it is only a recording of your screen so if you come in and out of the class, it freezes the recording.
    I also have a large screen on my PC so my students cannot see my full screen and have to scroll up and down which is a little frustrating.
    Sometimes there is a delay in the recording when viewed afterwards which is really cumbersome.

    I have been looking at Zoom’s paid options but the whiteboard feature does not seem so interactive. as WizIQ.

    My question is:

    Can you upload PDFs like WizIQ onto the screen?
    Is there a chatbar for the students like WizIQ?