The blogosphere has been on fire for the last few days, ablaze with articles, comments, rants and promises, all regarding this simple question: If it’s really possible to make a full-time living teaching online, why isn’t it working out for so many?

It was almost as if a wormhole had opened up in time and space, because as this fiery debate was unfolding over various blogs and platforms, I was busy addressing the same issue working on the re-release of a book about exactly this topic originally published in May 2011.

Spurred on by the impression that this question was still a pressing one, I kept on writing and enjoyed the discussions from afar.

It all started with a simple question by one of my colleagues who posted that he was looking for alternatives to a well-known online teaching platform in order to make his teaching activities economically viable.

Kirsten Winkler dedicated an article to this question, titled The Ant and the Grasshopper – Why (most) Teaching Platforms fail  in which she wrote:

I said it a thousand times: the key is to build your own brand on your own turf. Get a domain, start your own website and online shop. Lead social media efforts to your own home, not to your platform accounts, they come and go.

To many teachers starting out this seems tough. And, well… it is. You’ll have to learn to build a (semi)-professional homepage, create something appealing and set up a way to handle lessons and payments, but even if you’ve done all that technical stuff, the real work only begins: attracting students and promoting your service.

And yet, whatever work you invest into this process, you own it.

There’s No Easy Way Out

If you sign up for a teaching platform, they will never force you to grow. Instead, they will tell you to drive traffic to your profile on their site, because their business models are built on the commissions they receive from students taught through their platform.

Teaching platforms promise an easy way out, based on (at least) three false claims:

  • you’ll get lots of students by teaching on a platform: It is true that you might “get” more students, but many of them were lured into the platform by offers of free or highly discounted lessons, as Kirsten points out in her article. Even if some of them are willing to pay, it will be tough to accumulate enough to to pay the rent, especially if you live in the Western world!
  • they’ll do marketing for you: They don’t. They will market their site as a whole.  In fact, they couldn’t care less about you as an individual. At least this is the feeling that I had when working on several of these platforms. You’re just a number, generating commissions, an exchangeable gear in a complex machine.
  • you can use their classroom technology: almost all virtual classrooms I’ve seen up to this day are running on Flash and are either highly complicated and/or buggy. In other words: you don’t need them. If you want to make a living online, it’s best to focus on 1-1 sessions and handle all of this through a free Software like Skype.

Starting The Journey Or Delaying It Indefinitely

Now, to be fair, if you want to experiment with online teaching, experience a virtual classroom session or do voluntary work, these platforms are interesting. But if you need to make a living by teaching online, it will be hard to pay the rent by relying solely on these platforms. Due to the competition of teachers from all over the world, prices are in a rush to the bottom, and in order to make this viable, you’ll have to teach so many hours per day that it won’t be worth it.

Becoming an independent online teacher is not easy. As Kirsten pointed out in yet another article:

If you start building your brand right now (or after you finish reading this post) it will probably take you at least six months of hard work every single day (no weekends) before you’ll see any kind of relevant traction.

No matter how long it takes, you’re not working for a company that doesn’t care about you! Instead, you’re investing into the future with each line of code, each blog post you write. And it’s so much more than just being a teacher. It’s the beginning of an adventure, a completely new lifestyle which first of all pushes you to grow and secondly opens up endless opportunities.

To give you an example, when I started out as an online teacher I had no clue that I would one day write books and produce language learning materials that would sell in major ebook stores all over the world.

I had no clue that I would write a blog with a growing followership which would open up all kinds of interesting connections and opportunities.

Little did I know that with the experience gained along the way I would one day help people build their own businesses and websites.

And if I  had continued searching my luck on a teaching platform, I would still be searching and wouldn’t have stumbled onto any of this.

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