After three years of teaching English as a foreign language in South Korea I decided that teaching was something I was passionate about and wanted to pursue further. I did not want to leave Korea so I started to explore my options by applying to programs for a Master’s in TESOL. For all the obvious reasons I had reservations about receiving a degree from the internet. However, during the application process I found some quality distance learning programs. These programs were not the stereotypical mail-order Master’s degree. They were from large and well-respected universities. Still, I was quite clueless as to what distance learning was; I actually remember asking my interviewer to describe to me what class sessions would look like. Turns out that each class looks different. The most common thing is long discussions through a message board. There was also a mix of meeting professors and students in person as well as video chats. It is safe to say my reservations were unfounded.
I strongly believe that distance learning for TESOL is as good as, if not better than, traditional classroom-learning. TESOL, by nature, is an international topic that must be practiced to learn. Distance learning allows you to practice what you are learning and discussing in real time. There were times when I would sit at work reading through, and participating in, a discussion on a specific teaching method. I could then go to a class and practice this method before returning to that discussion with the insight of a practitioner. One of my last requirements for graduation, a practicum course, really exemplifies this benefit. In the course you video tape classes and discuss techniques and outcomes with the professor and colleagues. You can watch yourself grow as a teacher. Everyone in your class is, or soon to be, a practicing teacher located in different parts of the world, teaching completely different groups of students. The very nature of TESOL means that the more diverse your experience is the more success you will have as a teacher. All of this moderated and led by well-respected and experienced TESOL educators and professors. Is there a better way to learn TESOL?
On the other hand, this does mean that you are working at the same time as you are studying. This can be a bit intimidating for just about anyone. What I have found is that most people take some time to adjust, but, once you figure out how to schedule your time in a way that works best for yourself it isn’t too difficult. I start teaching in the afternoons, which made it more conducive to doing my studies in the mornings. Others likely do it in the early evening. As someone who spends a lot of time on sites like Reddit and Facebook, the message board portion of the classes barely felt like work to me. It was the reading and writing that I had to work into my schedule. As I am wrapping up my degree in the next two weeks, I will feel like I need to find something else to fill that time. That is to say, I don’t feel my double schedule is a bombarding overload.
I can’t speak for internet-based classes in other fields, but I can say that compared to my undergraduate classrooms, the message board discussions were much more engaging and involving. Part of this is the age of Master’s program learners, but another part of it is the ongoing nature of the discussion as well as the time that can be spent to craft an idea or response. The downside of that is that sometimes you have to wait many hours or a day to get a response, but for me, the anticipation kept me more active on those message boards.
Despite having a great experience at The New School MATESOL and writing this here on The New School TESOL Blog, my message to the reader is not an advertisement for The New School. In fact, if you have any specific questions to ask me about my experience at The New School I will answer candidly; feel free to leave comments on the blog post. What I am here to do is advocate anyone considering distance learning in the field of TESOL to explore their options and consider the benefits of the internet as a true academic resource in a field where practicing the craft while learning it is a must.
Eric Landon currently lives and teaches EFL in Seoul South Korea. He has been teaching EFL since 2010 in both Spain and South Korea. He is originally from Portland Oregon. He is interested in the dynamics and history of TEFL in Asian countries such as South Korea, Japan and China.