First of all, let’s look at the advantages:

1. You can access your English learning programme anytime and anywhere that has Internet accessibility. You can also work at your own pace, without the demands of classroom time restrictions. Most often, you have the comfort of your own home where you can learn English. This is important for those English learners who have busy and committed work and family schedules.

2. Learning English online gives you the advantage of independence and autonomy. You don’t have to rely on the performance of others in the classroom to achieve your own personal goals. Sometimes other students in the classroom can slow down your own efforts to make progress with learning English. You not only learn English online, but you also develop self-confidence and responsibility.

3. You save on course fees, travel expenses and other costs that come with going to school to learn English. Many English learners find this alone reason enough to take online English courses.

4. All that information at your fingertips. If you are confused or unsure about some aspect of the English language (like grammar) you need only search online to find both detailed information and answers.

5. Variety! There are a diverse number of online English courses now available to the eager English learner, from Business English online, Academic English writing online, Business English email writing online, online English speaking course, online listening, and the list goes on and on. Learning English gives you many options to choose from.

6. You don’t have to carry heavy textbooks around with you. Most of the learning materials for online English courses are available online, and you can easily download and read them from your mobile phone or tablet.

7. You don’t have to squeeze into overcrowded classrooms that have more students than space. Learning English online only requires one student – you.

8. Online assessment available. You can take online tests for language, speaking, listening, reading and writing to assess your language skills. These tests are based on standards that online English courses must maintain.

Quite an impressive list of advantages that makes learning English online an attractive option. However, there are some limitations that may make learning English in a classroom more appealing:

1. The biggest challenge facing learning English online is commitment. It’s easy to imagine yourself with plenty of time to study English online, but when it comes down to it, you have to make and keep the commitment to learn English online, every day. Pressures of work, family and personal lives, which may keep us out of a classroom, can also keep us away from the computer. By attending an English Language school, you will be more determined to be in the class for each lesson.

2. You may find learning English online to be convenient and more comfortable in your home, away from an environment full of other students you don’t know well. But perhaps the biggest advantage an English language course in a school has over online English courses is that you have an opportunity to develop your English conversation and listening skills.

3. Although you gain a certain amount of learner independence through online English courses, there will come times when you need an explanation or answer that only a TESOL teacher can provide. Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages are trained to work with non-native English speakers, to understand their challenges in learning English, and are prepared to help you get through those challenges. Sometimes learning English online does not provide all the information you need. Furthermore, the EFL/ESL teacher can adapt the lesson content to your particular needs, something Online English courses are unable to do.

4. Although you may save on certain costs by taking an online English course, are you truly getting the quality of English learning you need? English Language schools must attain and keep a high level of teaching standards, constantly upgrading and improving on course content and adapting to the students; again, this is something that online English courses cannot always guarantee. You may have to pay to go to an English language school, but you can be certain that you will get well designed English learning in a classroom.

5. With all that information on the Internet, sometimes you can get lost in a wilderness of data – even more so, if you don’t know exactly what to search for. Again, a TESOL teacher has the advantage; the teacher is able to assess your knowledge and skills in English learning, and can provide all the necessary information to answer your questions and reinforce your knowledge and skills. They know exactly what to look for, and they can provide you a clear explanation with enough examples to make sure you understand.

6. Despite the variety of online English courses available, it may be difficult to decide which course is best for you. At an English language school, you will be given an assessment, and will talk to a language advisor to help to decide the best English language course to take.

7. Carrying a textbook around may be a little cumbersome, but it has its perks as well. Working with a textbook in an English language class allows you to actually work with the book, with other students, and you can share and discuss answers together. Textbooks are underrated interactive tools.

8. Learning English online may provide to the privacy and space to work independently, but learning in a classroom provides you with a sense of belonging; you are alongside other students who are all there for the same purpose; as such, students can support and encourage each other.

9. Classroom assessments are reliable and often TESOL teachers will give their students constructive feedback to help them improve in areas they did not do well on in the test. Online English assessments will rarely explain why your answers were not correct, and you may not have online support to give you remedial teaching to brush up on weak skills.

When thinking about learning English online, you should consider all the options that are open to you. Studying English online may seem appealing and convenient, but sometimes the extra challenge of attending an English language school provides a little extra motivation to rise to the challenges, and will give you a better sense of community, belonging and achievement.

Michael Bunyak

English Teacher at Canadian Education College, Singapore