Online Learning…scammy or nah?

Sometimes change is scary, and change in the field of education is no exception. People have a fear of their livelihood being taken over by a screen or a robot. It is an understandable fear. So, what is the deal with online learning? Scary? Scammy? Should we shake our fists like a grumpy old man and tell it to get off our (metaphorical) lawn?

This is a topic I delved into pretty deeply when I was in grad school and working toward an additional digital literacy certification. I remember the teacher bringing up a fairly humorous quote from Socrates about how the new-fangled approach of writing in the classroom was hurting the students’ ability to memorize. Kids these days! And though out history, you can see similar handwringing and worry about any change or new technology in the classroom. Personally, I’m the type of person who likes the feel of a real book in my hands and the idea of a physical teacher in the classroom. So, I was fairly skeptical of all this online learning business.

The first thing I had to get my head around was that there is actually a difference between simple “edu-tainment” (yes, a made up word…that’s how language works my friends) and digital literacy in education. That’s not to say VIPKID doesn’t prioritize a fun and, yes, an entertaining learning experience.  However, there is a distinction between simply taking a plain old boring worksheet that you might have in a classroom and putting it in digital format on a screen for the student to complete, and actually utilizing digital media to change (dare I say, improve!) the way we educate. The first is basically putting busy work on a screen and hoping that the screen somehow makes the busy work more exciting for the student. The second concept is so much more than that. It is reading for knowledge, thinking critically, and actually communicating using different media platforms. It builds on traditional forms of literacy, and despite the reliance on technology, it is people-centered at heart. For a really basic overview of what digital literacy is, Wikipedia to the rescue. For a much more comprehensive understanding, check out Paul Gilster’s book Digital Literacy. It is an essential topic for any teacher, but it is especially relevant for those of us who teach online or in non-traditional forms.


So, what about VIPKID? Is it simply taking busy work and putting it on a screen to make a buck? Short answer, no. It isn’t. VIPKID has taken the digital literacy pedagogical approach to design a curriculum with multiple parts, allowing the student to develop their language skills using multiple platforms. Even though the native English speaking teacher is half a world away, student-teacher communicative interaction is still there. Technology isn’t replacing the teacher, it is instead providing a medium for the student and teacher to interact and engage. VIPKID also uses concepts of the “flipped classroom” (more on that later!) to maximize the opportunity to learn by communicating with the teacher after the basics have been overviewed outside the class. In that sense, we can see how the technology is working in conjunction with traditional forms of education (regular old homework). Additionally, VIPKID also has Chinese Learning Partners, Chinese teachers who are able to interact with the students and parents.


Basically, VIPKID is taking a puzzle-piece approach, with each piece complementing and supporting the other to help the child develop their English communication skills. Pretty cool, actually. And not so robots-taking-over-the-world, when you really examine it. Humans, and our desire to have meaningful interactions with each other, is still at the core. So, when you wake up at 3 AM, all bleary eyed and exhausted, and open up your laptop to see the happy (hopefully!) face of a cute little person on the other side of the planet, you can feel pretty good about your contribution to the puzzle, knowing that they are expanding their own ability to communicate, engage, and participate in the world around them though the gift of a second language.


Get started here…

Thinking of applying to teach ESL with VIPKID? Maybe you’ve seen posts on Facebook from teachers claiming that they make $1000 a month teaching from home in their jammies, and you can too if you’d just PM them for details. It seems like an ideal gig for brick and mortar teachers looking to supplement their income or for a stay at home parent hoping to work while their kids are sleeping. Is it really? Or, too good to be true? Start here with this list of FAQ to see if VIPKID would be a good fit for you. 

What is VIPKID, exactly?
VIPKID is a company that contracts Americans to teach English online to Chinese school children. Students generally range from about 3 years old up to 12 years old. Teachers follow a series of PowerPoints, occasionally supplementing with extra conversation, props, rewards, and games. Teachers use the VIPKID platform, and IT and parent issues are all dealt with by VIPKID. You just log on, teach, fill out quick feedback, and go on with your life. No lesson plans, grading, etc.
Seems legit. How much do I get paid?
You might see a lot of comments on Facebook or other social media promising upwards of $1,500 a month with VIPKID. Is that possible? Meh, maybe. But the payment system is a little tricky, and there are a few things to keep in mind before mentally calculating your potential earnings. First, base pay is $7-9 per 30 minute class. After 30 classes per month, you add another $.50 per class to all classes taught that month. After 45 classes, you bump up to a $1 extra. If you are scheduled for a short notice class (within 24 hours), you add $2 for that class. If a trial student signs up after you teach them (more about that later), you add an extra $5 for that class. So, your potential earnings range from $14-22 per hour. Second thing to keep in mind is the available hours. You are working morning/evening Beijing Time, plus their weekends. You have to be available when the demand is there, otherwise you won’t get booked. That means a 4 AM wake up or an occasional all nighter. Keep that in mind when adding up your potential paycheck. Payment for the month gets directly deposited into your bank account by the 15th of the following month.
Pretty good! So, I could easily work 2-3 hours per day and get a substantial paycheck, right?
Maybe. The most important thing to keep in mind is that you are not guaranteed any bookings. You are an independent contractor. The way it works is, you open up times when you are available to work, and either the VIPKID sales team or the clients schedule a class. Since parents won’t know you when you first begin, most new teachers rely on the sales team to book trial classes. Some new teachers get booked immediately, some do not. While there are many theories as to why some teachers are successful from the start, it’s clear that some new teachers do everything right and still get off to a really slow start. Don’t quit your day job (at least not right away)! Which brings us to our next question…
$20 an hour is more than I get teaching at my brick and mortar school. And I would have to deal with administration, parents, lesson plans, etc. etc. Maybe I should just quit and do VIPKID full time?
Nooooo! At least, not at first. Maybe down the line, doing VIPKID full time might work for some people. However, you are an independent contractor with very little control, and that’s a risky spot to be in if you are relying on that income alone to pay the bills. Remember, this gig isn’t offering any benefits, and you will owe taxes on this income.
Wait, taxes?
Yes, VIPKID will send you a 1099, and you will need to pay taxes on this income. Many people set aside about 30%, but it’s different for every situation. You need to talk to a CPA to know what’s right for you. On the plus side, you can write off things you buy (like props, rewards, etc), but again…a CPA is the only one who can really answer these questions for you.
Ok. Still sounds pretty good. What are the requirements for applying? I’m not a classroom teacher/don’t have an education background/never taught ESL/whatever. 
Requirements are fairly straightforward. You must be American or Canadian, a native English speaker, have at least an undergraduate degree, and have some experience working with kids. They are fairly flexible with what that experience can be, but it must be something.
I have a graduate degree/twenty years of classroom experience/etc. Am I an obvious choice? Will my pay reflect my professional achievements in the field of education?
No. It probably won’t hurt, but it might not help at all. One thing that’s hard for some applicants to wrap their head around is that their outstanding achievements in the wonderful field of education don’t really matter in this context. You aren’t teaching in the traditional sense, and VIPKID is a for-profit company. They will hire you if you are good at doing what they want a teacher to do: energetically walk the students through their set curriculum.
Ok, I’m really not that perky or creative. Should I pass on this?
Not necessarily. You do have to maintain a certain level of energy to be engaging in an online teaching environment. These are young kids, and you are just a face on a computer screen. However, you might have seen some pretty overly obnoxious youtubers giving tips and tutorials, and you definitely don’t have to be *that* crazy. You probably do need to go a bit out of your comfort zone during the interview process, but you can generally mellow out a bit once you get a good feel for your students.
Commenters on social media want me to use their referral link. That sounds scammy.
Anyone promising tons of easy money for little to no work is scamming you, so scroll past those guys. But no, VIPKID isn’t a MLM scam. Established teachers get a referral bonus if someone applies using their referral link and makes it through the referral process to teach a class. Basically, it’s an incentive for teachers to help mentor new teachers because the process can be a bit confusing. Help from the company is half a world away, and the language barrier can be tricky. It is nice knowing that, if you sign up with a referral link, you don’t have to feel bad about bugging the mentor with questions since they are getting a bit of cash to do it. But, it’s not free money. Anyone making exaggerated claims is probably just trying to get that referral fee. If someone promises you $1000 a month right off the bat…nope. You can use mine (here; code 065HH8), and I’m happy to answer questions honestly, plus help you with set up and lighting and whatnot. However, if you have a personal friend already with VIPKID, that would be the ideal way to go.
I applied for VIPKID, and I didn’t get the job. Should I try again?
Maybe! Some people seem to have good luck with waiting six months and trying again. Other people attempt to re-do the application with a different email address. However, it might just not be a great fit for you. I would re-evaluate before investing anymore time, energy, or money into VIPKID.

Welcome to VIPKID Answers!

Interested in teaching with VIPKID? Are you a newly hired teacher with VIPKID looking to make a decent side income teaching online? Just curious about online teaching in general? Welcome to my little space for answers, thoughts, opinions, and experiences about all things ESL, VIPKID, and making a few bucks teaching online.

The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for. –Ludwig Wittgenstein