Why online ESL teachers lose students

When I started as an online ESL teacher the concept of online teaching was still relatively nascent.  There were not so many easy to find resources available for figuring out what worked and what didn’t for other online ESL teachers. Most of my professional development as an online ESL teacher was primarily done through trial and error. Today I’d like to discuss the concept of student retention and specifically some of the reasons that online ESL teachers lose students.

Here are some of the mistakes I and other online ESL teachers I have known have made that have caused us to lose our students!  I’ve also included some strategies so you don’t repeat the same mistakes I’ve made.
Students leave because they don’t get a chance to speak!
One of the biggest challenges was figuring out how much time I should spend talking during an online lesson. At first, some of my students complained that I spent too much time speaking so I switched it up. Then I had students complaining that they felt they were doing too much of the talking!
It makes sense that students want to feel they are getting their money’s worth in a lesson and with most subjects this means the teacher’s doing a lot of talking at them. With ESL however (for obvious reasons) this can be a bit different.
I have found that the balance that seems to work best for my students is to have them speaking 70% of the time and me 30% of the time. Of course, if you are teaching beginners, you might want to adjust this a bit to say, 50/50 but as a general rule, 30/70 works well.
What I like to do with new students that are ‘trialling’ me  is show them some lesson plans so that they see how I format things. This gives them a good idea of how my class is going to work before they spend any money out of pocket.
Always be on time!
I can’t tell you how many teachers I have known who have lost their students because they don’t know how to be on time and have cancelled class after class. These same teachers wonder why their ESL students leave their teachers. This is all the more important for online ESL lessons, where the student will be staring at a blank screen while waiting for you!
Of course, your students are your clients. If your students don’t show up, or are late, be sure to have an agreed cancellation policy in place at the start of your relationship.
One of the main reasons ESL students leave their teachers is because they are ‘bored’. Keeping lessons active and fun is critical for student retention and growth of your online ESL business. It is vital that you keep the lessons fresh and interesting for your students. Feel free to use pop culture, hobbies, sports, anything you think your students would like to talk about, be open to it.
Having good resources like the Off2Class lesson library are a great way to keep your students interested and coming back week after week. Not only do they have an excellent placement test, their software tool will create individual student learning plans and there is a wealth of reading texts, speaking and listening activities and more.

Let me know your stories so others can learn from your mistakes! Why do you think you’ve lost some of your online ESL students in the past? 


  • Ruthi says:

    July 19, 2016 at 10:58 am

    All really obvious points to professional teachers. Maybe useful to beginning inexperienced teachers.

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      July 19, 2016 at 11:29 am

      Hi Ruthi, thanks for stopping by. As a professional, experienced teacher, do you have any advice you can give to any beginners out there?

  • Bernardo Muñoz says:

    July 21, 2016 at 9:29 am

    Dear Kris,
    I’m an experiencied ESL Chilean English teacher. At present, I teach at a technological university where I also teach some subjects online. Since I would like to teach students from around the world. How can I start? I’d really appreciate some help.

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      July 21, 2016 at 9:39 am

      Hi Bernardo, nice to hear from you! The critical part is finding students. All else can wait, but you need to move on finding your students first. There’s no easy answer there, but I suggest trying all avenues. Recently we had a post by a fellow online teacher where he outlined the strategies he used to find students on the tutor marketplaces such as italki: https://www.off2class.com/how-to-get-online-students-30-days/

  • Bernardo Muñoz says:

    July 21, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Thank you for you prompt reply. I’ll put hand a to work.

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