Because it has become so easy to do, teaching online is a common way more and more people are looking to monetize their expertise. Whether you’re looking for a side gig to bring in some extra cash, or you want to completely change careers, to teach online can be a great solution.
At the same time, many people – perhaps you – are justifiably hesitant about teaching online. It may seem too good to be true. Can you really make money teaching online?
It’s a question I’ve heard many times over my almost twenty years in the learning industry. The truth is not all online teaching is incredibly lucrative, but it is possible for just about anyone to teach online and make at least some money sharing their knowledge with others. Even it it does not become your main source of income, it can be a very nice source of extra income.
In this post, we’ll cover some of the essential aspects of how to teach online and provide the key information you will need to get started.
Ways to teach online
There are a number of ways people can start teaching online, but the two main paths are either to teach for someone else or teach for yourself.
Teaching for Others
In the “teach for someone else” camp, many aspiring online teachers get Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL, or TESOL: Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) credentials and choose to work for established companies. This can be an easy path into teaching for English speakers because it relies on a base of knowledge you clearly have: how to speak English. And the need to learn English is common and perennial, so there is always demand.
If you want to get started teaching English online you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in most instances, and many companies also require TEFL or TESOL qualifications, which can cost anything from a couple of hundred dollars for online certificates, through to several thousand for full accreditation. A TESOL certificate course typically requires 120 hours of training.
If you aim to teach for an established education provider, the process and requirements are usually similar for teaching other subjects. You’ll typically need a college degree or significant experience in the subject area and holding a professional of some type – for example, from a trade or professional association – can also be very helpful.
You can find online teaching jobs listed on sites like Teachaway and Indeed. Another path is to consider whether there are common certifications or other credentials that apply to the area in which you have expertise and search on “[your topic] certification test prep].” You will likely find a number of test preparation companies that may have need of teachers.
The major upside to teaching in this way, of course, is that you have guaranteed income (assuming you don’t lose your job) and, if you are lucky, you may even be able to land a job with other benefits, like health insurance. If you are not the entrepreneurial type, this is probably the path to take.
The downside is that the costs for obtaining the necessary experience and credentials can be significant and may simply not be workable for many who aspire to teach online – particularly if your aim is to generate new income as soon as possible.
Just as (or more) importantly, you limit your earning potential when you teach for someone else. For people coming to teaching online because they want to make more than the pittance teaches are usually paid, working for an established company is probably not be the best solution.
Teaching for Yourself
Thankfully, there are other ways to teach online without spending thousands to get get the required credentials. And – when successful – these other ways have much better long-term income prospects. With a little planning and a healthy dose of motivation, you can teach your own lessons or courses online on just about any subject. And, with a multitude of ways to monetize your teaching, you can start to generate income relatively quickly.
Plenty of edupreneurs get started by creating simple YouTube videos. They’re free to host and monetize through ad revenue splitting, and most people have a smartphone and can rely on free or cheap video editing software to put together their first videos. For most, this usually is just a start – a way to start building an audience. Making significant money through YouTube requires a very large number of viewers.
The next step up may be moving to a platform like Udemy, where you can publish your courses into a marketplace for people who are actively seeking to learn online.
Finally, you may want to establish your on online course site using one of a range of platforms that allow you to have complete control over publishing and managing your courses and running your online education business. This may lead to establishing a paid membership site and community where you are able to interact with your learners and teach them in less formal ways over time.
It’s important to realize from the start that there’s no single standard teaching online model. You don’t have to create a traditional course to be a teacher. This gives you the freedom to create content on any subject, in any format, and monetize your expertise however works best for you.
Bottom line: there are teaching online options suitable for all skills, subjects, and commitment levels.
What to consider about teaching online
When deciding how to teach online, a key first consideration is your immediate needs versus your desired long-term gains.
If you already have a bachelor’s degree and TEFL certification, for example, you can begin working for any number of online language schools. The amount you’ll earn varies by company and experience, but usually caps out at around $25/hour (although it can be much lower). At the upper end – if you reach it – that’s not a bad rate for a job you can do in your own time, from your living room! And, maybe that’s all you’re looking for.
If, on the other hand, you are someone who wants to earn more from teaching online, or who wants to build a career with room to grow, working for someone else isn’t going to cut it. Independent online teachers control their own rates and can charge as little or as much as they like. Successful edupreneurs can charge several hundred dollars per hour for consultations or private tutoring, and thousands for membership in their online courses.
Self-built courses have unlimited potential. Six-figure annual incomes are regularly reported (although I prefer to think of $100k income goals as a mindset rather than an attainable target for everybody). Yes, it’s getting harder to make big money teaching online, but not impossible. You can certainly earn more than you would if you stay working for someone else, teaching their curriculum rather than your own.
The downsides to starting your own online course are the initial commitment required, and the lack of income stability. As with any business, it usually takes time to establish yourself and build an audience for your online classes. If you already have an online presence (for example a blog with a number of followers, or a popular social media account) building your audience will be easier, but regardless, you will need to be prepared to stick to it and keep building over time.
Fortunately, whatever subject you’re an expert in, there will be people who want to learn. Just as you can make money teaching your native language, so you can monetize your passion for dogs or flower arranging or bass fishing. If you’ve built a successful career in a particular industry, there will be people trying to break in who want to emulate your success, and they’ll pay to learn what you know.
Best of all, as you pursue developing your own online course and attracting an audience, you will be creating an asset that gets more and more valuable over time – something that just doesn’t happen when you are working for someone else.
So, while both online teaching methods (salaried and self-led) can generate a decent income, only one is a viable path to a career that can grow and grow.
How to make money teaching online
As already mentioned, the simplest way is to work at an hourly rate for an online education company. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of such companies available, usually teaching languages. You can get started in a matter of weeks and begin earning a steady, reliable income from teaching online.
And, even if you do plan to offer your own online courses, teaching for someone else can be a good way to keep money in and gain some online teaching experience while you are developing your own online course business.
The most successful edupreneurs tend to host complete online courses where a student can learn everything about a particular subject or skill. These courses are usually structured similarly to college classes, with lessons building on each other toward a specific outcome, be it mastering software such as Adobe Photoshop or Microsoft Excel, or learning how to knit a sweater. Popular courses can cost each learner thousands of dollars, and generate the six-figure incomes that are the goal of many edupreneurs.
To take this approach, you typically need to license a platform designed specifically for selling online courses. Nearly all of these provide tools for creating course and then selling them on an on-demand basis or as part of a subscription or membership package.
If licensing and managing an online course platform sounds like more than you want to do, then you might consider creating and selling your course through a “marketplace” platform like Udemy or one of its alternatives. Just be conscious when you do this that there are downsides to the Udemy business model. You’ll need to decide whether these downsides are worth it for you.
Be aware, too, that if your focus is primarily on creating educational videos you can host and sell these on popular streaming services such as Amazon Prime Video Direct or Vimeo On Demand, both of which stream through apps to millions of customers, who can purchase individual episodes as and when they want to view them.
Or, if you are interested in offering subscriptions without having to license and manage your own platform, many edupreneurs use sites like Patreon to produce content and share it with their followers for fixed rates that are paid monthly or upon particular triggers, such as a new lesson being posted.
Finally, charging directly for courses is not the only path to making money by teaching online. As mentioned earlier, you can use ad revenue splitting to earn money every time someone watches an ad before your video classes, or affiliate programs, which give you a cut of the profits from every sale you refer. Hosting ads on your site can also be profitable, providing you get enough visitors who click on them.
No matter which route you take, once you’ve built a successful online teaching business, it can continue to generate income for years – often with little further input from you. Working for someone else, of course, you’ll only get paid for the hours you put in – and when you stop, the money stops.
Getting started teaching online
It doesn’t take long to get started teaching online.
While applying to online teaching companies can take weeks of applications, testing, and negotiations before you’re accepted and begin earning (assuming you had all the qualifications they required already and you don’t need to take lessons yourself!), you can record your first online class and upload it to YouTube or an online course platform today. All you need is a webcam (or smartphone camera), a quiet location, and a lesson plan.
If you want a more professional setup, you can create a simple home video studio quickly and cheaply with some basic equipment.
Coming up with a subject to teach might seem daunting, but start by creating a list of what you know and are passionate enough to educate others about. It could be your language, something from your own educational background, work-related, or a favorite hobby. With a topic in mind, follow my tips for validating your online course ideas to narrow down your options.
Once you’ve chosen your subject and started planning and creating your lessons, you can find the right hosting platform and monetization methods. Within a day or two you could have a free WordPress site monetized by affiliate links, and video lessons hosted on YouTube with ad revenue splitting. You can also upload courses onto specialist online course platforms, where millions of learners go to seek out new online classes.
Keep in mind, too, that offering a live online course – for example, using a platform like Webinar Ninja – may be the fastest and easiest way to get a course up and running. A major benefit of this approach is that you can get feedback – and testimonials – from your initial students that will help you improve your course and market it effectively whether you decide to continue in a live or on-demand format.
It might seem too good to be true at first – and, as with anything, success doesn’t come without work – but teaching online is a viable source of revenue, whether you’re looking for a passive income stream or a new and exciting career. Keep in mind, though, that it is only one of the many options to make money online with your expertise. Be sure to also see our ultimate guide to monetizing your expertise for additional ideas.