Tens of thousands of native English speakers have embraced the global demand for online ESL education. Every morning people turn on their computers to act out animal movements, teach the ABCs or draw on a digital whiteboard with children across the globe for companies like ALO7 and VIPKid. The majority of those students have been from China, as the need for learning English as early as possible has created a very high demand for native speaking teachers and tutors. While the pandemic has impacted the market for online ESL classes in China, the need still exists, especially for companies providing multiple choices for students wanting to continue their online English studies.
Even within China, there are countless companies to choose from, all vying for prospective students and hopeful teachers. It can be overwhelming to start researching the different companies and benefits. How does a teacher know which company to contract for and which will fit their professional strengths?
In this article, we are going to compare two well-known and respected companies. VIPKid and ALO7 may have a similar goal of teaching Chinese students English, but both companies have remarkably different strategies for achieving it.
The first step with any company is the hiring process. VIPKid is well known for having a long and complicated process, sometimes requiring the applicant to teach multiple mock classes. In contrast, most applicants to ALO7 are required to teach only one mock class before receiving a hiring decision. While VIPKid has an open hiring policy, ALO7 differs in that it may have periodic hiring freezes to ensure solid bookings for current teachers.
At first glance, it appears that both ALO7 and VIPKid have similar requirements. Both companies require a bachelor’s degree in any field. Both companies have an interview and mock class structure that the prospective teacher must complete to be hired. And both companies are looking for punctual, enthusiastic self-starters. But what makes them different?
“I was looking for a dependable, flexible, stable, and higher paying job that I could do to bring in extra income, and I love teaching. I tried VIPKid first because they were the first ad I saw. I applied and got an interview and didn’t get accepted. I tried twice more to get hired on with them, but they are very hard to get hired on with. I saw the ad for ALO7, and I thought they were better and interviewed and got hired first try,” said a current ALO7 tutor.
VIPKid is well known to often require candidates to give multiple mock classes over the course of a few weeks with the hope that candidates will improve in certain areas before they are hired. They can reject your application at any given time without much explanation.
The hiring process with ALO7 is different because ALO7 looks for passion, energy, and attention to detail in candidates without expecting candidates to be perfect in all areas. If those qualities are found, the applicant is hired and provided with ample new hire training and mentoring to improve their online teaching.
Direct from the ALO7 hiring FAQ:
- Application: Submit your resume to https://tutor.alo7.com/ALO7_recruitment/signup (PDF format preferred) Voice record and optional cover letter on the website.
- Interview /Mock class:– (50 minutes) You will receive an email to book an online interview; An interview will be scheduled between you and our recruiter. During the interview, you will be asked to do an online mock class. You can feel free to ask them any questions regarding the position.
- Self Study & Online Quiz: After the interview, you are required to watch self-study videos and then finish an online quiz. If you did not pass the quiz, you need to study the incorrect answers and review the Study Materials prior to take the test again.
- Contract signing and Document Submission: After you pass the interview and quiz, you will be provided an Independent Contractor Agreement to sign and you will need to submit some documentation along with the signed Agreement. After it, you are official on board.
- Readiness Check & Experience Session A: technical check is provided to make sure your computer meets the requirements necessary to teach a class. Besides, an experience session is also provided to you before your first class to help you be well prepared
- Ready to Teach: After completing above processes, you will start teaching.
Direct from VIPKids Hiring FAQ:
- Basic info form: Enter your basic info and experience.
- Many people make mistakes at this stage: make sure you know what they are looking for before you start filling it in.
- Demo / Interview You will teach to your interviewer (pretending to be a 5-year-old), or you can do a recorded version where you teach to an imaginary student. VIPKID provides the materials.
- This stage is important as it determines your base pay rate.
- Teaching prep & Mock classes
- You will enter the certification center and take mock classes to certify to teach VIPKid levels / courses.
- Again you will be teaching an interviewer pretending to be a kid, but it’s less pressure, as most people re-take the first mock several times. Think of it as teacher training.
- More info
- Sign your contract (+TESOL)
- Sign your contract online and upload your documents (degree certificate, ID, etc.), photos, short intro video and bio. They will also do a background check.
- If you have a teaching qualification, upload it. If not, you will be asked to take the TESOL foundation course.
Salary and Incentives
Your starting salary is one of the most important factors in deciding which company for which you want to work. Most companies advertise the pay around $16-$22 an hour; however, these pay rates almost always include monthly incentives or other perks. ALO7 and VIPKid differ in one significant way when it comes to base rate; ALO7 starts everyone off at the same rate while VIPKid factors in education, mock class, and other variables to arrive at the base rate when you are hired.
For 1-to-3, 1-to-5, and small group classes, ALO7 provides $7.50 per 25-minute class as the base rate and $15 per 50-minute class with the opportunity to make more each month with incentives. The incentives include a variety of different perks. The stability incentive, for example, is based on how many classes you teach and can increase base rate by up to 18%. The quality incentives are determined by review of your class quality and can earn you an extra 7%. And, the program continuity incentive, an added incentive for teaching repeat students throughout their program without cancellations, can also increase your base pay rate.
In addition, ALO7 is now hiring specifically for teachers to teach online public school classes with a higher starting base rate of $19.50 per hour with the possibility of making more with the previously mentioned incentives.
VIPKid base pay starts at $7-$9 dollars for each 25-minute class. The base rate is decided during the interview and mock section of your hiring process. After the base rate, most teachers will likely earn the participation incentive. This is just another way of being paid more for being on time and not missing classes. Each class may be granted $1 for each taught class throughout the month. Another $1 incentive is dependent on a quota of classes you have taught in a given month.
On average, teachers report higher earnings with VIPKid, but both companies provide substantial pay within the online ESL field.
Having the ability to set one’s schedule is a major reason why many people choose to work from home. Scheduling is one of the key differences between ALO7 and VIPKid, as they approach acquiring students very differently.
ALO7 books and schedules courses with partner schools based in China. Parents aren’t able to just pick a random teacher and see if they fit. ALO7’s partner schools choose the best teacher for the students’ specific needs, and that teacher will be their primary course provider for a set of four to 16 weeks or until the course is over. There isn’t much flexibility when you get scheduled a new course, but there is certainly comfort in knowing what to expect for the foreseeable future. They do allow cancellations and vacation time as long as proper notice is given. But teachers who enjoy seeing new students every day may want to look elsewhere.
VIPKid is on the opposite spectrum. Parents book you directly. Individual teachers may acquire “core” students over time, if those parents like you and regularly schedule classes with you. This method lends itself to a more randomized experience for the teacher. Marketing your skills through a catchy introduction video and message can be crucial to attracting students. While some teachers may miss the long term scheduling of a company like ALO7, VIPKid lends itself to teachers being able to adjust their availability on a bi-weekly basis.
ALO7 began as an English curriculum provider so the course content is mostly developed in-house. The company launched its online ESL program using its award-winning Genius English courseware. These classes include interactive games, leveled readers incorporating target vocabulary and grammar, and speaking practice. Several other programs are designed for partner schools’ specific requests. For example, there is a phonics course, conversation-based course, and classes for children as young as three years old. There is even a course developed by ALO7 called, “Tales of China,” which features Chinese folktales retold in English. Teacher Marion, who has worked for both companies, says,” ALO7 is more academic and teaches more ages than VIPKID does. I feel that my educational background is more valued at ALO7 because the focus is more academic than entertainment. Yes. I still have energy, I still laugh and joke and use props and all that, but I find that my personality as an introvert is more suited for ALO7.”
VIPKid casts a wide net when it comes to their curriculum. They have introduced and continue to create more courses for all ages. They also own multiple companies within their umbrella that specialize in more age-specific templates. However, you must be hired for these companies separately. A sample of the courses/company products beyond VIPKids flagship courses include:
- “Freedom Planet” for children ages 0-4 focusing on the parent-child relationship
- Big Bear English for children ages 3-6 providing English courses and tools for Chinese families to prepare their children for future language learning
- SayABC for children ages 5-12 providing English courses through a one-on-four digital classroom to over 300,000 registered users; and
- VIP Bee School, an online dual-teacher English learning platform for large classes of students ages 9-15.
VIPKid teachers watch training videos and pass tests to open up new levels and available classes to teach. Each new achievement opens up the likelihood of bookings from students that are within the specific courses. The more training and courses you can teach, the larger the potential student pool grows. Similarly, ALO7 also has a variety of training videos with tests for a variety of curriculum that let partner schools know that the tutor is ready to teach those specific courses.
Platform: ALO7 vs. VIPKid
Long gone are the days of teaching with just a whiteboard over Skype for companies like ALO7 and VIPKid. Each company has invested substantial money into their learning platforms to create something focused, effective, and fun.
ALO7 classes are conducted using AOC, which is ALO7’s own dynamic learning platform. Although ALO7 has varying class sizes, the primary teaching model is the 1-to-3 format. One teacher guides and provides equal time to 3 students in each class, ensuring everyone stays engaged with interactive games, drawing tools, and his/her own creativity. The new online public school classes are different in that they are one-to-many classes with between 20-45 students in one classroom. These classes are taught using ALO7’s innovative courseware, Zoom, and dual monitors. The dual monitors allow teachers to see the courseware on one monitor while viewing the classroom of students on the other. An in-person teacher is onsite to assist the online teacher during these classes.
For all ALO7 classes, teachers are required to check-in at least 15 minutes before their first class of the day to help prevent any no show situation and provide substitute teachers in a timely manner, if needed.
VIPKid maintains multiple companies, each with its own unique platform. The parent company specializes in a 1 to 1 formula. This means that the teacher has to engage one student for the entirety of a class. VIPKid’s platform has all the tools you would expect like color and shapes for drawing, a reward button to award the child for a job well done, and more.
Teacher Marion says, “…VIPKid was just starting to add more advanced levels and more interactive courseware towards the middle of my second contract. And the interactive lessons were only for Pre-K and level 2 students. The platform was very much set up for you to teach the content and only the content. They didn’t want you to go off-script, so to say. The lessons told you how to teach and what to teach, even what kind of extension questions to ask. They had a star reward system, and you had to give students all five stars in a class. In addition to the stars, you had to use a secondary reward as the class goes on too. The stars were built into the platform, and students could cash stars in for real-life prizes.”
A large and often unspoken aspect of companies is the general company culture. Although online ESL tutors work from home, many still interact and engage with the company remotely. These interactions can include social media pages, communities, and full-time employee interaction. While ALO7 and VIPKid are hard to compare due to the significant difference in the number of registered teachers, the companies do have specific cultural aspects that may persuade someone to choose one over the other.
ALO7 has a very intimate feel. The upper management and staff actively participate in the main Facebook group, Pili’s Playhouse, and try to be available as much as possible. There are US timezone based moderators that help facilitate quick answers, and there are always fun topics and events going on within the group itself. There is also an ALO7 Facebook group for applicants with hiring questions or in need of support, Nani’s Newbies. In addition, there are monthly broadcast meetings that tutors can attend to learn more about new classes, company innovations, and how to boost their teaching skills. The group is filled with people living and working in countries from around the world. This aspect gives the group a friendly multi-cultural vibe other companies don’t always have. A true sense of teamwork and individuality can be found with ALO7.
VIPKid is a different beast. With 20k+ teachers on the books, there are hundreds of Facebook groups from which to choose. Tutors sometimes take the initiative to host a workshop to help applicants get hired while others may decide to organize meetups in their hometown. While the company isn’t as interactive as ALO7 in a personal sense, the communities that spring up can be focused on different identities. There are groups for VIPKid teacher Moms, Digital Nomads, or even those specifically in Chicagoland.
If you are looking to teach English online, either of these companies has something unique to offer. The key is to find the best fit for your personal needs. The companies spend ample resources on acquiring students, but people often forget they do the same to find and retain quality teachers. The best thing a new teacher can do is assess their individual needs and goals and choose from there.
Delanie Honda has a Bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a Master’s degree in International Education Policy from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. While in Cambodia in 2014, she discovered she had a passion for helping students around the world achieve their academic, professional, and personal goals through language learning. During her Master’s studies, she researched interventions using technology to provide quality education to students around the world. She has been a tutor with ALO7 since April 2017 and lived in Southeast Asia, Ecuador and Colombia.
The digital nomad lifestyle has allowed her to pursue the two things she loves: travel and education. As a Chinese-Japanese American, Delanie is asked, “Where are you from?” a lot, but welcomes the opportunity to share her culture with the people she meets from around the world. Her favorite things to do while traveling are trying new foods, playing Ultimate Frisbee, and exploring on foot.