Largely as a consequence of Covid-19, Cambridge English Assessment, the body that is responsible for standards and regulations for the CELTA course, and which issues the CELTA certificate, decided to allow courses to be run fully online for the first time.
Of course, what many people don't know, is that the "Online CELTA" had been in existence for a number of years already. Cambridge had teamed up with International House to put together a Moodle platform with content (texts, videos, activities and exercises, forums and audio texts) that matched the content of the CELTA syllabus--in other words, the input that had until then been delivered exclusively by trainers on face-to-face CELTA courses.
Input and Teaching Practice
The contact hours on these courses could effectively be divided into input and teaching practice. The former are trainer-led sessions that address the vital basics of teaching English as a foreign language, i.e., the CELTA syllabus. Teaching practice included actual teaching of students (observed by both trainers and fellow candidates), oral feedback on that teaching practice, and assisted lesson planning (in which all candidates participate communally).
On the original online CELTA course, face-to-face input was replaced by online (Moodle) input, allowing for more flexibility in delivery. When I set up the British Council Singapore's online course, we had candidates go through input almost entirely before starting teaching practice. This allowed, for example, candidates based in Malaysia or Hong Kong to come to Singapore only for the teaching practice portion of the course, which cut down their stay there to two and a half weeks, rather than the four they would have to stay had they had both components of the course--input and teaching practice--been face-to-face.
The Pivot: Online Teaching Practice
The great innovation of Cambridge's online pivot at the start of the Covid pandemic was to allow teaching practice to take place in an online setting as well. Very quickly, in order for candidates to continue taking the course in spite of lockdown orders, and in order for CELTA centers to remain financially afloat, Cambridge temporarily authorized CELTA courses to take place completely online. This new offer was made permanent when it was officially incorporated into the new CELTA Handbook, published by Cambridge English Assessment in the middle of 2021. The Handbook also included guidelines for an entirely new format for the CELTA course, the mixed mode course (subject of a later blog post, so stay tuned).
Content, Assessment Criteria, and the Certificate--Different or the Same?
The assessment criteria for online teaching practice, perhaps surprisingly, is exactly the same as for face-to-face teaching. Some of the criteria obviously mean different things--for example, monitoring students on Zoom doesn't look like monitoring in the classroom, but it is an essential attribute of successful teaching in both. Trainers who have not been trained to assess online now have to be, and new trainers are specifically trained separately on both delivery methods--but the outcome for the candidates is the same.
Similarly, the content of the course--the syllabus itself--has remained unchanged.
Finally with regards to the certificate itself, delivered by Cambridge University, nothing has changed there either. Cambridge Assessment English wants to avoid creating a two-track CELTA that may come to have a different value for employers, and so refuses to indicate on its certificates the format in which the course was taken.
However, candidates also receive, in addition to the CELTA certificate, an end-of-course report written by the center with which they took the course. It is now required that centers indicate on these reports the format in which the course was taken. This is in fact quite advantageous to candidates. Employers almost never ask to see a copy of this certificate--however, if you want to show your future employer that you have had training in online teaching, this is the proof.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Whether you opt for this format will depend on your priorities. If you are certain that you will never teach online, or if you are really uncomfortable using technology, then this isn't the format for you. If you have trouble getting organized, and if you're not self-motivated, it might be more challenging as well--when you are using the Moodle for input, you are responsible for logging on, doing the reading and exercises and participating in forum discussions. Though your trainers will encourage you to do so, there is no penalty for not doing the work, but this will also reflect on the quality of your teaching practice and assignments--hence, ultimately, impacting your performance on the course. If you need someone on your back to get work done, stay away from self-access courses.
On the other hand, there are notable advantages to this format, first among which is flexibility. If you are working, taking the part-time fully online course just may be the best solution, as you will be able to organize your schedule largely according to your personal and professional circumstances.
And also, it is cheaper than taking it in other formats. English for Africa, for example, offers the course for only 12300 Moroccan Dirhams, which is about 25 percent less expensive than the mixed mode course.