What is session-based teaching? And, what is program-based teaching?
Written by James Liu on Jan. 15th 2019
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Most online teachers are offering session-based teaching, but not program based. What are session-based teaching and program-based teaching? What are the pros and cons?

In session-based teaching, sessions are independent from each other. The focus is determined by students and varies between sessions. What you teach and how you teach in each session are modified to meet the specific needs of the student for that particular session. Of course, students pay you by session. Even though you might bundle a number of sessions together and sell at a lower per session price, you’re still doing session-based teaching.  

On the other hand, with program-based teaching, sessions are integrated as a whole. The focus of each session is predetermined by you to serve the goals of the program. What you teach and how you teach in each session are systematically designed to maximize the results of the program. Students pay for the program, which consists of a planned number of sessions.

Compared to session-based teaching, what are the pros and cons of offering program-based teaching? 


Your teaching focus is designed specifically for your audience, not decided by the students.

A program is developed specifically for a group of people with problems and needs in common. With a clear understanding of the problems, you’re able to identify and leverage the knowledge and techniques necessary to best address these problems. You might need to develop new skills, but you will be better prepared to get your students results.  

On the other hand, in session-based teaching, because the focus of each session is determined by students, you have to shift the focus constantly to meet different needs from different students. Not only are you not be able to help every student, but you’re also less prepared to get your students results. You want to help everyone, but you end up helping no one. 

Teaching duration (# of sessions and frequency) is optimized for results, not determined by students.

In session-based teaching, how long the student stays with you and how often they come to class can be affected by you, but is ultimately controlled by students. The fact that students often don’t take enough sessions jeopardizes the results you can get for them.  

However, in program-based teaching, the program duration and session frequency are systematically designed to maximize results. You can give sessions twice a week to keep students active or once a week to give students more time for homework, or even vary the frequency between modules to best engage with students and maximize results. 

Student action can be systemically managed and reinforced. 

One of the biggest challenges of online teaching is getting results for students. And, one of the reasons why students don’t get results is that they don’t implement teachings or take action. Simply put, if you don’t get students to implement what they learned, very likely they are not going to see results. If students don’t see results, they don’t blame themselves, they blame you and associate it with the quality of your teaching. 

In program-based teaching, student action can be managed by incorporating action elements into the program. For example, you can plan homework assignments that students have to finish before the next session. You can hold students accountable by reminding them and empowering them to take action. Sufficient student action ensures the results generated at the end of the program. 

You can justify a higher rate.

This is the pain point for most teachers on online platforms. How much can I charge? How can I justify a higher price? A higher price is hard to justify by good reviews alone, when almost 90% of teachers have close to full stars on the platform. It also cannot be justified by the fact that you are a native English speaker or that you have taught English for a certain number of years.

Program-based teaching allows you to charge a higher price because, first of all, you are more likely to get students results (as explained above). Second, you offer a package with essential services that students need to solve their problems as well as extra services that students don’t think they need, but actually benefit from significantly.

For example, one of my clients helps working professionals with their business English. In his program, he also helps his students improve communication skills. His students thought their ceiling at work was their business English proficiency, but the real problem was that students had challenges advocating for themselves and explaining complex ideas to their colleagues and bosses.  

By having communication development incorporated into the package along with business English, the teacher is able to charge much more than while offering these services separately. 

It is scalable. 

Another problem associated with session-based teaching is that it is hard to scale because you don’t have a consistent teaching process. You can’t help a group of students with all different requests. However, in program-based teaching, the content and teaching process can be designed with high consistency, because your students are from the same group with common needs, and you’re able to offer group sessions to scale your teaching business. 

What is a scalable online teaching business? Please read this!

You have a more pleasant teaching experience.

Most online teachers want to teach as their career. You enjoy teaching and meeting students from around the world. But, how can you do it when most online teachers quit in three years?

With session-based teaching, teachers work with each student independently. You have to customize each session with each student, and the only way to earn more is to clock more hours. 

With program-based teaching, 80% of what you teach and how you teach it in the program will be the same. The program is systematically designed and the results are more solid, with a lot less work involved. You get better at teaching the program as you progress. You become a thought leader in your niche much faster. Your income improves. There are so many reasons why you’ll enjoy teaching again and, luckily, it can be a career for you.  


You need a niche for the program.  

You just can’t develop programs targeting every student. You have to pick a niche for the program you would like to develop. It doesn’t mean you have to become solely a niche player, but you do need a niche for every program. (For more information about why you need a niche and how to determine your niche, please read this!)  

You need an effective marketing channel to support your program-based teaching.

I can definitely see the challenges in selling programs, if teachers don't have an effective marketing channel that helps them attract students who are perfect candidates for the programs they designed, especially for teachers on session-driven platforms. It’s like selling oranges in a supermarket—you’ve decided to sell a kind of oranges with a unique flavor. You probably won't be able to sell many there because most customers are there for normal oranges. However, if you have an effective marketing approach to tell customers looking for this unique flavor that you have it available, then they will come to you and are very likely willing to pay a higher price because they can't find it anywhere else. (For more information about effective marketing, please read this!)  

The program has to work.

If your program does not get your students results, it won’t last. You’ll just be wasting your time developing programs. This happens so often when it comes to online courses—people develop these courses without ever teaching them to students and dream of making a fortune out of them. What happens is that the online course ends up selling at $9.99, with still no one buying it. 

To summarize, when you teach with programs, the quality of your teaching is higher and your life will be easier both financially and professionally. In addition, you are often not simply an English teacher to your students any more. You become more of a career and life coach to them, because you usually end up teaching skills and knowledge besides the English language in your program—skills that help your students become the best version of themselves both personally and professionally.  

Watch the video here to learn more about how to start and grow your profitable, sustainable, and scalable business TODAY.

James Liu

James Liu helps online teachers start and grow profitable and scalable online businesses. He is an expert at helping online teachers develop business skills and premium services that allow them to get students on demand and at a higher rate. 
If you're interested in growing your online teaching business, then definitely reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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