So, there we have it. I now have a third line to add to the 'Professional Qualifications' section of my CV - along with the distant memory of the Trinity Cert TESOL and the distance learning of the MA in EdTech and TESOL, I can now type in 'Trinity Diploma in TESOL' (I can also apparently officially include the letters "LTCL DipTESOL" after my name but that might be difficult to fit on my business card!)

All that means in ELT terms, I have the 'double whammy' of higher level qualifications - an MA and a Diploma. In my new job, I find myself being asked this question: "which have you found more useful?" (often with "the Diploma, right?" tagged on to the end). Personally, I find such either/or distinctions unhelpful. However, having completed both programmes (with the slightly unusual order of doing the MA first, the reasons for which I have been through previously), a little comparison of the benefits they have brought me wouldn't hurt.

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 CC0 Public Domain
Teacher Development
Let's start here with the main reason (or what should be the main reason) for any teacher taking a course. I often cite my MA as the moment teaching stopped being a job and started being a career. It really pushed me along in terms of considering and defining my beliefs as a language teacher and encouraged me to analyse what I did in terms of how it benefited my students. I experimented, I adjusted, I developed.

However, I was not assessed directly in the classroom. I was assessed only through the lens of my assignments. I could perhaps afford the odd false start or wrong turn in class as long as the long-term research goal was in mind. On the Dip, there was no place to hide. I needed to take all my knowledge and experience and use it to showcase an effective learning experience within defined assessment criteria.

Of course, on both the MA and the Dip, perfection was not expected and there was plenty of scope (and indeed credit) given for identifying what didn't work so well and what could be done differently - a key part of any teacher's development

So, which one served me better? The low pressure action research rooted in my own context that the MA provided? Or the pressure-cooker live assessed observation of the Dip? Difficult to say really but one thing sticks with me - I finished my MA with the strong feeling that I was developing as a teacher. I knew I still had areas to work on but that was fine because I was equipped with the reflective tools to improve further. I finished the Dip initially feeling like I wasn't actually that good at my job. I had struggled to produce sixty-minute lessons that ticked all the boxes in the assessment criteria and it was a knock to my confidence. Several months on, I am able to view it more as the challenging and productive learning experience it was but at the time, I felt like I was back on my Cert...

There was much more to the Dip than the TP, of course, but as I explained in my earlier posts, the free hand offered by the research projects, exam essays and phonology interview didn't quite match what was required in the observed lessons. To put it another way, I felt my MA helped me move towards becoming the teacher I wanted to be but the Dip left me struggling to be the teacher defined by externally-imposed criteria.
Career Advancement
Another big reason for taking such courses - to get better jobs at better schools. So, which qualification has helped me more here? Well, it depends. Back when I started my MA, part of the reason was that my employers at the time in Turkey didn't seem to know what a Dip/DELTA was and how it was different from a Cert/CELTA. An MA on the other hand was something they did understand and my successful completion of it came with more responsibility at work and a pay rise.

The MA was also a key factor in me moving on to Gabon. It helped my application stand out and gave me a platform to discuss my research into teacher development and online learning during the interview. I started doing the Dip while I was there but again, my employers didn't seem to know exactly what it was.

However, the Dip has also helped me move my career forward. I would not be at the British Council now without it. For my new employers, the MA is an added bonus but the Dip is what counts. Other schools I applied to at the start of this year were the same.

So it depends on your context. International schools and some university positions may value an MA more. Language schools and large organisations like the British Council or International House will most likely prefer a Dip/DELTA.

Even when you have both, it's not always enough. I was ruled out for several international school jobs because of my lack of PGCE or UK qualified teacher status. Now I am in a coordinator position at the British Council, my studies are not over as I have been enrolled in an Academic Management course to help me with that aspect of my job. I also have to take the CELT YL extension in the summer - a teaching centre requirement due to the large volume of young learners we have here.

The courses keep on coming and the learning never stops!

On the face of it, the MA would seem to be the more likely candidate for offering specialisation. Mine focused on Educational Technology as well as TESOL and there were opportunities to do research and learn about blended learning programmes, online and multimedia course design, and teacher training.

It has to be said thought that the Dip also offers the chance to specialise, particularly through the Unit 2 projects. By conducting those action research cycles, I am now keen to learn more about classroom interaction patterns and learner autonomy. I also had the chance to continue the work on online teacher development that I started during my MA.

So both options have opportunities for you to specialise - you just have to take them!

Time & Cost
I often hear that the Dip is a quicker option than the MA and it is also more cost effective. However, I would say that those claims are not exactly true. For starters, the Dip can take as little as three months (if you find a face-to-face intensive programme) or as long as a few years if you leave the research projects on the backburner for too long. An MA can take a few years if done by distance and/or part-time. It can also be done in a year if you go for a full-time onsite programme. Of course, the face-to-face option requires taking leave or potentially quitting your job but the same can be said for the Dip.

As for cost, in my case, they were about the same. As a direct comparison, the tuition fees for the Dip were considerably less than for the MA. However, once you add in the moderation fees and the flights, accommodation and other expenses for a month in Prague (affordable a place as it is), the total spent came to about the same. As my MA was online, the only other expense apart from the fees was the postage when I sent a hard copy of my dissertation in.

Books don't count as there were compulsory reads for both courses and (thankfully) free access granted to a number of online journals.

Learning something new
Another way to look at it is which course taught me something new? The MA seems the obvious answer again as the focus on online learning and applying technology in class introduced me to a lot of new ideas. However, the Dip also kicked my awareness of phonology into gear. There is always something new to learn!

The Best Qualification?
So at the end of all that, I will of course take the easy route and say they both have value to me in different ways. The MA enabled me to take huge strides forward in terms of my knowledge of teaching and my awareness of learning. I was introduced to the idea of reflective practice and never looked back and it opened doors for me as far away as equatorial Africa. The Dip allowed me to be where I am now and also forced me to take a long hard look in the reflective mirror (the results of which have been the last ten days on this blog!)

But I always say the best qualifications I have are not the ones on paper but the ones in my classroom - every student and every teacher I have had the pleasure to work with. And I am looking forward to expanding my range of qualifications when I get back into class tomorrow. :)


  1. Thanks a million David, couldn't come at a better time for me. Best of luck and every success with your teaching career. Looks like you've certainly earned it!

    1. Thank you Mark! I guess the main lesson here is that there is always something to learn and always ways to develop.

      Good luck with the rest of your course. :)

  2. Hi.
    I found what you wrote very interesting since I doing the dip and plan later to do an MA.

    1. Thanks Daniel. I am glad you've found it useful. :)

  3. The MA course sounds interesting. Which university did you study with?

    1. The University of Manchester. They have an excellent educational technology programme.

      For the Dip, OxfordTEFL is the best option - Spain or Czech Republic!


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