Just now, we happen to be in a crisis of contact because being near strangers and talking face to face could be lethal. To limit COVID's potentially deadly reach, everyone, from government workers to families, has moved their interactions online.
Even though today's circumstances include academic goings-on, the pandemic has nothing to do with online tutoring being so beneficial.
What makes online tutoring effective? What are its benefits - and, to be fair, its drawbacks? Pandemic aside, why are so many learners turning to lessons online?
Your Superprof endeavours to answer these questions and others.
Questions Addressed and Resulting Statistics
As you likely know, Superprof is a tutor exchange platform that gives particular emphasis to online tutoring. Naturally, Superprof mentors also work with students in person, whenever possible and if that's what the student prefers.
Our position in the tutoring market might tempt you to believe that our assertion of online tutoring being beneficial is meant to pad our bottom line.
To avoid even the appearance of self-promotion, we first present and dissect independent research results on the topic.
To date, there has been plenty of anecdotal feedback that online tutoring works well for students and tutors but there was only limited academic research completed on the subject... until American researcher Cherie Mazer published her study's findings.
Her paper, titled Best Practices in Online Tutoring used data provided by a US-based online tutoring company to bring together some ideas and research into online tutoring (OLT). The data used for Ms Mazer's study came from only the online tutoring conducted in 2013.
She started by selecting 350 different tutoring sessions conducted online to collect comments and determine the efficacy of best practices associated with tutoring. Each tutoring session she investigated was randomly selected from a pool that likely stretches into the thousands.
To ensure that only the most useful data would be scrutinised, Mazer restricted her research's focus to three core subjects – Maths, English and Science.
- Scope of English: Mazer focused on tutoring addressing Composition and Writing Process; two common problem areas in American education. This phase particularly examined how students created pieces of creative writing, ranging from spelling and grammar to structure and format.
- Scope of Science, Mazer looked at the three core sciences: Chemistry (she conducted a separate investigation into Organic Chemistry OLT results since chemistry, in itself, would be too broad a field), Physics, Biology and Earth Sciences.
- Scope of Mathematics: Mazer looked at three different areas to ensure that she received the optimal mix of data.
Composition-based English work is very much a skill that is crafted slowly over time but collecting data on tutoring different topics and levels of mathematics diversified the research and provided a greater data set to examine.
The different maths topics, you might already know, include arithmetic, calculus and trigonometry, just to name a few.
For her maths surveys, Mazer collected data for Algebra 2 – High School algebra, Mid-level Mathematics (defined by Mazer as ‘Remedial Algebra’) and College Statistics.
These three levels allowed the inclusion of complex, algebraic analysis of functions typical of higher maths, as well as the somewhat more wordy problems commonly seen in Statistics lessons. Data from Statistics tutoring includes establishing functions to allow for more ‘pure’ mathematics to be included in the research's parameters.
After distilling her findings, Ms Mazer's paper goes on to list what could be considered ‘best practices’ – the generally-accepted methods for how online educators engage their students and achieve the highest possible results.
Find out why you should use online tutoring.
Online Tutoring Best Practices
According to Mazer's research, the OLT company she analysed hired only systematically-vetted tutors to ensure that they were competent and matched rigorous industry standards.
The OLT company knows that gaining clients' trust, providing quality tutoring and receiving positive feedback are essential to ensure their business' growth, so some of the things they considered and verified include:
- Vetting/Background checks: child safety is at the forefront of every potential client's mind and a mark of trust in the industry.
- Testing: tutors must be competent. Mazer highlights the importance of ensuring that tutors are well-versed in their area of speciality.
- We don't know how stringent that company's tests were or what their verification process involves but, for an OLT company to take part in such a research effort, we can be fairly certain that those exams weren't anything poorly-qualified tutors could shrug themselves into.
- Mentoring: a tutor is often considered a mentor but, in this case, Mazer refers to a mentoring system to help tutors refine their technique so that students get the best possible learning experience.
Mentoring helps new tutors adjust to what is expected of them and what standards the company will hold them to. This type of guidance and continuous learning also allows for continual development – tutoring as a profession.
Besides ensuring the company's high standard of tutoring, mentoring guarantees consistency in practice – these methods for tutoring online are passed down to every newly-hired tutor.
Mazer posits that the practice of mentoring adds strength to her research. At the outset of her work, she was given set practices that online teachers are expected to follow. Those guidelines formed the framework upon which the data she analysed was built on, deepening the impression that such practices are used by educators everywhere.
This means that the survey results come from students tutored on a level playing field – every student received roughly the same standard of tutoring.
You may want to read this article that proves that online learning works.
Conclusions from Mazer's Research
Students were asked to fill out a survey about their thoughts on their learning experience with the tutoring site.
Just as Cherie Mazer discovered when she looked at the data from the feedback questions students answered at the end of their online learning time, we can draw the same conclusions.
Note: only 12% of students answered the feedback questions at the end of the session, but those few answers gave a surprising amount of information.
- 18,455 students responded when asked about the tutoring service in general and if it helped them to complete their homework. 96% said yes it did and was of benefit to them.
- 17,970 answered the question of whether the tutoring service helped to improve their grades; the same percentage said 'yes'.
- Note that the lower response rate could be explained by the fact that many students aren’t sure if their grades are improving until they receive their results – we don’t know when, within the academic year, this data was collected.
- 18,075 students responded when asked if they felt more confident about their homework as a result of using the service – the ‘yes’ percentage was 97% this time.
- Beware that this answer came just as they had just finished a session with their tutor and were perhaps swayed by the enthusiasm generated during their session.
Students were also asked to grade the session that they had just had – the response rate for this question was 37%. Here’s a rough breakdown of their responses:
- Excellent – 43,855 responses – 79.8%
- Very Good – 5,937 responses – 10.8%
- Good – 2,505 responses – 4.6%
- Fair – 1,110 responses – 2%
- Other – 1,533 responses – 2.8%.
Would you like to see for yourself what all of this glee is all about? Discover for yourself the pros of online learning.
What Makes Online Tutoring So Effective?
Perhaps Ms Mazer had stumbled upon a possible explanation for the success of the system in her research – the vetting, background tests and mentoring. Maybe the fundamental framework that she saw in practice contributed to the success of the system.
A tutor who knows his material and knows how to teach it certainly would make me more comfortable in my learning. That seems to be the general sentiment because the overwhelmingly positive response to online tutoring continues to trend upwards.
Statistics consistently show the majority of students satisfied with the sessions they participate in. Many can see how their homework benefits from individual attention to their learning needs. They feel more confident doing this work now they have someone to explain things clearly and guide their efforts.
OLT looks set to become a long-term learning proposition - again, not because of COVID but because students of all stripes keep coming back to see what else they can learn and nudge their grades higher.
As mentioned previously, OLT's effect on grades is quite substantial – over 90% of students rated the service as either Excellent or Very Good. This has to be an encouraging sign for all involved.
See why online tutoring is online the increase in the UK.
What Are the Benefits of Online Tutoring?
The current pandemic demands we keep away from anyone who might infect us - in other words, everyone we don't live with and whose every movement we don't know. Let us just stipulate that OLT is a fringe benefit of self-isolation, not an academic benefit.
We would be taking unfair advantage of the current situation if we billed meeting social distancing mandates as the #1 benefit of OLT.
Besides, there are so many great, academic reasons why OLT is such a great way to learn.
The personal computer (PC is the name we're more familiar with) became widely available in the last decade of the 20th Century but, despite astronomical sales, the industry didn't rest on its laurels. Continuous improvements in the technology and innovations in how PCs could be used meant that few households failed to regularly upgrade their electronic machines.
In the early, pioneering days of home computing, the machines were slow, clunky and had little in the way of graphics capabilities. For many whose love affair with the PC began in those days, what our laptops and hand-held devices are capable of today is nothing short of astounding.
For children currently enrolled in school - primary, secondary and even at university, powerful computers are nothing to be amazed about. Today's students have never known a world without cellphones, tablets or computers. They take for granted the possibility of instant communication, video streaming and the fantastic graphics that render their games so vivid.
They are digital natives who feel most at home in the cyber-world. They navigate from app to page to streaming service with nary a blink; indeed, deprive them of their phones and they will suffer anxiety spikes and a profound sense of loss.
If we accept that the most efficient means of teaching students is in the environment they feel most comfortable, we must inevitably conclude that meeting for lessons online would fit that bill to a tee.
More than just chatting online, digital natives are comfortable using online tools and applications to further their learning. Virtual whiteboards - a must for successful OLT, as well as education-oriented software and the ability to share documents suit today's students' preferences far better than face-to-face instruction.
Qualified, experienced online educators apply their skills to make the most of their remote teaching by using the tools technology makes available to them.
Besides virtual whiteboards and other applications mentioned above, resourceful supplemental learning coaches have long known that animated graphics, math tools and drawing software makes each lesson more vivid and memorable. Even parents with young children find that tuition online is more engaging than expected.
Besides apps to enhance students' learning experience, the internet houses a vast trove of information.
Let's say a tutor needs documentation to support the history lesson he's giving. A quick screen-share and an even faster internet search - the savvy tutor will have relevant pages bookmarked for quickest access - and, soon, tutor and learner are looking at the same web page.
Finally, there is test prep.
Granted, past papers and mock exams are available online whether the tutoring takes place 'live' - in person or via webcam. However, OLT allows the tutor to administer mock tests, mimicking actual test conditions: timing each segment and doubling as a proctor.
Practising for exams by taking mock tests is always a good idea but, with OLT duplicating the conditions students test under, such practice runs help to psychologically condition students for their ordeal.
Record and Save Sessions
One of education's biggest stumbling blocks is how much of the instruction students remember. That's true for classroom and online learning. Wouldn't it be great to record lessons for playback when a refresher is needed?
In a standard tutoring session, few would think to record a full hour of instruction. Just setting up the recording devices could cause problems: who should the camera focus on, the tutor or learner? Would it pick up everything that's being said and play it back clearly?
If the tutor/tutee only need a voice recording: which device to rely on? If a phone, does it have enough memory to store all of the lessons? Will it capture every word without fades or garbles? If one uses a computer or tablet to record, will the microphone be of sufficient quality to ensure useful playback?
OLT makes all of these questions moot. Video and audio are recorded digitally, yielding the highest audio/video playback quality.
Some of the video chat applications commonly used - Skype and Hangouts do not have built-in recording capabilities; you have to download an extension and deploy both applications in tandem. Others, such as Zoom, have recording capability built-in.
Let's paint a picture, now. Your tutoring hour is up; you head to the kitchen for a snack before tackling homework. You get distracted; your phone is showing a dozen new message. Naturally, you read and respond. By the time you get back to your books, your focus has shifted. Sound familiar?
No worries; you have a recording! Skip through it and play the parts you need to cement new information into your brain. Now, back in the groove, you're ready to complete your assignments.
The Pitfalls of Online Tutoring
Pitfall: a hidden or not easily recognised danger or difficulty.
OLT offers many benefits to learners and teachers despite the additional skills they must have for online learning to be effectual. Still, no matter how skilled teachers are - with technology and shifting their pedagogy, some aspects that impact OLT are out of their control. One of them is connectivity.
In the UK and other developed countries, people are fortunate to have a reliable internet connection. That doesn't mean that everybody has access to the internet, nor does it mean that connections don't occasionally fail.
Just recently, technicians discovered why an entire village in Wales lost and regained their broadband at the same hours every day... for 18 months!
Another potential pitfall is finding students to tutor.
Somehow, parents have to find qualified academic coaches and those worthies have to figure out how to promote their business and skills.
Online tutoring marketplaces such as Superprof allow for easy access to a tutor for every child in need of academic coaching but, oftentimes, parents are in the dark about where to turn to find the greatest selection of mentors for their child.
Educators are not marketers, even if they tutor in Marketing. For the tutor going it solo - without the benefit of an umbrella group such as Superprof or signing on with a tutoring agency, finding clients could be difficult.
Being 'the right teacher' for your tutee means establishing and cultivating a personal connection - something both teachers and learners find more difficult to do via webcam. Surveys reveal that the inability to collaborate is the main culprit.
Online educators who engage with interactive applications such as whiteboards and shared documents during their one on one lessons and who allow for greater accessibility outside of lessons are generally more successful in building rapport with their charges.
It takes a little more work to bond with your students online but creativity and being tech-savvy can help you navigate that particular pitfall. For more workarounds and potential downsides, You should read our article on the cons of online tutoring.
Why So Many Learners Are Turning to Online Instruction
Digital natives want to learn in the environment they're more comfortable in, with the tools they are most adept at using. They don't want to be pinned to a schedule; they want to log in and learn when it's most convenient for them.
They want more than textbooks and talking; they want interaction and graphics and animation. They want diversity in pedagogy and the privilege of having a teacher's undivided attention.
Parents want great tuition for their student at the lowest price possible. They would rather their child benefit from tutoring services at home rather than ferry them to a centre or some pre-arranged meeting place for learning time.
For the wealth of subjects and resources available online, for the cost and convenience - and yes, even the safety of online learning, OLT is the hassle-free choice for child and parent alike.
And, even though educators have had to adjust their teaching methods to suit the virtual environment, a growing number of them also prefer online to classroom teaching.
Are you still unsure whether one to one, online teaching services are right for you? Talk to us via the comments below.