If, when thinking about online tutoring, you've ever wondered whether it could be as good as in-home, face to face tutoring, congratulate yourself for thinking along the same lines as millions of others have.
Today, the 'effective online' question has more relevance than ever before.
COVID has wrought so many changes in our lives; most dramatically in how we can communicate and learn without exposing ourselves to infection. Everyone from school students to grandparents must, for safety's sake, conduct the majority of their social interactions online.
Is video chatting with Gran and Gramps as fulfilling as sitting on their laps and getting cuddles? By that same token, could virtual instruction ever be as impactful and effective as classroom learning?
We are at a defining moment in human history. How we manage our interactions during this pandemic and how we move forward - with or without the coronavirus overshadowing every aspect of our lives will likely become the blueprint for all future connections and collaborations.
Your Superprof is overwhelmingly concerned about how those changes will impact education so today, we look at the centuries-old practice of remote learning, how it has evolved into a booming, billion-dollar industry and how it can be a most effective method of learning.
After all, billion-dollar industries don't simply spring up; they have to be doing something right... right?
A Brief History of Distance Learning
The technology we rely on today for virtual teaching dates back less than 50 years but remote learning is a centuries-old practice. Records show that one of the earliest forays into that market was in 1728.
The first overwhelmingly successful correspondence course was for a style of shorthand taught by Sir Isaac Pittman during the Victorian era. The course format involved mailing study materials to students, who would return their work to the school via post.
Sir Pittman would correct and grade the work, and then return it to the student, taking full advantage of the newly-enacted Uniform Penny Post reform act.
Student feedback was a critical innovation in education; before then, students handed in their papers but seldom received any marks or critique of their work.
Sir Pittman's correspondence course was a wild success that led to the founding of the Phonographic Correspondence Society. That society, in turn, drove the Pittman Method course subscriptions up, leading Sir Pittman to establish colleges all over the country.
A few years later, in 1894, Wolsey Hall Oxford took that success and ran away with it, founding the first distance-learning college in the UK.
Not to be outdone, across the pond, American educator and author Anna Eliot Ticknor founded The Society to Encourage Studies at Home in 1873. It was the first school to teach solely via correspondence course in the US.
One crucial difference between the established US and UK distance education schools was their target audience.
Whereas the UK schools aimed their study materials at well-to-do women with plenty of leisure time, the US courses were geared to women of all social classes, even those buried under housework and children.
These courses' eager reception and their phenomenal success heralded a pivot in American society brought on by the opportunity for women to pursue marketable skills and, eventually, join the workforce as full-fledged wage earners.
Those social changes would not come until decades later but, for remote learning, the die was cast.
Proven to be a cost-effective, accessible and viable way to teach students who had no hope of ever partaking of higher education, distance learning has remained on the fringes - but at the forefront of the continuous learning movement.
Considering that remote learning got its start in the UK, is it any wonder that online learning is taking off here?
How Distance Education Became What it is Today
Historically, one of the main reasons that learners turned to distance education was that university study was out of their reach, either because they lacked the money, the social connections and/or position or they were called to work.
If those who aspired to university education were female or non-white, they may have been barred from college and university enrolment because of those factors.
Demographics and social standing aside, correspondence students represented enough of the education market share that distance learning companies continued to develop their curriculum, diversifying their content into other, more academic subjects such as maths, English, science and so on.
Businesses soon jumped on the bandwagon - not the for-profit education business, which was already claiming substantial gains. Leaders of marketing, manufacturing, advertising, financial and sales corporations took notice...
Executives soon saw how effective training employees remotely could be. As early as the 1920s but certainly a decade later, new technologies - television and radio allowed teachers and trainers to broadcast lessons rather than sending study materials through the mail.
Again, corporations followed the university trend by scheduling training classes for broadcast instead of expecting students on campus. Later, as satellite technology evolved, tele-training allowed for several students (or workers) in different locations to learn simultaneously.
These instruction strategies allowed the learner to benefit from ongoing education - be it for higher learning or job training, while keeping the costs of such training to a minimum.
Indeed, whereas before, instructors typically travelled all over the country to keep employees' training up-to-date, advances in technology meant they only needed a few electronic devices to support and educate their staff.
You might wonder what that all has to do with online tutoring... no worries! From here out, we focus only on the academic community and research into how the virtual environment helps both teachers and learners.
At the very least, all of this history demonstrates that, in any form, access to educational content to gain marketable skills is what people want, need and actively seek - have sought for centuries. That is exactly what remote learning provides.
The Role of Tutors in the Virtual Learning Environment
Compared to distance learning's relatively short history, the practice of tutoring has been around for millennia. Even before Plato founded his still-famous School, tutors were students' main source of knowledge and education.
The concept of compulsory education came about only two centuries before remote learning. Early efforts to educate most of the population were often piecemeal; the idea didn't take off in Europe until the early 17th Century.
A part of the problem, at least in the UK, was with trying to protect the privileged classes but the far larger difficulty was in finding quality educators and figuring out what to teach and how to instruct.
The main consensus was that class should be held in person to provide the optimal learning experience. Curriculum design aside, early instructors believed that only through in-person instruction could a student find support and make the best use of the new information they now had access to.
When seen in that light, it seems that distance learning college courses and in-person, instructor-led classes were running on two different tracks. The same holds for tutoring.
Granted, tutoring remotely was not a feature of mainstream education until recently. Still, advances in technology aside, most people believe that the best way to help and support a student was by being in the same room with them and spending time going over established curriculum subjects.
Such a contention misses the fundamental purpose of tutoring altogether.
The founding principle of personal tuition has less to do with education than fostering a sense of ability and self-belief. In an environment conducive to learning, away from the pressures of normal academic strife - peer pressure, overwhelmed (possibly indifferent) teachers and chaotic classrooms, a personal tutor has the time to teach a learner in relative calm.
In the classroom, teachers seldom have the time or resources to address individual learning styles but a tutor has all the time in the world to tease out a learner's best performances. S/he has the latitude to delve deeply into the subject material, answering every question and satisfying their tutee's every curiosity on the subject.
None of that changes when the tutoring takes place remotely. To the contrary, with the tools that technology provides, students' tutoring experience are enhanced through the use of interactive whiteboards, drawing tools and other educational software applications.
All of that sounds wonderful but are there any downsides to online tutoring?
Why Online Tutoring Works so Well
Online tutoring could be seen as the answer to the age-old question: how to reach and teach every learner?
Not every student works well with the teachers they have at school, nor will they necessarily click with the first - or fifth tutor you introduce.
Online tutoring takes your learning needs far outside of the community you live in. Searching for a tutor online means that the opportunities for finding the best tutors increase significantly; you may find that the right tutor for you lives in India, France or Kazakhstan.
Online, your search for an instructor can take you around the world. No more having to make do with locally available learning resources. You can go anywhere to find the instructor you need, who will design teaching strategies tailored specifically to you.
You don't have to take lessons during the week if your schedule is too busy. Research shows that the flexibility of online tutoring is one of its biggest benefits.
You may schedule your lessons for later in the evening or on weekends if you have no time for additional learning during the week. As long as you and your online tutor coordinate your schedules, you have far more latitude to plan your life around your learning.
Other advantages online tutoring provides include:
- a bounty of digital learning tools
- a host of easy-to-access learning materials
- engaging lessons through the use of graphics, videos, etc.
- no travel time, traffic or having to lug learning materials around
- an extra layer of safety - both against COVID and any possible bad actors
One final reason that online tutoring is the most efficient way to reach students today: they are all digital natives.
A digital native is a person born after the widespread proliferation of personal electronic devices. Such people have never known a world without smartphones, tablets and personal computers. They feel more comfortable in the virtual environment than in-person and most of their social interactions take place in cyberspace.
Any educator who wants to reach students on their level would see that online tutoring is the way to do so.
Parting Shot: A Case Study
A major study published by the U.S. Department of Education has proven that students in online classes perform better, on average, than those receiving only face-to-face tuition.
The study also found that a hybrid approach to teaching, one combining both online and classroom instruction was more effective than either online or face-to-face teaching alone. This work has been backed up by studies at the University of Phoenix.
Not long ago, people perceived online education as suspect ― it was viewed, at best, as an inferior alternative to classroom education. Phoenix University
Today, public opinion has shifted dramatically toward online instruction. “Online education is now commonly accepted by universities throughout the nation” states provost Adam Honea. He likens the “acceptance curve” of online learning to the increasing trust and reliance consumers have placed on the Internet over the years.
The pros of online learning account for its increasing acceptance in the UK, as much as its history as a viable alternative to faculty-led courses in a regimented environment does.
No doubt, online tutoring offers lots of benefits. Historical records and several more recent studies point to that fact. As an online homework help and online tutoring website, Superprof agrees with the research.
Our studies have proven that kids prefer to learn online – it suits their lifestyle. How much longer, do you wonder, before online learning becomes commonplace in classrooms and at home in the UK?
We believe that online learning is gaining momentum in the UK and around the world, and the prospects for online learning businesses like Superprof are bright.
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