We Brits have a pretty unique way of doing things. We confuse visitors with high tea, low tea and having tea - a meal that most other English-speaking nations call dinner or supper. Although, to be fair, we too have embraced that terminology.
We drive on the left, benefit from Dr Who's interventions more than any other nation on Earth and have elevated stoicism to new heights.
For all that we are remarkable and different - a people apart, our education system is ordinary. Our schools function much the same way as schools in any other country. We teach the same subjects, offer the same degree plans and... well, we have better concessions for special needs students than most other nations do.
One criterion that makes us stand out from the crowd is how in-demand online tutors are, which begs the question: why?
Why are British students more likely to work with tutors - online or face to face? How does the tutoring market meet such a demand? How do caregivers find room in their budgets to pay for supplemental help? Is online tutoring a good value for the money?
These questions and more are what Superprof now answers.
Stating the Obvious
Education is in the news almost every day; often for the wrong reasons. Schools are often underfunded and educational standards are not met or upheld. Poor exam structure and students' low marks are often interpreted as proof that our national teaching and testing strategies do not work like they're supposed to.
And the burning question: are GCSEs necessary if students must stay in school until they are 18 years old?
It's not hard to sense the dissatisfaction students, parents and even educators feel towards our schools but it’s rare to hear anything bad about personal tutoring, especially not online tutoring. Indeed, we hardly hear anything about tutoring!
Tutoring, particularly tutoring via webcam seems to fly mostly under the radar but the industry is enjoying a resurgence of late. The reasons why are rather interesting.
As this segment's header is 'the obvious', we have to mention COVID and its effects on school activity as one of the primary drivers of the online tutoring surge.
Schools serve many purposes, from teaching students how to socialise and collaborate to exposing them to new knowledge and ideas. The pandemic has all but eliminated any chance at normal social interaction but it cannot - and should not restrict students' opportunity to keep up with their studies.
At the outset, many schools moved their classes online but, now that we have a slightly better grip on how to manage life and learning during this crisis, hybrid teaching models are fast becoming the preferred instruction method.
Hybrid learning: small student groups, limited time in classrooms and the rest of the school week spent distance-learning.
Studies show that the hybrid model works best overall because it affords students some group time while advancing their education overall.
A digital native is someone who has never known the world without computers, cellphones and internet connectivity. In general, people born after 1996 are considered digital natives or Digital Visitors and Residents; today's more acceptable term.
Regardless of their age, children today navigate their electronic devices with ease. Software developers compete for the best game ratings and websites targeted to kindergarteners as well as older kids. You can imagine how much fiercer the startups and established tech giants fight to get their one-of-a-kind app on the market first.
Social media companies deliberately target the youth and teen markets by promoting a host of entertainment and communication applications to attract and engage that demographic.
Perhaps, years from now, sociologists might debate the chicken-and-egg scenario our kids' affinity for their devices. Do they prefer to interact in cyberspace because it is so convenient or has it been made so enticing to detract young minds from the 'real' world?
The point is moot.
The fundamental teaching philosophy is reaching students so you can teach them. If the cyber-world is where learners are most comfortable, shouldn't educators make every effort to join them?
See the different benefits of online tutoring here.
Who Relies on Tutoring via Webcam?
In our 'obvious' segment above, we highlighted that most school-aged children are so comfortable in the digital realm that they prefer interacting there. Probably, given the choice of trudging to the tutor's for homework help or being tutored via the web, they would boot up the computer before you could fully lay out those choices.
As always, it takes two to tango; students are not alone in relying on electronics.
Many people seem to think that tutoring is a relatively new phenomenon, born of the staggering pressure to succeed academically.
To the contrary, tutoring is an ancient practice. Even in the times of Plato, it was more common for families to engage with a tutor rather than send their sons to school.
The dawn of the digital age was instrumental to the tutoring market's expansion. Now that these academic coaches and homework helpers have another avenue to help students succeed, they have embraced the challenge with gusto.
The image of tutors being musty old professors in tweed jackets who expound on complex subjects is passe, today's tutors are at the forefront of the pivot to teaching online. Often, such tutors are themselves digital natives, familiar with and comfortable using collaborative tools and educational software.
These tutors have built their career in cyberspace; their tutoring business transacts mainly over the internet. Thus it stands to reason that they rely on technology as much as their students rely on them.
Besides tutors who've built their brand on the web's education platforms, another demographic relies on internet connectivity to educate themselves.
A recent report by the Babson Survey Group indicated that 62% of students taking virtual classes are married or have a partner; 56% of those students are parents. Superprof can vouch for those statistics because they align with our numbers.
A substantial share of clients who prefer tutoring via the web are adults enrolled in university degree courses. If they are parents who have kids in school, they seek tutoring services to top up their children’s education.
We found an interesting outlier, though. While parents are more inclined to use online tutoring to support students at A-Level and GCSE test prep, if their kids are younger, they tend to rely more on home tutoring.
How COVID will shape that statistic is as yet unknown.
What’s Happening in the UK Tutoring Market?
We should start by saying that this is a relatively immature market. It has a long way to go before we see the academic community - both educators and students fully embrace it and we cannot yet predict how the virus will influence consumers' and education providers' preferences.
2014 was a notable year in the home/virtual learning market.
We saw increasing numbers of customers turning to our service for their tutoring needs. We are probably not alone in this, but our business levels were 500% higher over the next year. That trend is set to continue as more schools and teachers turn to digital teaching strategies.
As we mentioned before, online tutoring is not new. Over the years we have seen competitors enter the fray while some established names in the tutoring industry fell by the wayside. They provide us and all other tutoring companies with a cautionary tale: never stop evolving to meet customers' needs.
As a still-emerging market, new tutoring businesses surface because there is plenty of growth potential and they are willing to incur losses while they streamline their services, at least in the early years.
Interestingly, we are seeing two distinct markets developing: tutoring into schools (who are making use of the Pupil Premium) and direct to the general public. How either of these propositions will fare during the pandemic is, as yet, a mystery.
However, there is no question about how independent tutors are doing. They are starting their own web-based tutoring services in record numbers, some of which are proving to be very successful.
Check out the pros of online learning here.
Are There Any Issues with Web-Based Tutoring?
Broadly stated, there two main issues with tutoring via the web: finding a quality tutor and technology.
As web-based tutoring is relatively new to the UK, customers are largely unaware of the companies and individual tutors available via the internet. Many potential clients say that they want a tutor based in the UK, which limits both their choice of tutors and the breadth of knowledge they could gain.
Clients overwhelmingly want a reliable tutoring service but searching on Google for ‘online tutoring’ gives them little assurance of how professional such businesses are. That is why Superprof provides each tutor with a profile page where they can list their experience and credentials, along with feedback from their students.
Probably the most important development in the world of UK tutoring has been the formation of the Tutors’ Association.
Their mission is to develop and promote best practices in tutoring and establish professional recognition for the private tutoring industry. Work has already begun toward establishing a code of conduct for web-based tutoring companies. At Superprof, we see this as an important reassurance for our customers.
One aspect of private tutoring every client may take comfort in: anyone who has a duty of care - doctors, teachers and tutors must submit to a Disclosure and Barring Services background check.
Such scrutiny prevents possible bad actors from gaining access to children and people's homes. If you are actively considering engaging a tutor, insist that they've undergone a DBS check before any further negotiations.
As safety is one of the biggest benefits of online tutoring, you can never go too far out of your way to prove you're a safe bet for tutoring a child!
The Limits of Technology
Anyone who has spent any amount of time surfing the web or gaming knows that technology can cause problems. Nowhere is that more evident than in any business that relies on internet connectivity.
One of the challenges facing our country is the finite reach of our current broadband services. Not every household has access to the internet and, in some cases, connections can be spotty or weak.
To make matters worse, our transition to a fifth-generation (5G) network is hampered by international disputes and, of all things, people destroying cell towers because they believe those towers broadcast the virus.
And then, there's the small matter of where to get the necessary hardware from now that the leading Chinese producer of such technology is no longer welcome...
Drilling down to particulars, now: how is tuition done over the web?
Today, there are so many platforms to virtually connect through. Still, tutors who have been coaching students via internet connection for the past few years tend to turn to Skype because that was all there was, at the beginning of the virtual education wave.
Skype is everywhere; it's even made its way into our everyday vocabulary: "I'll skype you later!" or "Let's skype tomorrow.".
Skype usually comes pre-loaded on phones and computers. It is easy to use and even includes a screen-share function... but not much else. If you wanted to so much as record a tutoring session, you would have to download an extension because Skype does not offer such a utility.
Tech developers have not let the grass grow beneath their feet. New video chat applications and education software permit recording chat sessions. They also feature conveniences such as messaging and interactive whiteboards, as well as maths and drawing tools.
In short, technology and connectivity are getting there. If you happen to live in an under-served area and are not familiar with any other apps besides Skype, you might have to find workarounds.
Don't hesitate to let us know in the comment how we can help you!
Developments in the Web-Based Tutoring Market
The tutoring industry has enjoyed staggering growth over the past five years. As technology has advanced, so too have innovations in private tutoring, from how lessons are delivered to the tools and applications used to make them more vivid and engaging.
Living in the virus' shadow as we currently are, private tuition has changed its focus to delivering lessons remotely, via the web. That doesn't mean you won't ever welcome a tutor into your home or visit an agency ever again but we have to wonder what the next year will bring - if we're still living in the virus' shadow then.
We forecast these developments over the coming 12 months:
- Continued market growth, particularly targeting college, university, A-level and GCSE students, with demand starting to trickle down to the 12+ age groups
- Price sensitive customers previously put off by the high price of home tutoring will turn to virtual tuition
- Improvements in communications technology that will lead to a better virtual classroom learning experience
- A pivot toward niche learning, for academic subjects, skills-based development and leisure activities
- More businesses entering the tutoring market while some make their exit. We predict a sharp rise in the number of independent tutors over those who sign on with an agency.
- Increased investment in start-up businesses by Angel investors and education companies.
- This is not Silicon Valley though. It's more likely that venture capital investment into the tutoring market is still away off
The more people engage in cyber-based tuition, the higher the rates of students benefiting from tutoring will rise.
Studies show that only 24% of students currently draw on tutors' expertise in their subject matter so the opportunity for industry growth size is exponential.
Why Web-Based Learning is Taking Off in the UK
Even before this terrible virus, people were turning to tutoring via the web.
Not having to commute or pay for a tutor to come to one's home was a big factor driving that change. Two other reasons cited were a wider selection of tutors to choose from and lower prices.
Even these days, having to live in isolation, there is very much a sense that people are looking to make the most of their time. Saving time is not a new concept; it helped to drive the revolution to computer learning even before travel was restricted.
Why travel to a tutor when you can learn everything via webcam?
Equally important is finding a tutor with the right skills – trying to find a Classics tutor in a small village in the Isle of Wight would likely be a fruitless exercise were it not for distance-tutoring. And just imagine the French lessons you could have with a native French speaker currently living in France!
But is it effective? There is positive proof that online learning works.
The fact that virtual learning is generally cheaper than traditional home tuition also helps, particularly to the price-conscious customer.
It’s clear that internet-based tutoring has reached a tipping point in the UK. Parents embrace it, students prefer it and tutors are running away with it. In short, the UK tutoring industry is poised to reap the benefits of what is turning into a global education boom.
I hope that you have found this article interesting. Please feel free to share it and to leave comments below.
By the way, does virtual learning have cons? Check out this article to find out now.