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Does Online Tutoring Really Work?

Updated: Aug 23, 2021

With the current epidemic sweeping the globe, it seems everything that can be moved online has been. This is changing the conversation around how we perform our work; some suggest it is the dawning of a new era in which many workforces, wherever possible, will move online - but what does this mean for the future of education?

Online tutoring is not a new phenomenon. The first 1:1 private online tuition was available as early as 1996[1], and it is now a booming multi-million-pound industry. There are hundreds of companies across China offering private English tuition to millions of children and adults alike, and now the rest of the world seems to be following suit. But, once schools are able to reopen, why continue online tutoring, and is it really a viable option for our future?

An obvious argument for online tutoring is convenience. Wouldn’t we all rather sit at our computers in our jogger bottoms than face the morning commute to work? Not necessarily, according to the tutors and teachers I spoke to; they seem to lament the human connection with their students. Giavanna Ferreira, a Reception teacher at St. Joseph’s Infant School, is among those teachers missing the physical interaction: “Teaching is a vocation. We enter into it with a genuine love and passion for the job. I miss walking into my classroom every morning and having my students run up to greet me.” Tutoring may be a slightly different story though. As most tutors won’t have more than two hours at a time with a single student, it is far more convenient to move the session online, cutting out the money and time spent on travel. But is it really as effective?

I must admit before I started working as an online tutor a few years ago, I was doubtful as to its effectiveness. I struggled to see how the student-tutor connection could be maintained through a computer screen. I have, however, been surprised as to how effective the sessions have been. The “Share Screen” function of online video call platforms such as Skype and Zoom means you can guide the student through the sessions with relative ease while keeping them engaged with images or short video clips.

The elephant in the room (the elephant on the screen?) when it comes to tutoring online is the inequality of accessibility. Poor Internet connection, no access to computers and disruptive or unsafe home environments mean that not all students will be receiving the same standard of tuition. Students in rural areas often will have limited access to the Internet. When it comes to moving the teaching of entire year groups online, this inequality will undoubtedly mean a widening gap between student abilities.

The best way to approach the question of whether online tutoring is a viable option going forward is to avoid the all-or-nothing attitude so prevalent today. When schools are able to reopen, it is important for students to be together in the classroom learning from an adult. For some students, however, online tuition will be more appropriate in certain circumstances. When it comes to education in general, there is never a one-size-fits-all model of teaching, and the nature of online tuition suitably reflects that.

[1] Turrentine, P.; MacDonald, L. (2006). "Tutoring Online: Increasing Effectiveness with Best Practices" (PDF). National Association for Developmental Education Digest. p. 4. Retrieved March 15, 2011.

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