Do you remember a time when internet used to be based on a system that dials into your phone line? It was hardly 25 years back. That was also when the world population was 5.2 Billion people, booking an air ticket and hotel required a travel agent, getting a taxi was to either book a private car or flag one down? Getting a review on a hotel was fully dependent on what the agent told us. Oh – and if you needed to buy something from abroad you really needed to get a special favour from a relative or friend who was traveling abroad. Then came fiber optics, 4G (& soon 5G), broadband internet, Uber, Amazon, AirBNB, Tripadviser, Booking.com, Expedia etc etc. The e-Commerce era….even the airline companies reduced their agents fees from almost 5-6% on a ticket to around 1-2% (for some none). Lets think through this lens and ask why the education industry cannot jet to the same galaxy as other industries like banking, insurance, health, consumer, leisure despite the massive advances in technology? We are not in any way hinting that the education industry has not evolved but the acceptance of tech and disruption has probably not been at the same pace as the others. When was the last time you googled up to check the best available tutor near your house? Sorry, did I just say “googled up”? That in itself says volumes about how we function. Technology has enabled us to be more effective than ever, so why not use that for the betterment of our kids?
The global online education industry was a USD 81.50 Billion industry in 2016 and expected to grow to USD 155 Billion by 2021. With this in mind, what is suddenly changing? In this article we will look at online tutoring which is one form of online education and one which is very rife e.g. out of the USD 81.50 Billion online education market in 2016, USD 25 Billion and USD 22 Billion were contributions from online tutoring in North America and Europe respectively.
Online tutoring used to be a very niche and relatively expensive option that was used by students for very specific courses and subjects. Today, of course, online tutoring has become completely mainstream due to serious advancements in technology (beyond skype) and learning management systems. Whether you need help with important subjects at school or you’re doing a whole new degree, online tutoring can make an incredible difference to your quality and depth of learning. With a mix of self learning videos (e.g. Khan Academy) to tailor-made incredible online tools out there, many are shying away from face-to-face tutoring (including tutors themselves). Online tutoring opens up a vast new world of opportunities, and the many tutor apps out there give a student an unprecedented range of high-quality tutors to choose from.
1. What is online tutoring?
Online tutoring refers to the process of conducting tuition between a student and tutor via the use of technology – whether that may be mobile, tablet, computer etc either in an interactive manner, pre-recorded sessions or group sessions (some of which are ‘listen only’). This can be either as a complement to offline education or a substitute for it (e.g. the drive towards home schooling). For online tutoring to work, both parties need to have a decent internet connectivity, a microphone/headphone, and a new-age laptop/desktop/tablet preferably with webcam.
Over the years, a number of online platforms have come up. These allow students to access a number of tutors, all of whom are willing to teach online. As a result, students can pick from a wide variety of tutors — each with different strength areas and soft skills— and pick the one they work best with. The content of online tutoring can be exactly the same as offline classes, but most online tutors choose to use online tools like forms, maps, videos, etc to enhance the quality of content.
There are various types of online tutoring. Here are the two simple but major differences:
In this method, students log onto the tutoring platform and receive projects, course materials, videos, and other guidance from the tutors. Many students can log onto the platform and do the same course which is being mentored by one online tutor. This method is also called e-moderation. The advantage of this method is that it is more scalable and allows many students to learn with a quality tutor within a standard framework. On the flipside, it does not provide students the one-on-one attention that they might need. This is one of the drawbacks of school classes too and hence one of the measures of a good school is pupils:teacher ratio. A number of websites like Udemy, MindValley, and Coursera use this method to teach important skills, whether that’s programming, psychology, or meditation.
One-to-one tutoring, on the other hand, is very similar to offline tuition. The only major difference is that it happens in the virtual world (see definition of ‘what is online tutoring’). Of course, one-to-one online tutoring also has the advantage of internet-enabled tools that are used to enhance the quality of learning e.g. a tutor may instantly show an example of a theory that he/she wants the student to learn from or reflect upon a recent news article to tie in theory to real life examples. It also allows both tutors and students to give and receive learning at the time of their convenience from within the four walls of their home. While we will look into benefits of online tutoring, one major benefit of online tutoring is the physical security of the student. A number of parents get worried about sending their kids to a tutor’s house especially if it’s a one-to-one physical tutoring.
2. Benefits of online tutoring
Online tutoring has opened up a world of opportunities for students and tutors alike from all disciplines and ages. Here are some of the major benefits of getting tutored online (from a student perspective):
One of the biggest advantages of online tutoring for a student is flexibility. They can now get personalized instruction from high-quality tutors without leaving the house or wasting time in traffic. Given the number of platforms and tutors available online, students can choose class timings based on their convenience. In addition, mobile devices are now just as capable as laptops and desktops when it comes to online tutoring. This means students can even learn ‘on-the-go’ or in a place that they can feel most comfortable, without having to sit at their desk or table. When students learn in an environment that they are familiar with and comfortable in, learning outcomes are likely to be better.
In a classroom setting, standardization is the norm. Classes have to be taught at an average pace, designed to cater to the mind of an average student. These classes don’t cater particularly well either to students who have an exceptional aptitude for the subject or to students who struggle to process information. Personalized tutoring addresses this problem because the tutor can now adapt the teaching methodology and material to cater to the learner. This one-on-one attention enables the student to truly grasp the subject matter based on their specific learning abilities viz-a-viz a more general approach. Naturally, this leads to better learning outcomes and students soon start performing better within the classroom setting. Hence, online tutoring has a place in a student’s education journey to complement in-school learning. At some point, we have to stop blaming the schools as they teach in class based on the average-student philosophy. Some schools also provide ‘top-up’ programs to the highly intelligent or the struggling ones but these schools also charge fees accordingly. Hence, parents need to think of how they supplement tutoring with school. Also note that the focus of tutoring for a number of parents is to pass the exam with the highest grade possible. While that is not a wrong reason for tutoring, the online personalized tutoring can also help a student dig deep into the subject that interests them the most. Knowledge acquisition and application to real world is a key reason why parents should think of online tutoring. We earlier mentioned how an online tutor could teach a concept or a theory and immediately bring out an article or a video to supplement that. It’s the beauty of the online tutoring concept with the latest learning management systems that embed file and screen sharing. Every child has a gift and if it is nurtured well, it could lead to massive success as the child develops that career. The tutor with that deep knowledge could be based anywhere in the world.
Lower cost of high-quality tutoring
The commuting and hourly costs of tutors in more expensive countries often make it prohibitively expensive for tutors to come home and teach children. Most tutors keep in mind the cost of commuting as well as calculate the opportunity cost of time wastage (don’t forget traffic in most large cities globally). Online tutoring allows the tutor to save on both these costs i.e. cost and time of commuting. This results in the tutor being able to offer a much better rate to provide the services online e.g. they would have required 30 minutes to commute each way from a student’s house and use their own car/use a taxi or train. This makes a one hour session costing the student as 2 hours plus factor in the cost of the transport for the tutor. Online tutoring cuts this out to a great extent.
Online education also opens up learning opportunities from tutors across the globe. Do you remember the comment earlier in the article on “googling for a tutor’? Remember that parents are more likely to choose tutors closer to their own residence to avoid long commutes by their kids (for those tutors who prefer to conduct tutoring at their homes/offices). This means that a parent is left with no choice from a fee perspective (lets not even talk of quality at this point). Online tutoring breaks these norms as the student does not have to travel and as a result, students can find a tutor that charges a lot less for the same quality of teaching because they live in a country that is a lot less expensive.
Finally, think about the rental costs that tutors have to bear if they conduct tutoring at their house or office. This is further added onto the cost of physical tutoring. While it is not clear whether they will also add this cost to online tutoring (depends on tutor to tutor) but in physical tutoring they have to set up an infrastructure to accommodate the student. For group tutoring, most have to dedicate a separate room or have to have a large enough living room or even get an office space (including the ‘pay-as-you-use’ temporary offices). All this adds to the tutor cost and adds to their administrative work. Oh – did we just mention administrative work? For a physical tutor, most have to work through phones and emails to keep in touch with their students and parents. Most don’t have a personal assistant. Most good online tutoring companies provide a platform and dashboard that allows parents/students and tutors to collaborate. The tutor only needs to make one change to the time or request and this will trigger notifications. A good tutoring platform will provide this to both the student and tutor so that the intangible cost of administrative work can be taken care of.
Access to better tools & tutors
Online tutoring allows tutors to easily incorporate multimedia content within the curriculum. From things like animation showing atoms and molecules in action to detailed maps that make it easier to visualize the trickier aspects of Geography to on-point videos that build historical events in detail. Think about the impact of a teacher drawing or writing something on a book in front of him/her while the book is upside down to the student. This is of course not the case when a tutor uses a blackboard but how many tutors use a blackboard for one-to-one physical tutoring? Now think about the shared whiteboard that most online tutoring companies provide. It allows a tutor to write on the whiteboard while the student sees it exactly how the tutor is writing. Some whiteboards have become more advanced that allow full collaboration between tutor and student, for example Bitpaper is one such that I have recently come across and easy to use too. I am sure the next question in your mind is “what if I don’t have a touch screen laptop/tablet or a stylus pen that will allow me to write on the whiteboard?”. Once again – technology creators thought of all this. Ever thought of the Wacom boards? They are one example of buying a simple to use technology that will connect via USB to any desktop/laptop. It comes with a board that looks like a book and a pen that you can write on the book. Anything you write on the Wacom board appears on the whiteboard – problem solved. Whats more – its very easy to plug-and-play for those that find technology difficult to use sometimes.
As an online tutor, you can also use cloud storage folders like Dropbox, Google Drives etc to share resources and keeping all the materials organized. You can also share links to notes, articles, case studies, maps, and so on. It’s also possible to use tools like Google Maps, Google Earth, stats websites, and videos to enhance the learning process. This makes it much easier than the physical tutoring where most of the time the tutor has to photocopy papers or request the parents/students to purchase the books. With scanned content, the tutor can save all of it in a shared cloud drive and manage the way they want to share with the students. Take one step forward and homework and tests can also be done and administered via the online tools available. Lets not forget the climate change around us – save some trees by going online. I am also a fan of physical books but….. Online tutoring also means that a student can access from a galaxy of tutors and tailor-make their education journey. Ever asked yourself if you could find an online coding, mandarin, sciences, maths, english, history, abacus, rubik cube etc (teachers that you may have an interest in) around a one kilometer radius of your house? Oh – and that too of the quality that you want and should teach at the time that suits you. More – it should be one-to-one. I feel you are nodding your head already. I am not saying that physical tutoring does not have space. It certainly has and a big one but if a student can supplement online with offline and both complement the work they do in school, it would be the most ideal situation from knowledge, cost, quality and flexibility perspective.
Safety & Security
Safety could become a key consideration for parents when it comes to offline tutoring, especially when it’s one-on-one teaching. This does not mean that safety is not a concern for online tutoring. The tutor is in an incredible position of power viz-a-viz the student which makes exploitation possible; whether that’s emotional or physical. The latter risk of physical safety does reduce in case of online tutoring. Having said that, in most countries there are background checks available on tutors e.g. DBS checks in UK. At this point, I would want to point out that most tutors are trustworthy individuals with lot of self-respect and this article is in no way trying to taint them otherwise. It is only pointing out to the potential risks that a parent must keep in mind.
For offline tutoring, you will get a slot which typically depends on the tutor’s availability (it could also be a teacher who works after-school hours to conduct tutoring). Sometimes, especially closer to exam period, the timing could be such that the session is conducted relatively in late hours of the evening. Commuting back and forth from the tuition center or tutor’s house at odd hours of the day poses an added risk for the student (if commuting himself/herself) and in some cities with higher crime rates, it further adds to the risk for the parent who picks and drops their child. This commute risk is eliminated with online tutoring as you can get the same quality of education without these security risks. You could even agree with your physical tutor to do the late sessions on the online tutoring platform that allows them to register.
With offline tutoring or classroom teaching, doubts and problems that students have are primarily resolved in the class. Some tutors also have allow their students to send them an email with the clarification they seek. It’s a well-known fact that when doubts get solved instantaneously, understanding of a subject gets cemented much faster. With online tutoring, most platforms provide a 24×7 support system including but not limited to:
recorded videos of the actual previous sessions that are available on the LMS,
recorded videos of the tutor who may have created it as a series of ‘Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs),
video series of the tutor who may have proactively created a channel of the tutor either on the tutoring platform or YouTube etc and/or
offline messages between tutor and student via the online tutoring platform. This makes it a lot easier for students to understand the subject better as well as enhance the knowledge of the subject.
Access to quality education
One of the biggest advantages of opting for online tutoring is access to high-quality tutors tailor-made to suit a student’s requirements. Whether you’re looking for a Maths tutor, English tutor, or Physics tutor, chances are you’ll find a tutor in which you are not confined to your immediate vicinity. If you opt for offline tutoring, you immediately become restricted to the availability of good tutors within a reasonable distance. Once you decide to go online, you get access to teachers from across the world. Naturally, the larger the pool of tutors to choose from, the better the quality of teaching will be. This also means that a student can tailor-make the tutoring journey – whether it’s knowledge, pace or even trivial matters like the accent in which a tutor speaks. How many times have you tried to adapt to listening to the tutor whose accent may not be that easy to ‘catch all the words’?
3. Types of students who benefit from online tutoring
Before we start discussing this section, I would like to caveat that there is no stereotyping students but it’s an indication on the types of students based on the different research papers and importantly discussions with a number of parents and success of students. Online tutoring can seem like such a broad area that you may be left wondering whether you will be comfortable with it and if so, whether you will benefit from it. Here are some of the broad categories of students who normally opt for online tutoring. Of course, this is a limited list and is by no means a comprehensive guide. It’s just an indicator of the different categories of students that find themselves drawn to online tutoring:
The Maths and Science struggle
A number of students get challenged with subjects like Maths and Science right from primary education to high school. This isn’t because the students aren’t bright, it’s usually because the standard way of teaching these subjects doesn’t suit the way their brains learn. When these students spend their time learning one-on-one with qualified Math tutors or Physics tutors or Chemistry tutors, they usually show a drastic transformation in results. There are various reasons for that (i) some learn by being taken through the motions and unfolding each element in these subjects right from scratch (ii) some learn through real world examples and experiments and (iii) some learn through the dedicated individualized way of being explained that suits their way of learning. Online tutoring is perfect for such students, giving them the personalized attention they need to catch up to the class.
The ESL (English as Second Language) learner
It’s incredibly hard to pick up a second language from scratch, particularly later in life. However, given that English has become a passport to a better future in so many developing economies, many students want to learn English as their second language (lets not forget the entire debate on accent and how parents want their kids to pronounce words). Online tutor apps and sites is a great option because it gives these students access to tutors from other countries who speak English as their native language as well as have deep training and understanding of the language that they would also have specialized as university degrees. This is true generally for all languages. I remember being taught Arabic by a native Arab teacher. Accent, pronunciation and the way to sometimes ‘click the tongue’ for certain words was amazing. It also helped create a passion to learn the language even more.
The trend of homeschooling is not new and we have cited a few articles from various media in US, UK and India (am sure there are many more globally). Students that are homeschooled are generally taught under the guidance of a parent but they also seek help from online tutors for specific subjects. This is especially true as the kid grows older and one parent may not have all the knowledge required. Online tutoring is the perfect complement to homeschooling and it adheres to the flexibility and personalization that’s an inherent part of such an education. Parents choose homeschooling for their children for various reasons. Some include:
The strict discipline structure in school that does not necessary relate with all parents.
Kids who get bullied in school and lose their confidence and willing to learn. Such kids feel that going to school is equivalent to punishment.
Students who are exceptionally talented and would like to go deep into certain subjects that will enable to fully explore the subject and make a career out of it.
Students who have learning disabilities and main-stream schools either do not cater to them or even if they do, they do not have the right infrastructure to support them.
Cost of schooling as compared to being able to tailor-made the learning based on parents budget.
Students wanting to learn a certain curriculum but cannot do that in their town or city as there may either be few schools teaching that specific curriculum with long waiting list or no schools that cater to that curriculum.
Security concerns or distance from school.
Tailor-making a student’s education journey and mixing practical examples with theory.
There are many other reasons to do that. Overall, the concept of homeschooling has certainly gained a lot of momentum over the past 15 years. In one article cited below, the number of homeschooled students in UK has risen by 40% over the last 3 years.
Note that the concept is not only prevalent and gaining momentum in the developed countries but the developing and less developed countries too. To add, this has made regulators in various countries think about how to govern homeschools.
With the rise of technology and 5G round the corner, parents can now make homeschooling even more “tailor-made and main-stream” for their kids. Students can now access the best teachers and tutors globally to dive deep into the subjects they would like more knowledge on or specialize in a bid to make a career from it.
Below are a few articles from a few countries on homeschooling:
UK Home schooling – few articles:
“Indeed, many families are seeking to home educate because of mental health issues or bullying.”
“Many home educators argue that there is simply not enough quality provision in place for children with special educational needs at a time when schools and local authorities have faced cuts.”
“Many home educators argue that there is simply not enough quality provision in place for children with special educational needs at a time when schools and local authorities have faced cuts.”
“The large rise in home schooling is a concern – but not because thousands of children are at risk or radicalisation or other dangers. The growth in home education is a worry because it reflects a significant dissatisfaction with the state school system.”
“The number of children being homeschooled has risen by more than 40 per cent in three years”
“……avoiding school exclusions was one of the main reasons given by parents.”
Amanda Spielman, Chief Inspector of Ofsted “The Ofsted boss is “very concerned” about a huge rise in home education which she says can be partly blamed on schools under pressure “shovelling” children back to parents.
US Home schooling – few articles:
“….U.S. Department of Education data on homeschooling indicate that nearly 2 million young people learned at home in 2016, compared with just 850,000 in 1999.”
“Some of this growth could be attributed to the strong academic outcomes of homeschoolers, who typically score well above public school students on standardized tests.”
“With the opportunities that homeschooling provides for tailoring high-quality education to children’s needs, it is no surprise that more American parents are deciding to give it a try.”
“The most important reason for homeschooling in 2016 was ‘concern about the school environment, such as safety, drugs, or negative peer pressure.”
“Parents also cite a desire to provide a non-traditional approach to education, children’s special needs, family time, and finances as reasons for homeschooling.”
India Home schooling – few articles:
“As the school systems have a pre-decided syllabus, they do not allow students to explore subjects of their interests, and are wrapped in a hectic study cycle. As a homeschooler, I get to choose what I want to study and balance it out with adequate playtime”
“…Swashikshan—Indian Association of Home Schoolers, a non-profit initiative whose members include all Indian homeschoolers. Founded in July 2012, it has around 1,000 homeschooling parents as members today.”
Kenya Home schooling – few articles:
“…..state that a child, though formally enrolled and sitting in class, may be not be receiving education in a manner that best promotes the well-being and full development of the child.”
“….are moving away from the one-size-fits-all system of education known to many as the only means to formal learning and are instead educating their children from the comfort of their homes.”
“With homeschooling, curriculum developers and parents create individualised plans for children to follow.”
4. Some online tutoring options out there
While online tutoring is rife and growing, its equally important to choose the right tutor(s) that fit the need of the student as well as the right tutoring company to provide the necessary tools to make online tutoring simple and accessible. Here are some of the online tutoring websites that operate in different geographies and for different subjects and age groups. You can pick the one that’s right for you.
Tavvy is one of the few online tutoring sites which has created a marketplace of tutors and embedded the tutoring tools. One can find a tutor that fits their schedule, budget and curriculum requirements. What’s interesting is that Tavvy has also introduced the concept of a “student’s educational journey”. They realize that a student’s needs are always changing i.e. on an ongoing basis students need to learn core subjects within the curriculums like maths, english, sciences, history etc, but also specialist subjects such as online coding, CFA, verbal and non-verbal reasoning etc. They have attracted some of the best tutors globally to set up on their platform and provided a simple to use infrastructure and online learning tools for both the tutor and the student. In addition, they have also created a concept of university guides and university & scholarship application mentoring. As students grow, they need help to make the right decisions on their career and with thousands of universities to choose from globally, the decision making becomes an almost impossible task. They have attracted alumni from the world’s universities to register on Tavvy (University Guide) so that students seeking information on the university and degree that they want to apply to can reach out to these alumni and get a lot of their questions answered from people who have experienced it. Students can then make an informed decision on the choice of their university and degree. This informed decision making by the students can change their careers. Further, Tavvy has also attracted high quality mentors on their platform whereby students from any part of the world can reach out to mentors who can help them with the most basic but important items like personal statement to preparing the students for an interview for a scholarship or a university admission.
The best part about Tavvy is that it is a highly curated platform and marketplace where you can find a tutor, university guide and/or mentor across the world that meets your educational needs of the hour and within a budget that suits your pocket between USD 10 to USD 100 per hour.
If you want to teach your native language to students across the world, PopOn is a great option. Many native English speakers use this app to work and earn from home.
PopOn is a mobile language learning/tutoring app, which provides a platform for language services for students. PopOn tutors can even earn up to $15/ hour while having the freedom to decide their work schedule and even choose their clients. Each session is only a maximum of 15 minutes long and in a one- to one format. PopOn also has lower entry barriers and is suitable even for newbies.
Tutor.com is another good tutoring site globally. The registration process consists of exams and mock sessions in the subjects you specialize in. The tutors earn anywhere between $10-$15 for the sessions.
Tutorvista has a more stringent entry barrier than most other online tutoring platforms. They have two conditions — 1. Tutors should have at least a Masters degree in the subject they teach and 2. They should be willing to commit at least 4 hours a day. They also have a slightly tedious application process. While they don’t disclose the earning potential officially, it ranges between $9 to $25 per hour.
Chegg is a highly selective tutoring platform that pays up to $20 per hour for all subjects. The registration process can take up to two weeks, followed by a number of screening processes. The process is exhausting but they are one of the higher-paying platforms.
If you’re in India and are teaching K8, then Planet Spark is a great option. Unlike the other sites, you won’t be tutoring online. In fact, you will be teaching offline from your own home. However, PlanetSpark gives you training, online tools to help you teach and also finds students for you through its online platform. In other words, it’s a great option for those who want to start an offline tuition center but need some support (for instance, a tutor app) to get started.
Both physical/offline and online tutoring are good options to complement in-school learning with their respective pros and cons. For some parents online tutoring is also a great option to homeschool their kids and with technological advancements globally this makes homeschooling as well as online supplemental tutoring an excellent proposition for parents.
If you’re looking for high-quality tutoring, then online tutoring is your best bet from a perspective of flexibility, cost, safety, two-way collaboration between student & tutor and most importantly the ability to find a tutor globally who is a subject matter expert that fits an expense budget. Freed from the constraints of geography, online tutoring allows you to access many high-quality instructors who can also use various tools to complement learning with real world examples using media that can be easily shared within the session itself.