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Is Online Tutoring Effective?

Updated: Sep 4, 2021


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Since last year, lots of people are going online to find tutoring services.

Over the last year a lot of students have spent long periods of time in online schooling. Many parents feel that their kids’ educational needs haven’t always been met fully by this system. As such, they’ve turned to online tutoring as a safe way to supplement their children’s education, and to stop them from falling behind. Some, however, are sceptical of online tutoring; they are concerned that it may not be as effective as needed, or that other options might work better. In this article we’ll look at some of the benefits and drawbacks of online tutoring. In particular, we’ll see what some empirical studies undertaken since the start of the lock-down last year have to say about its effectiveness. This should give you the ability to decide for yourself whether or not online tutoring is the best option for you and your child.


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Online tutoring provides a less expensive and convenient supplement to a student's education.

What is Online Tutoring?


Online tutoring is a service whereby tutors provide lessons, either one-to-one or in small groups, to supplement a student’s school learning and to help them to develop confidence and understanding in their subject. These lessons will happen over a video call platform; some tutoring services have developed their own platform, while others will use widely available free services like Skype or Zoom.


Online tutoring is most popular in Maths, English, and the Sciences and it has some clear benefits. Firstly, it tends to be less expensive than in person tutoring, due to the fact that there is no requirement to book a physical tutoring space. Also, it is much more flexible for both the tutor and student as it does not require any travelling. Lastly, it is also much safer in the current pandemic and may even be the only tutoring option available for a while to come.


Some parents, however, have concerns about online tutoring. They worry that the lack of in person contact may negatively affect the quality of student/tutor interactions leading the student being disengaged. Similarly, there is a worry that lessons could be plagued with technical issues or that the online platform is simply not a good enough communication tool. Put another way, they’re simply concerned that it might not be that effective.


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Research suggests that online tutoring can make a real improvement on a student's grades.

What does the research say?


Educational specialists have undertaken a range of empirical studies to test the efficacy of online tutoring and there have been some very encouraging results. For example, a 2015 study ¹ of online Maths tutoring for middle school students in the US (the equivalent of key stage 3) found that tutoring made a noted positive impact of the performances of struggling students when compared with their peer. Also, the majority of the students reported positive and productive experiences in online tutoring. The authors of the study attributed the success of the tutoring largely to the ability of tutors to monitor and assess the progress of students allowed them to tailor activities to their individual needs.


A similar study ² looked at an online tutoring program in Italy which supported middle school students in core subjects over the 2020 lock-down. This study not only found measurable improvements in the students’ academic performances, but also in their mental well-being and their confidence in their academic future. Online tutoring provided a way for students to engage with their studies in a more direct and sociable way than regular online school teaching.


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Online tutoring works best when there is a shared online workspace for students and tutors.

Worries about Online Tutoring


We’ve seen that there is evidence that online tutoring can be an effective to supplement a student’s learning. You might still have some worries about the potential limitations of learning in an online environment; could not students and tutors become disengaged due to the lack of physical proximity?


It’s true that many students have reported difficulties with concentrating and connecting with teachers during online school learning. One-to-one or small group online tutoring, however, is less likely to have this problem. While it is easy to disengage when you’re just listening to a lesson online, a good online tutor will never simply lecture for long periods of time and will regularly engage in interactions and activities. This often involves working through questions, either individually or with the tutor.


Because of this, it is important to find a tutor who uses some kind of shared workspace, through which they can give demonstrations and students can work through questions under their supervision. Some tutoring services will have a workspace like that built into their own platform, though this isn’t the only option. You could also use the screen-sharing function on Zoom and Skype, or a shared google doc that the tutor and student can edit simultaneously. Fundamentally, it is important that online tutoring is not just a video chat conversation; it needs to be interactive and to utilise a range of learning tools.


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Online tutoring is only one part in a larger movement of work and education online.

Tutoring for the Modern Word


It seems that the world is becoming increasingly online. This is particularly true of the world of work; zoom meetings and working from home have become the norm and it doesn’t seem that this will ever be completely reversed, even after the pandemic. As such, it is important for young people to be develop the skills necessary to make good use of new technologies, and to get used to online communication in general. Online tutoring is just one way to help them do this. It embodies the flexibility and increased connectivity of the world students are growing up into.


This new technology can produce unique challenges, but it can also open up a whole world of new possibilities. Most young people are fast learners and are already quite familiar with a lot of technology, so they shouldn’t find getting used to online tutoring too difficult.


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Logic Enthusiast is an independent writer and is studying for an MA in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He is particularly interested in Logic and the Philosophy of Science.


[1] Chappell, Shanan, Pamela Arnold, John Nunnery, and Melva Grant, "An Examination Of An Online Tutoring Program’S Impact On Low-Achieving Middle School Students’ Mathematics Achievement", Online Learning, 19 (2015) <https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1085790.pdf>


[2] Carlana, Michela, and Eliana La Ferrara. "Apart but Connected: Online Tutoring and Student Outcomes during the COVID-19 Pandemic." HKS Faculty Research Working Paper Series RWP21-001, February 2021. <https://www.edworkingpapers.com/sites/default/files/ai21-350.pdf>

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