Updated: Jul 29, 2021
Many educators have been forced to teach from home because of COVID-19.
The 2020 virus crisis has undoubtedly affected education market and introduced many families to the concept of online teaching and tutoring. As Joe Hytner suggested in his article “The Coronavirus Online Tutoring Shift: What’s Next?”, we should expect a significant expansion in online tutoring market in the upcoming years. I too share a similar opinion, and from my personal experience prior to the virus, I can assure you that many parents, that were initially looking for in-person tutoring, were open to try online lessons. However, I believe that the major barrier for them to stick to remote tuition is user experience, which will eventually determine the success of future online educators.
Online study and tutoring resources can provide a much better experience for both students and tutors.
Study and tutoring resources
Various education platforms have taken different approaches in providing content that can attract potential customers or provide value for their tutors. SEO driven discovery of study resources, that are created by website users, is the most noticeable strategy chosen by websites, such as Tutorfair, Tutor Hunt, and MyTutor, with the latter having the greatest success in this area. Such questions are usually unorganised, and thus, it is quite hard to use them for tutoring. It is worth noting, however, that all of the aforementioned companies get revenue from the parents, which is clearly reflected in their marketing strategy.
A slightly different approach is to create higher quality in-house content that in many cases attract tutors, again mostly through SEO. Physics and Maths tutor and Maths made easy are popular websites, used by a significant fraction of online educators. These platforms usually provide theory, questions and past papers as PDF files that work well with many online classrooms, focused on sharing and annotating such documents. Many tutors strive to be independent sole traders, which usually leads to them saving these resources offline, and in turn a reduced traffic on the websites.
Neither user generated content, nor PDF files can provide a long term solution for delivering quality online lessons and creating a bond between the platforms and tutors. Tutorful has started changing this by creating well-structured content for homework after a £3.2m investment announced in October 2019. Around a similar time StudySquare started accelerating the creation of tutoring resources for specific exam boards that not only are suitable for homework and revision, but also are a core part of SEO and actual online tutoring. With the major industry players rapidly expanding their functionality, which inevitably involves creating exclusive tutoring material, many websites will struggle to keep up with demand from their customers. StudySquare aims to support smaller industry players by providing premium content and user experience by distributing costs, in a similar way as Chegg collaborates with Kaplan in the US.
Online classrooms are not always intuitive, but a there is a general trend towards a common user interface.
Online classroom and content sharing
Most of the major tutoring websites partnered with online classroom providers, and many of them offer a very similar experience. Both students and tutors are able upload documents, annotate them, share YouTube videos, some allow sharing screen. It all works well if you are a part-time tutor delivering a few lessons a week. However, it can soon become a nightmare if someone uses the classroom for the first time, don’t know how to share the screen, if there are many users on a platform or if internet connection is poor. Bramble, London based online tutoring software provider, has addressed the latter issue by introducing Bramble Broadcast that supposedly reduces data usage from 2.40 GB to 150 MB per hour, which is a great move towards increasing accessibility. On the other hand, from my experience of using our beloved Zoom, a 1-hour online lesson with screen sharing usually uses approximately 200 MB.
StudySquare has addressed many of these issues from a completely different approach. In a way that Starling Bank aims to create a better banking experience without minor updates but with a different concept, on StudySquare the focus during the lessons is on the resources rather than blank canvas. The same theory and problems with their answers and student’s solutions are shown in real time on both the student’s and tutor’s screen without any video or whiteboard functionality. This, so called optimised screen sharing, works beautifully on all devices, which is not always true for online classrooms, and displays high resolution diagrams regardless of your internet connection. Moreover, tutors can mark students’ performance and get an automatic coherent lesson report. It is just a matter of time when other major websites will start embracing similar tools on their platforms, although it might not be an easy task since it would require massive investments in content creation and integration with existing online classrooms.
There have been and there will be significant investments in online tutoring market.
There couldn’t be a better time
With many parents and schools suddenly searching for reliable alternatives for in-person tutoring, there couldn’t be a better time to invest into this growing market. Some companies are already targeting lower income families by offering group online lessons (Tutorful starting May 2020, Education Boutique starting June 2020) to scale during this uncertain time. We will definitely see more amazing tools, such as Tutorean’s ability to match a student and a tutor according to their personalities, or StudySquare’s optimised screen sharing in the future. The user experience will be the driving force for customers to choose online tutoring over in-person and the cornerstone of the success of online educators in the long term.
Jonas Virsilas, MChemPhys (Hons) is an online Maths, Physics and Chemistry tutor and the founder of StudySquare. Jonas is passionate about making education more accessible and empowering people by providing useful knowledge.