Can Online Tutoring Work as Well as Face-to-Face?

| October 6, 2011 | 13 Comments
  • Email Post

There are some 40,000 tutoring companies in the U.S. While most of these are face-to-face operations, many offer online tutoring. The problem is that most of the online services don’t have a particularly good reputation — not among students, not among parents, and most damningly perhaps, not with the Better Business Bureau.

The $8 billion-a-year industry presents a big opportunity for a smart company. Plenty of online tutoring companies are trying to find the secret sauce that creates a quality experience. First, it must provide an easy experience technologically. In other words, it can’t be difficult or cumbersome to locate or request a tutor or to engage in a tutoring session, nor can the tools tutors need be antiquated. Second, and most importantly, it must offer quality tutors — those with knowledge in the subject matter and experience teaching and tutoring.

Tutoring should be akin to mentoring, and as such, it’s a relationship that benefits from more than just subject matter expertise.

One young startup, TutorCloud, which just graduated from the Imagine K12 education start-up incubator this summer, is trying to do just that.

First, the technical piece: TutorCloud offers an online classroom with both video chat and a whiteboard. While some people may balk at the idea of online tutoring sessions, co-founder Blair Silverberg argues that many students are already using video chat to talk to their peers as they study. Facetime, Skype, Google + Hangouts, and Facebook video chat are already becoming the go-to tools when students are looking for help.

TutorCloud also offers an intuitive interface to search for the appropriate tutors. The tutors all have profiles and reviews for parents to get further insight into who will be working with their child. The tutor’s availability is also listed so that it’s easy to see if it’ll be possible to schedule tutoring sessions. Once a parent requests a tutor, TutorCloud sends a text message to the tutor, notifying them of the request, and TutorCloud sets up a conference call so that the tutor and the parent can talk. All this is designed to happen within 15 minutes because, as Silverberg points out, when a student needs help, she or he often needs help now.

While TutorCloud does offer a technical solution to the problem of online tutoring, the second piece — and the bigger challenge perhaps — is maintaining a selection of high-quality tutors. According to TutorCloud, 90% of the tutors listed on the service are students in Ivy League schools, and they have experience tutoring offline.

But it isn’t simply a matter of finding the smartest Stanford college student to tutor your kid in calculus. As Silverberg argues, tutoring should be akin to mentoring, and as such, it’s a relationship that benefits from more than just subject matter expertise. He says students are far more determined to learn when they share an interest with their teacher or tutor, so the profile information about the tutors isn’t just about their college majors but also their background and their hobbies. TutorCloud also works directly with some schools, matching alumni tutors to current students. Not only do they then have this commonality, but it’s possible for a struggling student to see that someone else from that high school is successfully tackling college.

That points to what may be the bigger mission of TutorCloud. Because tutoring can be done online and at a rate far cheaper than some of the offline options, it may open up opportunities for kids and parents to seek help who otherwise wouldn’t. There’s no visiting learning centers that identify you as a struggling student. Parents can feel comfortable monitoring the tutoring sessions. And the college students who tutor can set their own rates and hours.

The challenges ahead for TutorCloud are to help these college students become excellent tutors and teachers, and to help convince the public that an online tutoring experience may actually be better than one that’s face-to-face.

Related

Explore: , ,

  • Email Post
  • http://www.southeastasiatraveladvice.com/ J W Brown

    It will be interesting to see how well these college students can do at professional tutoring.  The technology isn’t anything new–this same technology has been in use for at least five years with online tutoring, and other companies, like Tutor.Com, using primary college graduates, not students.  I think the biggest differentiator here is the emphasis on mentoring.  Let us see how they can do in an already competitive market.

  • Ko0149

     i think this will not be work for student
    face to face is better than this
    P.S.
    MY BLOG:http://kou2090.blogspot.com/2011/10/work-online.html

  • http://www.tutoringmatch.com/ Tutoring Match

    The degree to which online tutoring is effective depends on the student and what kind of learner they are.  Some students need that personal interaction.  Online tutoring also requires a certain level of understanding regarding the technology that will be used, which not everyone has.  

  • http://masterorganichemistry.com James

    There’s no technical reasons why online tutoring can’t work as well as face-to-face. The problem is getting over people’s misconceptions about it.   I’m an online tutor who has worked with 100+ students, almost none of whom had done online tutoring before –  well over 60% come back for return sessions once they’ve tried it. The convenience is unbeatable. 
    As you mentioned I think the real scarcity right now is in  quality tutors. Even assuming you know your stuff, it takes a looong time to get good at teaching. You have to care. It has to be about more than money. Bottom line: there’s a big difference between presenting the material and teaching it, and it takes time to learn the difference between the two. 
     That being said, geography is no longer the obstacle it once was to bringing students and tutors together. There are great opportunities in online tutoring. This problem will get solved, it’s just a matter of time. 

  • http://tutorcloud.com TutorCloud

    Thanks for the great comments! It’s interesting that the basic technologies for online tutoring have been around for a while but their quality today and the comfort that students have with them for the first time is truly outstanding. Many of our students are doing their homework on Facetime with their ipads when they are not working with their tutors.

    The other really interesting development here is the comfort that most internet users have today with legitimate online identities. Thanks to data sources like Facebook, internet users have lost much of the skepticism that they used to have when interacting with strangers online. This was the missing ingredient holding online mentorship back and it is why tutor.com and Tutorvista decided to pursue an anonymous model where students did not ever know who their tutors were. On TutorCloud, we hide personally identifiable information initially but when both the family and their tutor are comfortable working together, we allow them to exchange their information. 6 years ago when the previous generation of online tutoring companies were founded, this would not have been possible.

    One other thing I wanted to mention is about college-age tutors vs. credentialed teachers. We now have both credentialed teachers and college students on TutorCloud and we see that there is no strong preference for one over the other with our families. It depends on the specific case. For example, often times younger students who are struggling with reading will prefer to work with a credentialed teacher where high school students prefer a college-age mentor. Our vision for TutorCloud is that learners will be able to find the best person for them regardless of whether they are a college-age tutor or a credentialed and experienced teacher. We provide the tools to find the right person and interact seamlessly and otherwise stay out of the way!

  • http://twitter.com/PreplyCom Preply.com

    We at http://preply.com faced with a problem that the major part of online tutoring is done by Skype. It is hard for websites that provide their own interactive whiteboards to compete with Skype in quality and usability(especially keeping in mind free plugins available like Idroo). That’s why we developed a marketplace for online tutors where they just list their offers, being free to choose convenient tools for tutoring.

  • http://privateuk.org/#!private-tutor/cmm18 private tutor birmingham

    You have a brought up a very good details, thank you for the post.

  • Manish kumar verma

    Thanks for your great information, the contents are quiet interesting.I will be waiting for your next post.Primary School Tutors……..

  • Eduniche

    It is the specialty of online tutoring that one can get constant touch with tutors with help of video conferencing .

  • Clark Smith

    Online tutoring is one of the best example of learning . One can enroll here easily with low cost .

  • http://helponlineclass.com/ Latashia Blackburn

    I don,t think so that Online Tutoring work as well as face to face. Because the physical attraction and understanding also with collaboration matter’s much and you cannot adopt these things Online tutoring….

  • cisshanu

    Get children tutoring services online to give your child best tutoring services from the best teachers online who will give you classes according to your schedule and time. Comfortable, convinient and safe tutions online.

  • cisshanu

    Reduce the pressure of performance by maximizing preparation. We are here with one on one, online tutoring services for kids with state standardized study material, taped lessons and much more. Let us play our part in your kid’s future.