Online learning: tutors at your fingertips
With schools increasingly working with virtual providers, guided learning online is a cost-effective way to get educational help at home, says Katie Hughes
By Katie Hughes, The Telegraph, posted Tuesday 15th April 2014
The rich have long been able to whisk their children’s private tutors on to a yacht in Monaco, a jet over the Atlantic and into a filmset trailer. But now the less affluent among us can also have a tutor at our fingertips, wherever we happen to be in the world – thanks to the advent of virtual tuition. Now, students need only log in online to enjoy a one-to-one lesson with the tutor of their choice.
Nearly one in four young people in the UK has received private or home tuition at some point, according to recent Ipsos MORI research. But, so far, the spotlight has been on traditional face-to-face tuition.
That’s about to change, now that the Tutors’ Association – launched in October to regulate this burgeoning industry – is also turning its attention to the emerging online sector. And so, it seems, are many parents.
Online tutoring service Tutorhub, which has more than 5,000 students and 700 tutors on its books, has been among those at the receiving end of parents’ attention. “We’ve seen a 500 per cent growth in demand over the last 12 months, across every subject imaginable, at every level – especially from students in rural areas,” says its founder, Jon Ellis.
“With an online teaching hub you can offer a lot of specialist knowledge that students aren’t going to be able to find locally.” And the price of this knowledge – imparted by teachers, lecturers, examiners and Oxbridge graduates – averages £20 per hour.
It’s a similar story for MyTutorWeb. Since its launch last year, this online service has enabled 3,500 tutoring sessions, delivered by Oxbridge and Russell Group university students at £17 an hour. On most days it signs up six new parents in search of tutors.
“Enhancements in technology and broadband over the last few years enable us to offer high-quality one-to-one teaching for children at an affordable price,” says the founder of MyTutorWeb, Robert Grabiner.
So virtual classrooms increasingly replicate real ones, typically allowing students and tutors to talk, share files, draw diagrams and swap messages. Then, when a lesson is over, pupils can play it all back to reinforce their learning. And if it’s just a quick maths question that’s proving problematic, there’s no need to pay for a full hour. Online tutoring often allows sessions to be as long or short as you like.
“It’s very easy setting up a tutorial,” says 15-year-old Adrian Markovac, who is home educated and logs on to MyTutorWeb four times a week. “My online tutor leads me through lessons just like any normal teacher would in school and we both upload things to the whiteboard so that we can see them at the same time.”
He says, “Each teacher has a CV on the site, so once you’ve chosen one or two that meet your criteria, you can arrange a free session to see if you might like to study with them.”
But a virtual lesson doesn’t have to be restricted to one teacher. And this is where the (more expensive) multi-discipline tutoring agencies come into their own – by having face-to-face teachers on site to boost their virtual services.
“We can do online interview preparation with multiple tutors, to replicate the feel of a real-life situation, or we can hold group debates,” says Nathaniel McCullagh of Battersea-based Simply Learning Tuition, which charges £58 an hour for tutoring in person or online.
Multi-discipline agencies know all their tutors personally and offer online pupils the same benefit – at a price. “The tutor and online tutee can have a few sessions face-to-face first, perhaps in the form of a residential stay if the tutee lives far away,” says Emily Jack of Kings Tutors, which is based in London and Edinburgh. “Then they can have online sessions throughout term time.”
If tutors aren’t known personally, is a child’s online safety at risk? Jon Ellis ensures Tutorhub teachers are CRB or DBS checked.
MyTutorWeb priorities applications from tutors with the same checks and both implement a strict screening process, hide pupils’ contact details from teachers and enable lessons to be recorded for playback to parents. Their sites show feedback from both students and parents.
The Tutors’ Association will soon ensure all online tutoring agencies are similarly vigilant, says its vice-chair, Kate Shand. “The intention is to keep raising standards through training.”
The fact that schools are increasingly working with virtual providers – often using pupil premiums – will also reassure parents. TLC Live has given online tuition to (among others) six to 16-year-olds in schools since 2012.
There is little doubt, however, that online tutoring is better suited to some age groups and topics than others. “I find that A-level and university law and classics students are more mature in their understanding of what I’m explaining over an online platform than younger tutees,” says international private tutor Adam Muckle. There can also be technical hiccups or difficulties in building a rapport in an online medium.
But it is much easier to find a good tutor online than one who lives around the corner. As Nathaniel McCullagh puts it: “A great tutor online is worth much, much more than an average tutor face-to-face.”