Tutoring too expensive? Can’t find a tutor who will travel to where you live? Fear not as online tuition is taking off big-time. Charlotte Phillips investigates.
Almost one in four UK pupils is tutored, according to a report commissioned by the Daily Telegraph. you’re able to resist spitting out your coffee when you hear that news, we think you’re doing pretty well. Even more praise is in store if you can exercise similar restraint over the total annual cost - somewhere north of six billion pounds.
Like it or loathe it, a lot of families use tutors and the numbers would doubtless be even higher if it weren’t so expensive. When MyTutor, which offers only online tuition, asked people why they didn’t use tutors, cost was the major barrier. With tutoring traditionally involving face-to-face teaching, often at the pupil’s home, by an experienced educator, costs are bumped up not only by the lesson itself but the tutor’s travel time. And there’s another major hurdle affecting families after tutoring too – where they live. The reality is that if it’s anywhere other than a city centre, tracking down tutors prepared to trek to your home (in London, few venture beyond the Oystercard payment zone) can seem an impossible feat.
But there is a solution. Anyone with a decent broadband connection can now access a tutor online in just about every subject and at any level – and often at a lower cost compared to face-to-face lessons. Tutors at MyTutor, for example, charge a maximum of £36 per hour, though the company stresses that the vast majority of lessons cost substantially less. Online tutoring is simple to set up too – you simply sign up and book, check all the technology is working and you’re all set to go.
It’s not as if online tuition is new, but things have moved on a lot since its early days. MyTutor advises parents to check out the technology before they sign up. If video is part of the service, can you expand it or is it just a thumbnail – which can make learning that much harder? Are tutorials recorded, both for safeguarding purposes and so that students can play them back in their own time? Other technological gizmos to look out for include a dedicated online space and a shared whiteboard that allow students and tutors to work on a document or a problem together.
Don’t get too focused on the techy side of things, though. Online tutorial success is also down to good, old fashioned planning to make sure everything runs like clockwork. Stephen Fewell, a tutor at Dulwich Tutors, messages his online students twice to ensure they’re sitting tight and waiting for their lesson. ‘I contact them to let them know that I’m looking forward to seeing them in an hour, and then equally about five minutes beforehand I email to let them know I’m standing by. I find if you put that time in then people tend to be there.’
Online tuition is unsurprisingly popular with teens upwards. ‘Older children prefer [it] because they’re so wrapped up in technology anyway and it means they are able to be more flexible,’ says Leticia Debola, company manager at Titanium Tutors.
It can be equally successful with younger pupils, says Stephen Fewell, but that’s only provided you’ve got a highly motivated student – supported by an equally enthusiastic family – on the other side of the screen, and a well-organised tutor who has plenty of ideas to keep interest levels high. ‘You might send them a PowerPoint presentation you look at together at the same time, you might send them a hand out […] and you can embed little quizzes and VT clips, all of that is much more reliable now.’
Many traditional tutoring firms have already started to offer online lessons. If they haven’t, you can bet that it’s something they’re mulling over.
Some are also coming up with imaginative digital add-ons. Griffin and Bell Education, for example, is about to launch a series of online mini tutorials, where topics like metaphors, similes and story construction are turned into a ten-minute lesson broken up into three tiny chunks, each lasting just three or four minutes.
They come complete with other resources such as worksheets and can be a confidence booster not just for pupils but for parents, too, says co-founder Victoria Smith. ‘A lot of parents can feel like they don’t know how to work on English with their own kids so if they don’t have a tutor or are between tutorials, they can log in to and watch the videos together.’
So will technology ultimately be the death of face-to-face tuition? For now at least, having a real time, real life tutor in the room continues to be the gold standard option for many parents. But change is in the air. The rise of online tuition is bringing in families who wouldn’t previously have been able to access one-to-one tutoring, either because of cost or logistics. ‘Resources where you can look up a certain topic and watch a quick lesson do mean that kids who can’t afford private tuition still have somewhere they can look for some inspiring help,’ says Victoria Smith.
In time, thinks Leticia Debola, online tuition could well become the default option. ‘You can see that parents are now more inclined to consider online lessons. Before, it was an absolute no and now it’s a hmm, I’ll try it. Eventually it will be, “Yes, that’s fine”’.
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