Online tutoring (part 2)

Online tutoring (part 2)

A few weeks ago (3 February) I posted the beginning of a discussion on online tutoring, defining it in the following terms:
What distinguishes online tutoring is the technology of conferencing. From home, or from anywhere else with their laptops or smart phones, students are able to see their tutor (and vice versa), and follow his or her real-time demonstrations on a whiteboard. The tutor can then turn the use of the whiteboard over to the student to have a go at exercises.

I opened by saying that Tuition Canterbury does not offer such a service, and that I have no plans to introduce it here.  These are some reasons why I would urge caution on parents who might think that, with IT advancing so fast,  online tuition is the way ahead:

Firstly, one should do the sums carefully. Online tuition is promoted as being a cheaper alternative to regular tuition, but beware – providers of online tuition materials tend to operate inflexible payment systems! A month’s free-of- charge trial may be tempting – but thereafter, the customer will tend to be in for a long run. Signing up may entail agreeing to a notice period of at least 3 months. How do you know that your child’s enthusiasm will hold up? Many students will want tuition only for the short term and for a goal that is within sight; some students require tuition with the focus on  specific school or examination assignments – not general purpose instruction.

Secondly, no matter how attractively packaged, and no matter how comprehensive or extensive an online bank of lessons and exercises with an online tutor may appear to be, the risk is always there that the materials and the experience are not going to be a hit with the child. Novelty always wears off, and the tendency of highly-systematized tuition programs with limited possibilites for variation (compared to face to face tuition), may cause students to tire sooner rather than later.  A six-month deal may then prove poor value for money. 

Thirdly, there is something inherently unsatisfactory about the anonymous relationship between  online tutor and tutee (I know that I would find it dispiriting to tutor down the line to a student I would never meet). What happens when the student doesn’t ‘get’ something – and the tutor can’t explain it with the available materials over the available media?  This is often bound to occur. Some providers claim to address the issue with a concept of ‘blended tuition’  – ie. the student can do some of their work online and some at a local ‘tied-in’ learning centre with a tutor in the traditional way. I have never seen such an arrangement described as working in practice. To me it has all the potential of breakdown – messy, frustrating and inefficient for student and tutor alike.