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All you need to know about online tutoring

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Is online tuition the way forward? There is more and more interest in this area, with some tutors even claiming that it is a better medium than face-to-face tuition for some subjects.

All you need to know about online tutoring

As Bob Dylan says times they are changing and anyone with an eye on tutoring will tell you that online tutoring is getting increasingly popular. People are attracted to it because it can be easier to get time with a tutor precisely when you need it, more convenient and often cheaper to traditional home tutoring.

Our experience backs up the growth in demand for online tutoring. We have found that people are looking for support in almost every subject, particularly at A level and above along with overseas students following UK exam boards. As people become more accustomed to the notion of online tutoring, we are also seeing increasing numbers of 12 to 16 year old using it, along with homeschoolers.

Let me explain what online tutoring is, what you need to get going yourself.

Online tutoring connect students with tutors anywhere in the world over the internet. Sessions are carried out in real time, and there are a variety of tools available to support the teaching and learning experience.

So how do you get going?

You need a computer linked to the internet, and a good broadband connection. Most modern computers come with microphones and webcam, but you are best off investing in a microphone headset (costing around £10) as the quality of the sound will be much better for both tutor and student.

There are a bunch of tools already out there that can help deliver the lessons. Most tutors will already be familiar with Skype video and competing services such as Google Talk (one-to-one chat) and  Google Hangouts (group chat). The problem is that video in itself is not quite enough for effective online tutoring – the lack of a whiteboard where you can share formulae and charts is the biggest shortfall.

There are whiteboard applications which can work alongside Skype, such as IdrooScribblar or Talk And Write. It’s also worth checking out Google Docs as you can share and review spreadsheets and documents in real-time during the session.

For those not preferring to mix and match in this way, there are also video conferencing services available which can help. These normally provide good quality video, voice and file sharing capabilities, some also include session recording, which can be a good aide memoire for students. These include Webex (£15 per month) or Gotomeeting (£29 per month), which allow you to tutor larger numbers of students at the same time. It’s also worth considering Wiziq ($19 per month), which focuses more clearly on education and includes voice, video and an online classroom.

Our advice would be to give them all a test, and see what works best for you.

Getting the technology right is a challenge. But also important are the old problems of finding customers and getting paid.

In terms of drumming up business, it’s not as simple as putting up an ad in the newsagents window. You could offer it as a service to your existing clients, who knows some may prefer it particularly if they are looking for extra support during the school holidays.

Pre-payment for online lessons is a must. For payment, most tutors and customers tend to prefer Paypal, but before you do this check out the transaction costs and when you can access your cash. Alternatively, students can pay you by bank transfer.

Before you enter the brave new world of online tutoring, my advice would be to think about the following:

  • Your level of computer literacy. Simple things can go wrong, will you be able to resolve them quickly.
  • How good are you at thinking on your feet. Online requires different skills. You may not be able to see the student or understand them easily. How will you adapt your teaching style to this?
  • Investing in upfront preparation. It’s almost impossible to ‘wing it’ online, as you will be drawing, talking and sharing files probably at the same time.
  • Your flexibility. You will need to fit in around the student, some of whom could be based overseas. How do you feel about tutoring early in the morning or very late at night? It’s not just about filling the gap during the summer holiday.
  • Payment. You may struggle to maintain your hourly tutoring rate because students expect online tutoring to be cheaper than home tutoring. We find that the average tutoring rate is £20 per hour, and that those online tutors with cheaper online rates are most popular – food for thought.

It’s still early days for online tutoring, one school of thought argues that youngsters of today are so wrapped up with technology that the only way a parent can persuade them to do any extra academic work is if it’s carried out online; a teenager would rather work on a computer than be confronted face to face with a tutor in the living room.

Only time will tell. But, if it sounds interesting, why not dip your toe in the water and see how it goes.

September 11, 2008

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