I have been an independent academic tutor for twenty five years now, the last two of them exclusively providing online tuition.
Business is now booming and I teach many satisfied clients online worldwide. However, when I first started offering online tuition I encountered a lot of resistance from potential clients who were unwilling even to try this new technology. The ironic thing is that once they were persuaded to try it, in excess of 95% of them were hooked within minutes and declared it ‘better than the real thing’.
Let’s look at the advantages of online tuition over face-to-face tuition.
Firstly, no travelling time for either client or tutor. You just log-on in the comfort of your own home and you are away, cup of coffee by your side and relaxed and ready to go. Petrol is expensive and time a rare commodity. We all claim to have some sort of ‘green’ credentials so why pollute the world and stress yourself and your child unnecessarily?
Secondly, no pathogens! I used to get up to eight colds a year. Since I started online tuition this has been reduced to zero. Why trail around a chilly, germ-laden environment (or invite a germ-laden tutor into your home) when you can stay snug and warm and minimise your exposure to lurghies?
Thirdly, online tuition is intensely intimate and concentrated. One major so-called ‘objection’ from the uninitiated is that they feel that their child’s attention will wander. If anything I have found the exact opposite to be the case…the younger generation are used to spending hours on end staring at screens in concentration. With headphones and a skilful tutor you are immersed in a total learning environment – the time just flies by and learning is rapid and effective.
Fourthly, the technology is so advanced now that an online tutorial is delivered in EXACTLY the same way as a face-to-face one. It annoys me when people talk about ‘skype tutoring’. That’s a bit like calling classroom education ‘blackboard teaching’ – it misses-out half the technology. Nowadays we have interactive electronic whiteboards (I use Scribblar but there are many others) on which both student and tutor can put notes, papers, mark schemes and so forth and write on them in real time. What the tutor sees the student sees in real time and vice-versa. It is identical to a face-to-face tutorial with a tutor and a piece of paper between tutor and tutee, except that you have all of the advantages listed above.
Fifthly, with online tuition you get the very best tutor rather than what happens to be available locally. Nowadays my 25 years of experience and unparalleled knowledge of the examination boards can be beamed into the home of anyone with a broadband connection worldwide.
So that’s five pretty compelling reasons to at least try online tuition. But what of the possible objections?
A significant number of my clients are simply instinctively averse to online tuition without even trying it. That is frankly extremely odd in this day-and-age of technology and constant change. How can you dislike something without trying it? In excess of 95% of my students who have actually tried it say “Wow! This is amazing… why on earth did I object to this before trying it?” To those who are averse to even trying-out online tuition all I can say is that if you prefer face-to-face tuition then I may turn-up on my horse-and-cart clutching my trusty writing slate! I presume that the lesson will be illuminated by oil lamp and not this nasty new-fangled electricity? If something new is quicker, cleaner, easier and more efficient why not use it? It seems odd not to at least give it a go. In an attempt to overcome initial irrational reluctance I used to offer my first lesson for free, but as I am turning away clients for online tuition now, who have heard of its benefits, I don’t really need to do this any more.
Another ‘argument’ I hear is that the web is too unreliable for effective tuition. I did an audit of my first year’s online tuition and found that my ‘serviceability’ (ie time not interrupted by outside events such as web downtime) was slightly in excess of 98.5%…this is actually BETTER than face-to-face tuition as the latter was frequently interrupted by late arrivals, settling-in time, getting out books, tradesmen calling and so forth.
Yet another ‘argument’ I hear is that online tuition misses-out on the subtle ‘body language’ cues that tell if a student is not happy. If that is a worry then we can always use the camera function on Skype – but to be honest I don’t bother with the vast majority of my students. I wouldn’t have been in this business for 25 years if I couldn’t tell from gentle questioning whether or not a student ‘gets it’. Indeed, many autism spectrum students actively prefer not to have the physical presence of a tutor who may misinterpret their often-misleading body language. We have used the telephone for intimate communication for a century now without any such worries, so why should this be a concern in tutoring?
Regrettably several (mostly Indian-based) companies have recruited graduate students to teach maths and physics online and have made a selling-point of the fact that they are cheaper than face-to-face tuition. This has given potential clients the impression that online tuition is somehow inferior to face-to-face tuition. I actually charge the same for online tuition as I do for face-to-face tuition as the client is already making major savings in terms of travelling time and costs and lost time through infections. A Rolls Royce that uses the same road as a Mini is still a Rolls Royce. But this Rolls Royce can be brought to you anywhere at your convenience.
I suspect that all really good tutors will be exclusively online within a few years for all of the reasons outlined above. But if you prefer to stay in the eccentric, inconvenient and inefficient world of the donkey cart, oil lamp and face-to-face tutor that is, of course, your absolute privilege!
Matthew Barnes, Online Biology Tutor