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Online tutoring

It’s a perfectly natural question to ask – is online tutoring effective, and are there academic studies to back this up?

Academics continue to look at the effectiveness of online tutoring, and the latest one by Cherie Mazer entitled Best Practice in Online Tutoring says that “though the efficacy of face-to-face tutoring is supported by numerous studies, in the emerging field of online tutoring, there are few research studies examining the practice.”

In our article ‘Does tutoring work? And if so why” we looked at the findings of Benjamin Bloom and Kurt VanLehn, who found that face to face tutoring improves student grades.

This article takes a closer look at US and UK based research into online tutoring, and what can be learned from each.

“The Effect of Access to an Online Tutorial Service on College Algebra Student Outcomes”

Back in 2011 a group of researchers from various universities across the USA used online tutoring to assess how college algebra students could improve their grades in the field.

They analysed gains achieved by students over time. What they found that was students who frequently used online tutoring made significantly greater gains (gains are measured by their test scores) than for those who didn’t have access.

“Using live, online tutoring to inspire post-16 students to engage with higher level mathematics”

A more recent UK paper a group of researchers from the Further Mathematics Support Programme of the Mathematics in Education and Industry (MEI) group looked at an online tutoring system and used it to tutor three groups of students engaging in mathematics at a post-16 level – all using online tutoring.

  • The first group used it to learn and support learning for an entire AS and A Level module, determined to be Further Mathematics – by no means an easy subject.
    Group 1 students found it a ‘crucial’ part of their learning, allowing them to get the correct support for such a demanding subject as Further Maths.  According to the findings within the paper, it may not have been possible to achieve in the same way they wished had they not been granted access to the system.  Students found that they could also concentrate easily using online tutoring, remaining focussed throughout.  Their work-rate was also considered to be excellent – close to that of a face-to-face tutoring set-up.
  • The second group (20-30 students) used the programme for ‘supplemental learning’ – this was remedial support and was module specific – it was taken as and when the student needed some help in a particular field.
    Group 2 students found the online tutoring system to be a ‘valuable reassurance’ and it ‘satisfied their need for extra support’ – especially given the demands of supplemental learning with limited contact hours with their regular tutor.
  • The third group used the programme for live revision sessions, again specific to different modules that they were studying within post-16 mathematics.
    Group 3 students had the highest praise of all, saying that it was a high quality revision source.  Specifically, students found that the topics were precise and they could focus on what they needed to prepare for when it came to the exam.

The report also highlighted some of the other potential advantages of online tutoring:

  • There is no time or cost involved in travelling – it can happen literally from your kitchen table (much like me writing this article, actually.)
  • It allows for greater choice in module selection – sometimes such options would not be locally available, whereas it becomes a potential option because there are less restraints on physical resources.
  • There is greater potential for student-student interaction, thanks to interactive programmes and tools that may be utilised.

Of course, the report highlights the need for students to be willing to talk to new tutors and to have the same level of focus as if they were with a face-to-face tutor, but I think this is something we are already familiar with – there are so many potential distractions out there that even for me it can take a while to get started!

To conclude, despite concerns about the number of studies into online tutoring, we can see that there is evidence to support what we already know – online tutoring is a valuable addition to learning.





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