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Online tutoring

As part of our series on online tutoring and some of the best practices involved, I’ve been reading Best Practices in Online Tutoring by Cherie Mazer as a source of guidance and inspiration. It’s proving an utterly fascinating read, and the purpose of this blog post is to share the insights that I have gleaned from it.

In this blog post, I am going to look at some of the unique benefits that one-to-one online tutoring offers, according to Mazer.  From my experiences of online tutoring, I’ll also be able to take a look at each one and let you know what I think…

So, without further ado, here are the unique benefits of online tutoring:

  • “24/7 anytime, anywhere individualised one-to-one instruction”
    Mazer argues that, whilst face-to-face tutoring can be effective, there are aspects of a student’s life that can get in the way.  For example, Mazer cites part-time jobs or those who have to manage a family as two possible reasons.
    From my experience, it was a little tricky to find time to meet my Maths and French tutors during the week – I worked a part-time job in a local supermarket on a Monday night, Rugby practice was on a Tuesday… you can see how it’s beginning to stack up.  Did I get it right all the time?  No, I can’t say I did.  However, I think had I taken online tutoring or was really aware of it at the time it would have helped me no end.
    The availability of field experts all over the world allows students to get support whenever they need it and involves no ‘waiting around’ for the next face-to-face session.
  • “A logical companion to online learning”
    The first thing that jumps out at me when Mazer discusses online learning is that of distance learning.  According to Mazer, this may mean that learning assistants and facilities on a campus (in the case of higher education) might not actually be enough to help students.  According to her research, over 33% of all students in higher education in the USA are currently undertaking some sort of online course.  This could be for remedial work or it could even be as a module on their course.  Either way, it still represents over 7 million American students – a number that is set to double over the next five years.
    In the UK, we of course have the Open University, where you can take part in courses online that are recognised by employers up and down the nation – the choice of things on offer is quite staggering.
    That said, it’s not so easy to sit down and just do an online course. Therefore, some help in the form of tutoring is sometimes a good idea – many people, appropriately enough, choose to go online to find that support.  It’s the best companion really, because I can easily send files and links to my tutor to help explain what I’m up to.  It’s also useful if you don’t get to hear much from your instructor too, as the support is available any time.
  • “On Demand Efficiency”
    The general idea behind this: if you don’t understand the basic theory of what you’re learning about, you’re going to find it rather difficult to do the questions that your teacher set you for homework.  Likewise, if there’s a question that feeds into all the others and it’s causing a few headaches, you’ll find it rather difficult to get everything done.
    The great thing about online tutoring is that it allows you to find help as you need it, according to Mazer.  With a traditional face-to-face tutoring, you have to wait for the next time you visit – in the context of your week that can be just rather lucky if it’s not too far away.  However, the likelihood is that it probably might be some time before you’re seeing them again.
    With online tutoring you can just log on and quickly find someone who might be able to help you with that particular item.  It doesn’t have to be a full session either, you can quickly ask for someone explain something and bang, you’re off again, ready to take on that piece.
  • “The Human Touch”
    Humans are better than computers at this sort of thing – I have always maintained that.  A few years ago I found definite proof, based on scientific research, you can read about what I found here.
    Mazer cites the Kahn Academy as one example of computer-based tutorials that, whilst can offer help, might not completely work.  Students, she says, cannot always diagnose the problems in their own knowledge and understanding to work out what the computer tutorial is trying to tell them.
    Mazer adds that a professional human tutor is much more engaging and instils confidence – I would be inclined to agree, having used different computer-based systems at school to try and help with my work… visiting a tutor or finding one online just makes more sense.
  • “Studies show students are more likely to seek help online”
    I think I would have been a classic example of this on the odd occasion – the idea of researching things on the Internet would have been really quite tempting.
    Even if we talk to teachers, Mazer argues that students are more likely to electronically communicate with them than actually visit them in person.  I’m not quite sure what was so unusual about sitting down in an office to talk to them but either way, you see what I mean.  It’s just more comforting to see their email response there in your inbox than sitting down and making a formal appointment with them.  Students don’t want to feel threatened or embarrassed and that is what makes tutoring more helpful online for students – they don’t have to sit down face-to-face and say “I don’t get it.”
    I would have to agree with that – from my experience sending an email made it a little more manageable.

On balance, Mazer has got this spot on.  From my experience human elements of tutoring are so much better than using computer-type programmes.  When combined with an on-demand nature – where you’ll be free to find anyone at any time – it makes for a very powerful tool.  I would also agree that, with students looking to keep a lot of their education based online, tutoring online allows for better and more confident interaction and potentially better progress.

If you would like to check out other blog posts looking at the work of Mazer, please take a look at the following:

Research findings into online tutoring

Benefits of online tutoring: what the research says

Tips for tutors: best practice online tutoring techniques

 

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