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Online tutoring

Education is in the news almost every day, but it’s rare to get a story purely about online tutoring. It seems to go under the radar, but there are some very interesting things starting to happen in this industry, and the purpose of this blog post is to share why I believe it’s taking off now in the United Kingdom, tell you about whose using it and how I see it developing in the next 12 months.

What makes us uniquely placed to tell you about it? Well, we are a leading UK based online tutoring service, that has been in this market since 2010.

What’s happening in the UK market?

I should start by saying that this is an immature market, with a long way to go before we see mass adoption. But 2014 has been notable as we are starting to see growth in the market, as increasing numbers of customers are now turning to our service for their tutoring needs. We are probably not alone in this, but our business levels are 500% higher than last year. Not bad going, hey.

Signs are that we will start to see even more rapid market growth, with research from Edtech Europe including online tutoring within its 10 biggest e-learning predictions for 2014.

Online tutoring is not new, of course. Over the years we have seen new competitors join in the fun and some existing ones fall by the wayside. As an emerging market, new businesses enter it because they see the growth potential, and are willing to incur losses in the early years.

Interestingly, we are seeing two distinct markets developing: tutoring into schools (who are making use of the Pupil Premium) and direct to the general public. We are also beginning to see independent tutors start their own online tutoring services, some of which are proving to be very successful.

Who is using it?

As it’s an emerging market, many of the people using online tutoring are clearly early adopters, with a taste for new technology. But what more can we discern about them?

A recent report by the Babson Survey Group, which indicated that 62% of online students are married or have a partner, and 56% are parents. This aligns with our experience – the majority of users are adults many of whom are at University, with parents using the service to top up their children’s education.

We are finding that parents are more inclined to use online tutoring to support students at A level and for their GCSE’s, with younger children tending to rely on home tutoring.

Why it’s taking off?

So why are people turning to online tutoring? We find that not having to travel is a big factor, along with finding the right skills and cheaper hourly rates. There is very much a sense that people are looking to make the most of their time, and why travel to a tutor when you can do it all online. Equally important is finding a tutor with the right skills – trying to find a Classics tutor in a small village in the Isle of Wight is likely to be a fruitless exercise were it not for online tutoring. The fact that it is generally cheaper than traditional home tutoring also helps, particularly to the price conscious customer.

What issues are there?

There are broadly two main issues: finding a quality tutor and technology.

As online tutoring is relatively new to the UK, customers are largely unaware of the companies and individual tutors available online, many people say that they want tutors based in the UK for example, which limits their choice. They naturally want to know who to go with. Apart from searching on Google for ‘online tutoring’, how can the assess how serious these businesses are?

Probably the most important development in the world of UK tutoring has been the formation of the Tutors’ Association. They are a force for good in the industry, and are aiming to achieve professional recognition for private tutors and promote best practice in tutoring. Work will be shortly underway to establish a code of conduct for online tutoring companies. I see this as an important reassurance for customers in the future.

Technology sadly is an issue. Many independent tutors rely on Skype and bolting together other service. Alternative technology platforms tend to be fairly costly and rely on ‘old’ Flash technology, which tends not to deliver the sound and video quality that customers have come to expect. Early adopters ‘make do’, but for online tutoring to really take off there needs to be step change improvement in the classroom experience via improved communications technology.

How I see the online tutoring market developing 

I see a number of developments in the coming 12 months:

1. Continued market growth, particularly at University, A level and GCSE, with demand starting to trickle down to the 12 year old + age groups;

2. Price sensitive customers previously put off by the high price of home tutoring, starting to use online tutoring, thereby increasing the number of people using tutoring in general. Remember only 24% of students currently use tutors, so the opportunity to grow the industry size is large;

3. Improvements in communications technology that lend themselves to a better online classroom experience;

4. Mono line businesses, focusing on niche academic and leisure skills-based markets;

5. More businesses becoming new entrants and regrettably more exits. New businesses need to be well funded if they are to succeed;

6. Increased investment in start-up businesses by Angel investors and education companies. This is not Silicon Valley though, and I think that venture capital investment is still away off;

In closing, it’s clear to me that online tutoring has reached a tipping point in the UK. It’s being embraced by parents, children and academics alike; the UK tutoring industry is poised to reap the benefits of what has come to be a global boom.

I hope that you have found this article interesting. Please feel free to share it, and to leave comments below.



8 Responses to “Why online tutoring is taking off in the UK”

  1. Henry

    Great article, Jon.

    What I hadn’t realised before was the high proportion of adult users of online tuition. On that note, when you state that ‘parents [are] using the service to top up their children’s education’, do you mean that parents are tending to engage alone with the tutor online, or with the child present?

    The point about online tuition rates tending to be lower than face-to-face is also interesting. Yet another reason why it’s an attractive option.

    Reply (6) (0)
    • Jon Ellis

      Hi Henry. We tend to see parents being present for the first online tutoring session, often just watching just to see how it goes. Follow on lessons are booked by the parents, but they tend to leave the child and tutor to get on with it. On our website, all lessons are recorded – and it’s common for parents to listen to the recordings, to keep an eye on how the lesson went.

      Reply (6) (0)
      • Nirav Prajapati

        Hi Jon,

        Great article. Do you have any opinion on younger age group(K12) students adoption to online tutoring vs higher education students adoption in UK and across other countries.

        Reply (3) (0)
  2. Jon Ellis

    Thanks Nirav

    I can only speak with some certainty about the UK market. At the moment, parents of younger children tend to want face to face tutoring at home. They feel that the one-to-one of a tutor is required to maintain levels of student attention. Many are also uncertain about what online tutoring actually is. This will change, in my opinion as they hear how effective it is from siblings and friends.

    The big K12 market in the UK is selling online tutoring services into schools. This lends credibility to the industry and is another reason why I think K12 parents will start using online tutoring.

    Reply (6) (0)
    • Nirav Prajapati

      Very interesting. What is driving schools to adopt online tutoring services? What sort of business model does online tutoring service providers setting up with schools?

      Reply (0) (0)
      • Jon Ellis

        In the UK, the Government has made money available to supplement the learning of children whose families have a low income – the Pupil Premium. There is a recognised correlation between family income and educational performance, and this money tends to be focused on learning support assistants and in some cases online tutoring.

        In terms of their business models, I have no direct experience of this market – maybe someone else can comment.

        Reply (1) (0)
  3. Ayush

    Hi Jon,

    One thing I would like to know. Fine that online tutoring services are in demand, in UK as well as in India. But I see a trend of searching Google for solutions. How do you see it ? Especially in UK.

    Reply (1) (0)

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