What is the difference between studying with a tutor online, and studying with a tutor in person?
On the face of it, this is a very simple question. Studying with a tutor in person involves sitting down at a desk in the same room as them, whereas studying online means that you and the tutor can be in different physical locations but interact online using standard software. This often involves technology such as Skype or something more bespoke such as an online whiteboard.
However, this simple difference hides a host of questions. For example, which approach is likely to be most successful, the most suitable for children, or the best value for money? With the aid of some results from an online tuition survey, we can make some broad observations.
Convenience and cost
It is safe to say that online tuition wins hands down in various respects. First of all, there is its convenience. Neither the tutor nor the student needs to travel anywhere, resulting in quite a saving of time and effort.
From the student’s perspective, there are other related advantages. They can employ a tutor in a different international time zone, for example if their only chance to study is at an unsociable hour. Moreover, they can have an unrivalled choice of potential tutors country-wide or globally. This is a particular advantage if the student lives in a rural area where access to tuition may be difficult.
Greater choice of tutors inevitably means a more competitive marketplace and cheaper prices. Within the UK, tutors reported that they charged between 75% and 100% of their in-person fee for an online lesson. Going further, if a student is prepared to employ a tutor from abroad, fees can also reduce dramatically due to exchange rates and price differentials in other countries.
Where the benefits of online tuition are not so clear, however, are in aspects such as establishing rapport.
Tutors report that it is more difficult to assess non-verbal communication in an online situation. The subtle clues of body language and tone of voice are harder to discern online, and some teachers therefore report having to work much harder to establish rapport. This is important because rapport is an essential ingredient in the learning process, impacting on aspects such as confidence and motivation to learn.
The issue of rapport also extends beyond the one-to-one relationship of tutor and student. For example, some tutors place great emphasis on getting parents and family on board in the tuition process, and this becomes harder when there is little or no contact with the parents face-to-face.
On the other hand, some tutors are convinced that students are more comfortable learning online than in person. Not only is the younger generation more used to online technology, they may feel less shy, related to the well-known disinhibition effect of the Internet. Age also plays a role, with tutors reporting that online tuition generally works better with older rather than younger children.
Regarding actual learning outcomes, however, the jury is still out.
Some teachers feel that an online tuition session is much more focused, enhanced by the fact that the student is also comfortable and safe in their own home. On the other hand, some tutors believe that the best tuition takes place in the real world where the tutor is able to interact more holistically with their students.
Although there are strong advocates of both ways of tutoring, online tuition is clearly not the best solution in all cases – for example, when learning a musical instrument.
All in all, there are advantages to both forms of tuition, and it is up to parents and students to discuss the benefits of both with their prospective tutor.