Education Opinion

Online Tutoring Should Be Convenient and Cost-Effective

By Matthew Lynch — April 21, 2014 4 min read
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Today’s blog marks my 100th post for “Education Futures.” I would like to thank Education Week for all of the their support, and my fellow “education futurists” for their readership and engagement.

Online learning has revolutionized the way K-12 and college students are able to accomplish academic feats, despite circumstances that may have stood in the way of their success. Access to learning materials and even instructors via webcams provides flexibility to students who need options outside the traditional classroom setting.

What about tutoring, though? The supplemental education services industry is expected to make over $10 billion per year annually in North America by 2017, and it’s no wonder. As students face higher pressures in classrooms, companies like Sylvan and Kumon make millions every year by encouraging parents to bring in their students and pay a premium fee to have them tutored one-on-one.

Aside from the cost, tutoring outside school hours can be a hassle and inconvenience for both parents and students who already have tight schedules. Kids who have been in a classroom setting all day are also not keen to head back into a traditional learning environment, which can mean a lot of extra tension between parents and kids that surrounds an already-anxious experience. No one likes to feel lost in subject material but the traditional tutoring setup is just too rigid to work for everyone.

But what if the same flexibility that is afforded to regular K-12 and college classes was extended to tutoring too? Of course there are already many online tutoring options available but as an industry, it lacks the sophistication of the larger-scale academic offerings. As demand for this form of flexible learning rises, though, tutoring in remote ways will see a spike in popularity and availability.

So what does a virtual tutoring company need to be both successful and helpful to its students?

Communication is key

When a student walks out of a traditional tutoring setting, or even a classroom setting for that matter, access to the instructor disappears. Students are sent off to learn independently through reading, worksheets and other assignments. While all students need the accountability that goes along with outside assignments, one that is struggling with a particular subject will not master it alone and may actually become overwhelmed and discouraged instead. The advantage of an online tutoring company is the potential for stronger communication and if implemented correctly, instant access to guidance.

The online tutoring company HelpHub uses an innovative way to match tutors with students, 24/7 and at times that are convenient for both. The unique platform connects students and tutors with each other over interactive messaging, web video and phone features that mean a tutee can find answers and help in the moment. Each interaction is analyzed and information that is helpful to the larger HelpHub community is used to begin online communities that center on particular schools, networks or topics. By utilizing the instant access to technology that already exists, HelpHub connects students and tutors in a moment and ensures that a frustrated student finds needed help quickly.

Cost should be considered

In the traditional world of tutoring, cost can be an issue. In a nutshell, a family that cannot afford the high prices set forth by tutoring companies or private tutors is simply not able to take advantage of the benefits of the extra academic help. The same is true of college students who may be investing a lot to be on campus, but may lack the extra funds to really master the material with some outside help. There are some financial assistance programs in place and some states, like Florida, offer special tutoring for K-12 students in a particular income bracket. Still, there is a limit to what families can choose for their students when it comes to tutoring, making it more of a privilege and less of a right for the children and young adults that need it.

The monetization options for online tutoring services are wide open, whether the sites appear online or as mobile applications. When mobile technology is in play, students can pay lower rates for just the help that they need, instead of a high per-hour rate. HelpHub students, for example, get help quickly, at affordable and flexible prices. Since tutors choose their own hourly rates on the site, and rates start at $10 per hour, students can get help for as low as 17 cents per minute over video calls. A tutor can make the rate he or she feels is deserved, and students only pay for the help they receive.

There are other ways that online tutoring companies can make money too. Instead of asking for money from the student or parents, online tutoring applications like HelpHub can pass the buck on to advertisers instead (just to be clear, HelpHub does not currently use this model but it could certainly consider it in the future). For some online tutoring options, this could even mean sponsored educational content or topic communities that are made possible by companies in the industry. Of course all of the sponsored materials need to be vetted but why not take advantage of the knowledge that already exists to enhance the online tutoring landscape?

Students are already native online learners and virtual tutoring could open the doors for a lot of breakthroughs - and at a greater convenience and lesser cost to students. These emerging companies just need to look for ways to set themselves apart from the outdated model of in-person tutoring in order to provide the most help and succeed.

Where do you see online tutoring heading in the next five years?

Dr. Matthew Lynch is the author of the recently released book, The Call to Teach: An Introduction to Teaching. To order it via Amazon, please click on the following link.

The opinions expressed in Education Futures: Emerging Trends in K-12 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.