Online tutoring for your child: the benefits, the issues, and choosing an online tutor
Online tutoring is an increasingly popular choice for students and their families. Although many tutors were operating online before the COVID-19 pandemic, one silver lining has been widespread use of remote learning in education, and therefore a greater choice for parents.
Online tutors now work at all levels to complement school learning, some also provide “home schooling” or specialise in certain subjects. UK-based tutors often specialise in particular subjects at GCSE or A-level. Of course, there are pros and cons of hiring an online tutor, and just like the traditional “in person” approach, choosing the right tutor is an important decision.
I hope to give you the benefit of my experience as a parent and an online tutor, looking at the benefits and potential issues, but also sharing some tips to help you make the right choice for your child.
Online tutoring: the benefits
A different perspective
A one-to-one relationship with an online tutor is different from sitting in a class of 30 pupils. In school, students may be reluctant to ask questions when surrounded by their peers, while their teachers have the difficult job of dividing their attention 30 ways. The most common reason parents contact me is that topics misunderstood or missed during school lessons leave gaps in knowledge that are difficult to fill while the teaching continues at a pace.
As an online tutor, I have the rewarding job of working solely for each child, one-to-one, to target specific areas. A good tutor becomes something like a personal trainer, working on topics your child chooses, sometimes over and over again, which is simply not possible in a school environment. This allows us to try out new approaches – perhaps metaphors that capture tricky scientific concepts. Parents and students usually find that tutoring and school learning complement each other, giving fresh perspectives.
Convenience and flexibility
Online tutoring sessions can be much more convenient for parents than in-person tutoring where appointments depend on schedules, social lives and traffic. With online sessions you no longer have to worry about lifts! Pupils can log on for lessons from different rooms, or houses, during free periods in school – or wherever they are in the world. Online tutors can be flexible too, fitting in more easily around your schedule.
The key to successful GCSEs and A-levels is a consistent homework routine, and tutoring can become a seamless part of this. Logging in for a session from the comfort of your own home can make all the difference to relaxing and hopefully enjoying the sessions. Feeling comfortable is an important part of keeping your child’s wellbeing and outlook the best it can be.
Privacy and wellbeing
Learning in your own surroundings, possibly in your slippers, creates a different mindset from school learning or even compared to in-person tutoring. Online sessions provide privacy for students who might be self-conscious or anxious, or those who have a busy home life.
Sometimes parents worry that an online tutor might not help their child to “open up” in the way in-person tutoring might. I have found the opposite is often true – students are familiar and comfortable with online platforms and communities and may use Skype already, allowing them to feel in control, and therefore more at ease. It’s from this point of safety, respect and understanding that information flows both ways. Wellbeing is being recognised as a crucial aspect of learning, and your child getting the grades they want.
Access to expertise when your child needs it
Preparing to hire an online tutor, rather than an in-person tutor, means you don’t have to restrict your search to those in your local area. Often online tutors specialise in different subjects and qualifications, so with a little research, the choice is yours. There are some tips for hiring a specialist online tutor below. From the tutor’s point of view, we want to establish trust as soon as possible, and also to be as useful as we can be.
Access to resources when you need them
It’s common to share notes, diagrams, and files during an online session. Online platforms like Skype and Zoom allow these files to be accessed from anywhere, especially if your child has a laptop or smartphone. This of course adds to the flexibility of online sessions, if a session needs to move forward by an hour, but also means your child always has help on hand.
I offer my students the chance to send me any troubleshooting questions on science or maths via Skype in between sessions so I can reply and hopefully put their minds at ease before the next session. This is usually popular in the lead up to exams.
Online tutoring: the issues
Online tutoring may not be for everyone
Online tutoring trades personal contact for flexibility – your child won’t be sitting next to the tutor and this may affect your choices. Most students don’t mind either way. The relationship between online tutor and tutee can take longer to establish – and this rapport is crucial (see below). Yet online tutoring also means fewer distractions, making it easier to concentrate on the topic in hand, and to relax and digest the information later.
Speaking personally, as well as a tutor I’m a qualified personal development coach, and one-to-one sessions sometimes give me the chance to help students more generally with their wellbeing, confidence and outlook. Usually parents and students feel reassured, and more relaxed, having sessions in their own home, with online tutoring fitting neatly into their day.
Online learning requires commitment and discipline
Both tutor and tutee need to be invested in the process – it requires an equal commitment. Similar to homework routines set by schools, students are responsible for work in between online sessions. This is an area where parents can work with the tutor. Helping to remind your child about upcoming sessions, or “checking in” with the tutor to make sure everything is going well.
Online tutoring works best with students who have a clear idea of what they want to get out of each hour, and have a goal in mind – perhaps a target grade in an upcoming test. Often students can supply a list of topics they want to work on in advance, saving time at the beginning of a session.
Online tutoring may be expensive
In a crowded marketplace, it’s usually true that you get what you pay for. With a rise in popularity, online tutoring has seen an increase in competition and prices vary widely. Occasionally, people are less honest about their skills or experience. So, it’s important to consider each tutor’s merits – how they come across, their experience and qualifications – when making a choice (see below). After all, they may be working with your child for months if not years.
Finding an online tutor for you in a crowded marketplace
It can be difficult to know which online tutor from your shortlist is the best fit for you and your child. The best advice is to decide on what you are looking for prior to starting your search. When you’re ready, here are some tips to follow:
Be specific about what you’re looking for
Is your child working towards a GCSE or an A-level? Are there particular topics they need help with? Perhaps they’ve missed some school and need to catch up? Or maybe they’re aiming to continue schooling in between exams.
Make sure you have some ideas about what you want before you start looking for the right tutor. Also make sure it is what your child wants. This may sound obvious. But often students come to tutoring with a clear idea of what they want. They know which topics they are strongest on, and those that need a second look. This level of self-awareness can make all the difference to getting the best results.
Where do I look for an online tutor?
Online tutoring agencies host a wide range of tutors – but don’t restrict yourself to these sites. Some agencies place a tutor’s contact details behind a paywall initially making it harder to have the conversation to inform your decision. Look on Google - again, be specific in your search terms – what subject are you looking for? “Online biology tutor” is more specific than “online tutor”, for example. Many tutors have a social media presence too – so look at Facebook, Instagram etc. Tutors expect you to be looking at multiple options at once so don’t be afraid to “interview” them!
Look for a tutor’s qualifications and experience
As online tutoring has become more popular, the marketplace has grown – but you can use the busy marketplace to your advantage. Firstly, look for a tutor who specialises in your child’s chosen subject. Often these tutors will have the most experience, be most up to date with exam specifications and inspire your trust. Make a shortlist based on qualifications and experience – and keep an eye out for useful complementary skills. For example, I was a cancer research scientist and have a PhD in maths and biology.
I now specialise in A-level biology tutoring, but I also provide academic coaching as I’m a qualified coach. Other tutors may have a background in finance, medicine, drama or languages – this life and career experience can only help.
Look for meaningful reviews
Five-star ratings on Facebook might be easy to mimic, so it’s important to look for opinions and recommendations – ideally from people you know and trust, but also actual heartfelt testimonials from former students and their families. It’s common for a tutor to become an important person in a student’s life – this may be reflected in personal stories, and reviews that feel more personal or resonate with you.
Many online tutors also work locally in their own towns and cities, so local reviews on Google are also a good place for research.
Rapport is hugely important
Trust and honesty are important for getting the best out of tutoring for your child, and a good tutor will try to build up this rapport quickly. Great rapport turns sessions from a chore into – well, if not fun, then a least a meaningful chat with someone your child can rely on to help.
Often humour takes the edge off daunting topics, puts students at ease and leads to new ways of thinking about exam questions. From our point of view, we want to get to the point where your child can open up about “not getting” a topic, from there we can work to fill any gaps in their knowledge or work on exam techniques and confidence building.
Meeting prospective online tutors
Online tutors usually offer a free introductory call, giving you the chance to meet them and ask questions. Ask about their approach, their experience, what a typical session looks like. Discuss your child’s current situation with their studies and be honest about their expectations. If your child has any specific requirements, special needs or things the tutor needs to know you can raise these now, or in a separate call. Above all, look for someone who complements their expertise with the right approach and manner for you and your child.
Ask for advice on choosing a tutor
If you have any questions, or need any advice on online tutoring, or choosing a tutor, I’m happy to help. Just get in touch - John@wooltontutors.co.uk
GUEST POST BY:
Dr John Ankers,
John is a PhD-qualified biologist and mathematician offering friendly one-to-one tutoring in science and mathematics, specialising in online A level biology tutoring.
There’s plenty you can do at home to help your teen with GCSE and sixth form studies, as well as creating lifelong healthy habits, find out more in: The Parents' Guide to Homelife and Study - GCSEs and The Parents' Guide to Homelife and Study - sixth form