Can Online Tutoring Reverse America's Academic Decline?



Every student who struggles with a subject — Crotty with geometry, for instance — longs for special assistance. In my era — the Proto-Pleistocene Bowie Epoch — there was no such animal as a paid personal tutor. Or, if there was, it was reserved for either the economically elite or those with learning disabilities. Nevertheless, the U.S. was often near the top of the class in global tests of academic achievement.

That has all changed in the last few decades, as America increasingly falls academically behind its global competitors, especially in Asia (where tutoring has grown exponentially). As a consequence, tutoring in the U.S. is now seen by many parents as de rigueur to get their young charges to achievement levels that these very same parents attained without widespread tutoring.

Because of this growing belief in tutoring’s value, the global tutoring market has soared — as I noted in a previous Forbes post – to become a $102 billion industry. Moreover, tutoring demand is bound to grow even more, as parents and schools increasingly fail to intellectually prepare students for not only collegiate success, but for life.

A white paper by Cherie Mazur, Ed.M, entitled Online Tutoring: A New Retention and Remediation Solution, found that while the number of students enrolling in undergraduate degree programs has increased 34 percent from 2000 to 2009, the number of those students who are unprepared for college has increased proportionately. According to Virtual Strategy Magazine, fully 60% of students entering community college require at least one remedial course.

However, most students seeking to attend community college — let alone public colleges or universities — cannot afford the cost of a private in-person tutor. Moreover, many parents of primary or secondary school students find in-person tutoring to be inconvenient, costly (especially at the gas pump), and lacking in quality selection, especially compared to the wider range of tutors found online. And, naturally, surveys of today’s tech-obsessed students show that they prefer online to in-person tutoring. Taken together, this explains the rapid growth of online tutoring, or e-tutoring.

But, does e-tutoring actually work?  According to Today’s Campus, data from tutor.com — which has provided over eight million tutoring sessions to date — show that more than 90% of Tutor.com students reported improved grades and even improved confidence levels from online tutoring.

However, according to tutoring website, Math and Reading Help, there may be drawbacks to online tutoring. For example, if cell phones, televisions or even the computer itself easily distract your child, those distractions may be more prevalent if a tutor is not physically present. Math and Reading Help also points out that learning style differences may make online tutoring a challenge for certain students. Moreover, struggles with communicating may not allow for the best online tutoring experience.

Math and Tutoring Help also advises parents to be aware of technological limitations inherent to online tutoring that may make learning subjects — such as, yes, geometry — difficult without face-to-face in-person interaction with a tutor.

James Marshall Crotty Contributor


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