All Articles Education Edtech How schools, students can succeed with online tutoring 

How schools, students can succeed with online tutoring 

Discover the pros, cons and features needed for an online tutoring company.

5 min read


How schools, students can succeed with online tutoring 

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Putting together the pieces of the student tutoring puzzle has been a heavy lift for many school districts after a year or more of pandemic-prompted learning gaps. With 63% of schools and districts saying in an Education Week and Kelly Education study that they plan to offer before- or after-school help rather than making time for tutoring during the school day, some districts are turning to online tutoring for primary or supplemental services.

Is in-person tutoring better?

Studies are few and mixed about the effectiveness of online versus in-person tutoring, but “many districts are struggling to recruit a sufficient number of tutors locally – especially those districts in rural areas or those that are focusing on higher-level or more technical courses such as calculus. While in-person tutoring may be preferred, for some locations and courses virtual is the best option,” Susanna Loeb, director of the Annenberg Institute at Brown University and education professor, tells SmartBrief.

The biggest benefit is ’round-the-clock access, allowing students to get answers when it’s best for their schedule.

Online tutoring can be difficult if a student did poorly during virtual learning or if a program doesn’t help tutors see where a student’s math solutions are going astray, if young students learn better with manipulatives, or if English-language or foreign-language learners need to clearly see a tutor mouthing words and showing emotions. Spotty internet connections or old computer equipment are other roadblocks. “They need iPads, styluses, headphones and so much more,” including a quiet area of the home conducive to learning,  Melanie Young, a former math teacher who founded a small tutoring company in Philadelphia, tells SmartBrief.

Students in Victor Valley Union High School District in California have given high marks to their online tutoring experiences, according to Ratmony Yee, assistant superintendent of educational services, in a SmartBrief blog post. Students at Carlmont High School Journalism in Belmont, Calif., have seen both pros and cons.

Utah’s Ogden School District has teamed up with an online service to try to make tutoring available for more underserved students and provide acceleration for students who want it. District teachers can view recorded tutoring sessions to pinpoint learning gaps.

The cost of online tutoring depends on frequency, type of tutor and other factors. “In general, we have seen the cost range from $1,200 to about $2,500 per student, though they can go higher,” Loeb says. The National Student Support Accelerator site from Annenberg has an easy-to-use online cost calculator that helps districts get a ballpark estimate.

What to look for in an online tutoring program

Experts and districts that use an online service say small wait times, well-trained tutors, excellent data gathering and communication with schools are key factors in a program’s success.

Ideally, students can access the same tutor each time so a relationship forms and learning evolves. If not, tutors must be able to communicate well with students, be attuned to verbal and visual responses, and be adept enough adapt instruction for each student, Nancy Madden, the CEO of the Success for All Foundation and a professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Research and Reform in Education, tells SmartBrief.

Individualized learning plans; engagement with the school, students and families; and timely data from the liaison spelled success in Victorville, Calif., Ratmoney writes. 

The blended tutoring program at St. Paul Public Schools in Minnesota offers live tutors 24/7 in more than 300 subjects. “We did investigate various companies to figure out how we wanted to do it,” Darren Ginther, the district’s director of the office of college and career readiness, tells SmartBrief. The program is just a click away on students’ school-provided iPads, and details about accessing it are available in multiple languages for families. Ginther says students also appreciate only one- to two-minute wait times for tutors rather than waiting for half an hour to hear back.

Loeb recommends reviewing any available research on a company’s efficacy and understanding how their tutoring model stacks up against evidence-based tutoring standards.

What about AI or recorded tutoring?

A company that relies on a library of recorded video lessons can work for students interested in acceleration or who are stuck on one small element of a subject, but it doesn’t allow for a personal relationship.

“Moreover, this type of tutoring is not as equitable, in that higher-achieving and more engaged students tend to use it more effectively and more often when offered. However, we do believe that this type of AI-assisted tutoring may have a role in supplementing high-impact tutoring by providing extra practice on specific skills, or progress monitoring assessments that provide the tutor with guidance in lesson planning,” Loeb says.


Diane Benson Harrington is an education/leadership writer at SmartBrief. Reach out to her via email or LinkedIn.


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