Personalized online tutoring is fast becoming a popular concept in the US. The appeal lies in the personal attention devoted to the learner, ready availability, convenience of use and increased affordability due to off-shoring model followed by several tuition providers.
From the perspective of a learner, it is important to understand what online tuition is supposed to deliver and what should the characteristics of quality online instruction be.
What is Quality
Online tutoring in its best form is supposed to cater to the individual learning aptitude, personality and pace of the learner while imparting knowledge, skills and application. Thus quality of an online learning program needs to be measured by how much knowledge has the learner grasped and retained and how well can he apply it to problem solving.
Parameters affecting quality
Since by definition, online tutoring has to cater to the individual differences between learning aptitude of the learners, any discussion on quality should exclude it from parameters affecting learning outcome. Effective online tutoring is supposed to teach no matter whether the learner is fast or slow and that is the determinant of its quality.
Thus the factors affecting the quality have to be intrinsic to the process and operation of providing online tutoring. Broadly, these factors can be categorized as:
• Instructor quality
• Process control
• Content quality, and,
• Technology & infrastructure
Online instruction takes personalization of teaching to the next level thereby making the role of instructor even more significant.
An enthusiastic teacher with great subject matter expertise and teaching aptitude can make the online classes very exciting. The novelty of learning online from a teacher sitting thousands of miles away becomes an exciting prospect.
Thus, in terms of instructor quality, it is important to ensure that the instructor has sound knowledge of the subject matter, basic teaching aptitude, great communication skills and in case of offshore teachers, command over spoken English including neutralized accent and an appreciation of cross-cultural nuances.
While the subject matter expertise and teaching aptitude is to be tested before recruitment, proper training enables the instructor to effectively communicate to students across the globe.
From a process perspective, the implications are:
a) Online tutoring provider should have stringent recruitment criteria to ensure teachers with good subject knowledge and teaching skills
b) Systematic training be provided to build online teaching skills to an alien audience (eg students in an entirely different country)
Process control Online tutoring is a person-to-person service. To ensure quality of interaction between the teacher and the student, robust quality monitoring and quality control mechanisms are necessary, especially while a session is going on.
Real time monitoring contributes significantly towards ensuring quality. Having an academic counselor apart from the teacher and reverse feedback mechanisms from student to the teacher and academic counselor helps build accountability.
Interestingly, several online tutoring providers follow a distributed model of teaching where the teacher teaches from his/her own home. Several other companies provide a matching service between online tutors and students. While both these models reduce the overheads, they make real time quality control quite difficult. For example, a ringing doorbell or a bawling kid in the background may completely ruin the continuity of a learning session in the teacher-teaches-from-home model.
Having a centralized teaching facility and the tutors as full time employees goes a long way in building and maintaining quality tutoring. The formal office environment generates professionalism and a shared service culture so very important in ensuring great person-to-person service.
Content comprises of the teaching material, books, notes and exercises.
Since the basic premise of online tutoring is total personalization, using standard teaching material greatly reduces the effectiveness of instruction. Experience shows that a single concept can be taught in several different ways and different students respond differently to each of these approaches. Thus, it is important to assess which approach to take for which student and present the study material according to the same. Standard text or notes become pretty ineffective at this stage.
Thus, it is important for online tutoring providers to have dedicated content development function. The idea is to customize the study material as per the requirement of the learner so that benefits of personalization made possible by offshore online tutoring can be passed onto the student.
Technology & infrastructure
Technology and infrastructure play an extremely important role of a facilitator - great infrastructure and technology does not automatically ensure great teaching but lack of it does ensure no teaching.
The voice conferencing software, whiteboard etc should be reliable and not lead to wasted time in trying to get the session run smoothly.
Contrary to popular belief, teaching online students across half the earth calls for more than just a PC with broadband. It is important that the tutoring provider invests enough in infrastructure and processes to ensure quality tutoring consistently
Offshore online tutoring making quality personalized help accessible to all is a great promise. Quality control of service delivery is extremely important to impart effective learning.
Proper recruitment & training processes for tutors, real time process monitoring & control, content customization and adequate technology & infrastructure are extremely important to providing exceptional online tutoring, consistently.
About the Author Prashant Yadav is the founder of personalized online tutoring provider Etutelage. An avid educationist, he has been interested in technology-assisted education for over 7 years. Along with his teaching experience, he brings valuable business and technology expertise having held various positions across the US and India in companies like Coca Cola, Mentor Graphics and Atrenta.
Article By: Prashant Yadav