The days of hiring the teenager from down the street to tutor your kid are seemingly long gone. Tutoring is now a booming business, raking in around $5 billion per year. The options can be overwhelming. While technology modernizes education, with e-textbooks and iPads becoming staples in some classrooms, online tutoring is now a popular choice.
What is online tutoring? Your child sits at a computer for a one-on-one video conference with a human tutor. Don’t drive anywhere, and pay with a credit card. Some details vary from company to company, but the basics remain the same. So, how do you know if this is right for your child? Read this list of the pros and cons of online tutoring to help guide your decision:
- PRO: It’s convenient. Not only do you save yourself the travel time and gas money, but you could be on the way home from work or out running errands during your child’s tutoring session. If your child already has a busy after-school schedule, it may be easier to schedule online tutoring sessions around it than in-person tutors.
- CON: It requires more discipline. Your child would have to keep his focus on the screen without getting distracted by emails, IM’s or Facebook. “An adult is much more suitable for an online tutoring experience than a younger child,” says Andrew Geant, the co-founder and CEO of WyzAnt, a nationwide online marketplace where students can find a private tutor in their area. Why? Because it’s easier to keep a child accountable and focused in person. The child also needs to communicate well and speak up, because an online tutor may not see the confused look on your child’s face.
- PRO: It works well in emergency situations. If you suddenly become aware that your child is woefully unprepared for an upcoming test, or if he missed his regularly scheduled session, an online tutor might save the day. Mark Kronenberg, founder of tutoring company Math 1-2-3, says that even local clients use online service to handle “last-minute math emergencies.” While in-person tutors may be most helpful for long-term relationships with students, online tutors can quickly, conveniently clear up a specific issue your child has. If your kid just needs a refresher on multiplying large numbers, a single session might do the trick.
- CON: It works better for some subjects than others. Certain subjects are tougher to pull off for online tutors. In foreign language instruction, the movement of your mouth can be really important in getting pronunciation right. That’s harder to teach online. If the subject or homework assignment specifically requires the child to write on paper, it’s much harder for an online tutor to read along with the student.
- PRO: There are more tutors to choose from. “You don’t have any geographical constraints, which broadens your universe of possible tutors,” Geant says. If you happen to need a specific type of person—let’s say you want a highly experienced, Spanish-speaking fourth grade math tutor with a sense of humor who makes fun Harry Potter references—you’ll have better luck with the larger selection of online tutors.
- CON: It’s more expensive. While in some cases you may find an online tutoring company that charges less than your neighborhood in-home tutor, watch out for additional costs for technology. You may have to purchase software or a microphone so your child can video-chat with the tutor. Some online tutoring platforms work best with an iPad or tablet. The extra expenses can rack up if you don’t already have the technology your child needs to get the most out of online tutoring.
- PRO: You can store notes digitally. “The one advantage over regular tutoring is that you have nice color notes saved on your computer,” Kronenberg says. Digital notes not only do a favor for the environment, but they’re harder for students to permanently lose.
- CON: There are scams out there. Naturally, there are some bad apples in the online tutoring world. Geant’s number one tip? “If you’re just talking to a corporation and don’t get a hint into the actual person who will be working with your child, something is wrong.” He suggests getting references before choosing a tutor. Also, you should never make a significant monetary commitment before your child ever sits down with a tutor.
If your child is struggling across the board in all his classes, an academic coach is likely a better option. And remember, none of these options are mutually exclusive. You can have a regular in-person tutor for your child and keep an account with an online tutoring company to handle those academic emergencies that arise the night before a big test. Create a strong system of support that is unique to your family and works best for your child.