by Graeme Matthews

April 3, 2019

As of 2019, 81% of the developed world’s population and 56% of the world’s population has internet access. 2.71 billion people own a smartphone and 1 in 4 students in the UK have had private tuition. And there is a growing interest among parents with the idea of online tuition as it provides easy access to quality tuition, with less scheduling hassles, without any geographic constraints and the ability to have tuition for their child anywhere in the world where there is internet access. However, some parents may be wondering how does online tutoring work and is it as effective as traditional tutoring?

Although the idea of online tutoring sounds like a solution to a parent’s problem with finding their child quality tutoring, it does raise several concerns for parents. The concerns that parents have about online tutoring are usually in four key areas: how the lesson is delivered to their child, how their child interacts with the tutor in the lesson, how is homework assessed between the lessons and is online tutoring as effective as traditional face to face tutoring.

As a parent, are you looking for quality tuition for your child in order to help them be more academically successful? Have you researched the different tutoring options available today such as hiring a tutor from a large tutoring agency, a tutor clearing website or working with a tutor who is a sole proprietor? You may want to read the blog posts “Need A Tutor? Should I Go With A Franchise Tutor For My Child?”, “Tutor Websites: Should I Hire A Tutor Directly Through One For My Child?” and “Find A Tutor: Should I Hire A Tutor From A Sole Proprietor Website” for help with researching your options. Maybe you have decided that working with a tutor that you found through a tutoring website or who is a sole proprietor is the best option for you. And now you have to decide if you want your child to work with the tutor using a traditional tutoring format in your home or online.

How Is The Lesson Delivered

how does online tutoring work

Every day people are making video calls using Apple’s FaceTime or Facebook Messenger apps on their smartphone. In the late ’80s are early ’90s, large corporations started using video conferencing software to host meetings as a more cost-effective way to hold meetings rather than having to fly their executives to the location of the meeting. Or, videoconferencing was used to host meetings that had a more personal touch that could be obtained through a phone call. The video conferencing software of choice for large corporations at the time was Skype.

Today, an online tutoring lesson is delivered through video conferencing software such as Skype or Zoom. From the perspective of the tutor, both Skype and Zoom offer a good high definition video conferencing experience although Zoom is becoming the preferred choice. This is because it offers more functionality they can use in their lessons to create a richer more immersive learning environment. From the perspective of the parent, the app for both Skype and Zoom can either be downloaded or they can use the web-based version. And their child can easily connect to the lesson by clicking on the link in the confirmation email they were sent by the tutor on their smartphone, tablet or laptop.

How Their Child Interacts With The Tutor In The Lesson

how does online tutoring work

If the tutor visited their house the parents would see the tutor take out a variety of books, past paper questions, worksheets, sheets of blank paper, an assortment of coloured pens and sharpened pencils. They would most likely see the tutor sit across the dining room table and both the tutor and the child would solve problems together on a sheet of paper that was on the table between them. The tutor would ask questions to make sure the child understood the concept and the child would ask questions regarding anything that they didn’t understand as the lesson progressed.

The same learning experience can be achieved in an online tutoring lesson using digital paper and the sharing of the instructor’s computer screen. The digital paper of choice for tutors today is Bitpaper as it offers a wide variety of choices for the tutor to use in the lesson. The digital paper opens in a web browser and both the student and the tutor can write and draw on the paper simultaneously. It effectively replicates the blank sheet of paper, coloured pens and pencils used in a traditional tutoring session. Past paper questions and worksheets can either be embedded directly into the digital paper or the tutor can share their screen with the student. This allows the student to see past paper questions, worksheets, PowerPoint presentations or even video clips on the tutor’s computer screen. And of course, since the tutor and the student can see each other they can ask each other questions.

How Is Homework Assessed During The Lessons


Although they are in a digital format, it’s actually a more efficient use of time to assess homework sets that are digital rather than paper-based. In a traditional tutoring environment, there is a delay in getting the homework marked. This is because the student is assigned homework at the end of one tutoring session and gives it to their tutor at the beginning of the second tutoring session. The tutor either marks it during the lesson, which is not the best use of tutoring time or takes it with them at the end of the lesson and brings it back with them at the start of the third lesson. Either the lesson time is not used efficiently or the homework sets are not marked in a timely manner.

In an online tutoring environment, the tutor shares a folder in the cloud with the student such as a folder on their OneDrive or Google drive account. This allows the tutor to upload a homework document to the shared folder where the student can download the document and complete the homework set. The student can then scan their completed work using an app on their smartphone and upload it to the folder. The tutor then has the option of either printing it off and marking the hardcopy or marking it digitally and uploading the marked copy to the shared folder. Although it involves a learning curve for both the student and tutor once the routine is established as part of the weekly tutoring session it becomes a rather effective use of time.

Is Online Tutoring As Effective As Traditional Tutoring?

how does online tutoring work

Studies indicate that online tutoring is as effective as traditional tutoring and gets similar results in the improvement of student course grades and standardised tests. The focus of the studies has shifted from how online tutoring works which has been clearly established to why online tutoring works. The reason why online tutoring works is that tutoring depends on the rapport that is established between the tutor and the student during the tutoring session. If the tutor and the student have rapport then the tutoring session will be determined to be effective and if the tutor and the student don’t have rapport then the tutoring session will be deemed to be ineffective.

This is, of course, assuming that the tutor has a strong command of the subject matter and knows how to use the online learning environment effectively. Online tutors who are sole proprietors naturally have a strong command of their subject matter as many are ex-teachers who have decided that tutoring online is a more effective use of their time than teaching in the classroom. And they have also developed through a steep learning curve a skill set that allows them to be effective in an online learning environment.

How Does Online Tutoring Work? And Is It Effective?

how does online tutoring work

The global online education market is growing annually and is expected to reach $190 billion in 2019. And online tutoring, which is a part of the global online education market, is also experiencing positive growth as more parents are choosing online tutoring in order to supplement or remediate their child’s education. The research and economic evidence strongly indicate that online tutoring is a cost-effective way for parents to afford quality tuition for their child. Although online tutoring is a growing field, some parents wonder how does online tutoring work and is it as effective as traditional tutoring?

Why does online tutoring work and is as effective as traditional tutoring? The reasons are summarised below:

  1. Parents have less scheduling issues, don’t have to drive to or from tutoring centres and aren’t restricted to hiring tutors that are willing to travel to their home when they hire an online tutor.
  2. Online tutoring uses high definition video conferencing software such as Skype or Zoom in order to connect your child with a qualified tutor so it’s like the tutor sitting across the desk from your child.
  3. Online tutors use digital paper such as BitPaper so that the tutor and student can write on the same sheet of paper. And the tutor uses screen sharing to share other resources that will be used in the lesson.
  4. Homework sets are uploaded and downloaded to a shared cloud folder and are marked digitally by the tutor between lessons which is a more effective use of lesson time.
  5. Studies indicate that online tutoring is as effective as traditional tutoring and gets similar results in the improvement of student course grades and standardised tests.
  6. Online tutors who are sole proprietors have a strong command of their subject matter as have also developed a skill set that allows them to be effective teachers in an online learning environment.

About the author 

Graeme Matthews

Graeme Matthews has a B.Sc and an M.Sc in Chemistry and a PhD in Adult Education. He has been teaching a combination of university level, college and A-level chemistry for over 23 years. He has taught over 10,000 chemistry students in his teaching career. He has a proven track record of helping students earn an A* on their A-level chemistry exams so they can attend the university of their choice.

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