It wasn’t that long ago that tutoring in the US was far from commonplace. Most students – myself included – went through their entire primary, secondary and college careers without any personal or group tutoring whatsoever. Tutoring was for the wealthy, or for kids with significant learning problems. Nevertheless, as a points out, in those days the US was among the best-performing nations in terms of aggregate academic achievement.

Today, with tutoring growing rapidly both in the US and abroad, the global private tutoring market is projected to surpass $100 billion by 2017. On this playing field, the US is falling behind as other nations improve their academic performance. And America’s parents and learners now increasingly view tutoring as an absolute necessity to maximize achievement levels – which means the demand for tutoring will undoubtedly grow even more.

But why do today’s students need tutoring support to manage academic performance that previous generations attained without tutoring? Are schools, parents and communities simply failing? Or are cultural changes conspiring to make us “dumber?”

One thing is for sure: more and more students are going on to college in America, yet an increasing percentage of them need remedial help. Recent research indicates that a sobering 60% of students entering community college need at least one remedial course.

Many of these students would undoubtedly benefit from tutoring. But the traditional, one-on-one, in-person tutoring model is often too expensive or too logistically challenging to work for many community college students – as it is for learners of all ages and situations. Notwithstanding all the wonderful volunteer, peer-based and low-cost/subsidized after-school or other tutoring programs out there, the traditional face-to-face tutoring model doesn’t “scale” to meet today’s demand level. People just don’t have the time or the money these days in many cases.

But who says one-on-one tutoring has to involve two people sitting in the same physical space? As web-based video conferencing becomes ubiquitous, more and more tutoring organizations are leveraging the technology to deliver cost-effective without the challenges of getting people together in person.

Sylan Learning, for example, recently announced the availability of that features real-time, individual attention and personalized programs, delivered by state-certified teachers. Learner and tutor work and talk together throughout the entire lesson, just as if they were sitting across the same desk – which in many respects they are.

Evidence from and other sources shows that online tutoring does help improve academic competence and confidence – and that interactive online tutoring is effective, even when the instruction doesn’t take place face-to-face via teleconferencing services.

Real-time, teleconferencing-based online learning may not work as well as true face-to-face tutoring for learners who are easily distractible or have more tactile learning styles. But for kids who are extremely shy, or don’t want to be seen receiving extra help, learning performance could be even better online. And, of course, online tutoring saves travel time and gas money, and overall is highly cost-competitive versus traditional, face-to-face tutoring.

Is live online tutoring “the answer” to America’s educational challenges? Probably not – but it can undoubtedly help deliver affordable, high-quality tutoring to many kids and adults.

Have you tried live online tutoring – either as an instructor or as a learner? What are your impressions?

Featured image courtesy of US Mission Geneva.

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