Improving Academic Performance

What You Should Expect from a Private Tutor: 25 Rules (Part 3)

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Sat, Feb 03, 2018 @ 08:06 AM

In our previous two articles, we discussed what to expect from a private tutor before and during tutoring sessions. We covered communication, logistics, planning, and specific tutoring strategies and techniques. In this article we’ll finish our series of 25 rules by covering rules 21-25 by exploring what to expect after a tutoring session.

After the Session

The tutoring experience doesn’t end when the clock turns off on the session itself. How you interact with the tutor after the session is important and can help make for a positive or negative experience.

  1. Immediately following the session, the tutor should summarize quickly the key learnings and takeaways from the session and how it fits into the broader “study plan” being followed. This helps reinforce the material in real-time and can take various forms. If the tutoring session was about preparing for the GMAT, as an example, and this was the first diagnostic session with the tutor, the student may not have decided whether or not to continue with the tutor.  Still, the tutor should be able to offer some real-time thoughts on, if this relationship were to continue, and even if it doesn’t, what the student should be focused on. If the tutoring session was related to a specific subject, like geometry, then the tutor should have some thoughts about what topics are likely to be coming next, how what they discussed today relates to those topics, and how to prepare.
  2. An important best practice is for the tutor to send a written summary of the session to the student (and perhaps parent) summarizing what was covered and how it fits into the broader study plan. If this was the first tutoring session, then the written summary could and perhaps should be an actual written study plan documenting how the tutoring relationship will be approached. It is very important to document in written form the plan being followed so a student can reference it and orient themselves to where they are in the tutoring process. In some cases, the tutor may need to do a little research to find online tools or practice problems (i.e., reviewing certain elements of Kahn Academy) to help build a student’s skills in a given area.
  3. If appropriate, you might find a tutor spending some time to research online tools or practice problems to help a student build skills in weaker areas. This is sort of an “extra credit” best practice. If a student is really struggling with something, there are often web-site or additional materials that can help, and an expert tutor can help identify and direct a student towards those resources.
  4. The tutor should include in his or her summary email details on scheduling for the next month or so. Neither party should be surprised that someone’s schedule has changed or that someone is going on vacation. It is important to be highly structured around scheduling and logistics. At MyGuru, some of our best tutors were unfortunately not strong when it came to scheduling and organization more generally. We had students express that the tutoring sessions themselves were excellent, but getting confirmation of times and dates for future sessions was like pulling teeth. We’ve worked hard to address this.
  5. The tutor should be available to respond to simple, easy questions via text or email as part of an effective long-term tutoring relationship. Obviously, “off-line” interaction needs to be kept to a minimum and be within reason. The tutor isn’t being paid for this time, after all, so his or her time needs to be respected. That said, the tutoring relationship should not just exist within the confines of the 1-2 hour tutoring sessions. In some cases, more extensive off-line Q&A sessions via email or text can be a productive part of a tutoring relationship, and something for which we’ve charged students at discounted rates.

Summary

Working with a private tutor is a significant investment. And at the end of the day, it’s on the student and/or parent to “own” the process and put in the work to extract value out of the experience. At the same time, it is right to expect a lot from your tutor in terms of communication, planning, and, of course, instruction. Hopefully these 25 rules have you thinking about how to get the most out of a tutoring relationship.

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Tags: private tutors, 1-on-1 tutoring, tutoring, private tutoring, Hiring a tutor, preparing for the initial tutoring session

What You Should Expect from a Private Tutor: 25 Rules (Part 2)

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Sat, Jan 27, 2018 @ 08:06 AM

In our last article in this series, we discussed that while it’s important to take ownership of your investment in private tutoring, you should still expect specific behaviors from your tutor. We covered what is reasonable to expect before the actual session from a communications, logistics, and preparation perspective. In this article, we’ll explore what you should expect during the tutoring session.

During the Session

Environment, timing, and focus

  1. You should be very comfortable with the tutoring environment. When you are struggling in a class and have decided to invest in a private tutor, you need to focus on the learning process. If there is too much noise or other distraction, future sessions should occur at a different location. Now, this doesn’t mean that public coffee shops can’t be good places to conduct a tutoring session. In fact, many students are far more comfortable meeting a tutor in a public coffee shop than in their home. A private room in a library is typically an excellent venue for a tutoring session.
  2. There should be open communication about the starting and end times for the session. If the tutor is late, if you spend 10 minutes discussing the weather, politics (probably something to avoid) or sports, or if the tutor must step away for a private call, this time should not count against the hour(s) you’ve purchased. At the same time, if you are late, it’s fair to expect the tutor to “start the clock” when the session was supposed to start, although we encourage tutors to be flexible. Also, at MyGuru, we ask tutors to report time in 15 minute increments, rounding down. So, if the tutor has been working with you for 65 minutes, it would be very reasonable to discussion whether a) things should be wrapped up in the next 5 minutes so you are billed for an hour or b) you continue working together for 15 or more minutes, so you are billed for 75 or 90 minutes.
  3. You should feel and observe that the tutor is 100% focused on your learning during the sessions. If you feel the tutor is distracted (i.e., checking his or her phone, not listening to you, etc.) then you are not receiving the attention you deserve. Your tutor should be 100% focused on you.

Planning and organization

One of the keys to a successful tutoring relationship is the development of a customized study plan. If you are receiving tutoring in a specific class, this becomes quite a bit less important, as the syllabus for the class can be followed. But even then, your strengths and weaknesses might necessitate a different “path” to learning the material for the class.

  1. You should be aware of the plan being followed in the tutoring relationship overall. Generally, the first session is somewhat diagnostic. The tutor is identifying and confirming strengths and weaknesses and coming out of that session, creating a plan for you.
  2. You should be aware of the plan being followed in any session. The tutor should explain the key objectives of the session, and highlight the major topics and expected takeaways. A student should never feel as if they aren’t sure where a session is going or why something is being covered.

Tutoring techniques

Every tutor has their own style, and there are different ways to connect with a student to help them understand difficult or new concepts and build new skills. That said, it is reasonable to expect the following from a tutor:

  1. Some upfront investment of time should be made in establishing a personal rapport with you. Tutors are generally well served by getting to know their clients/students a little bit. What are they motivated by? What do they like/dislike? This helps both parties get more comfortable with one another and can even be a source of useful analogies in explain the material. This article on edutopia.org lists the personal relationship first in a list of keys to a successful tutoring relationship.
  2. Students are far more likely to learn when they are asked to actively engage with the material. If the tutor is talking for most of the session, or simply working out problems while the student watches, then the learning that is occurring is likely to be passive. Instead, there should be a give and take of questions, answers, problems being completed in real-time by the student, etc. You should be an active participant in the session, not just an observer.
  3. You should be getting clear feedback associated with your mistakes. Whether it’s during real-time review of problems or as you are reviewing practice sets you completed on your own time, your tutor should be providing you with clear feedback around why you missed a certain problem and what to change moving forward to complete the problem correctly. Even if you feel the tutor explains things well, you are still not maximizing the value of the sessions if clear, targeted feedback isn’t provided. This is an excellent article about the importance of feedback in building study skills and learning new things.
  4. Your tutor should generally be able to explain most concepts in more than one way. One of the major benefits to 1-1 tutoring vs. reading a test prep book or taking a test prep class or sitting in any given math or English class is the high level of customization that is possible. If something isn’t clicking with you when explained this way, the tutor can approach the problem that way, etc.
  5. Concepts should be broken down into small pieces where possible and brought back to their more basic underlying components. A common issue teachers or tutors face in connecting with students is using language or concepts that seem basic to them, but which the student does not understand. There should be a constant drive to break things down to their more basic, foundational parts, and then build them back together.  If a student is missing foundational conceptual knowledge, the tutor needs to identify that gap and find a way to fill it. This is an excellent article on the importance of creating increasingly larger “chunks” of information over time when learning new things (but by starting with very small ideas and concepts).
  6. Your tutor should be giving you “mini tests” during the session to check your understanding. Studying with heavy use of “mini” ‘quizzes is critical. Even if you are actively engaged in the session, asking questions, etc., it’s always possible that you aren’t truly understanding the material. Frequent “mini tests” can serve two purposes. First, research shows that “mini tests” are an excellent way to retain information because it is a highly “active” form of learning as described in this article. Second, “mini tests” help identify whether or not you truly are understanding a concept.
  7. Your tutor should be forcing you out of your comfort zone. To be getting the most of a tutoring session, there should be a certain level of discomfort. If the whole session is very comfortable and you completely understand everything that was discussed, then what really was the point of the session? If it seems like you are having no trouble at all in understanding the questions or concepts being reviewed, an excellent tutor will move on to more advanced material in the same area to push the student’s thinking.

In our next and last article, we’ll discuss what to expect after a tutoring session.

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Tags: private tutors, 1-on-1 tutoring, tutoring, private tutoring, Hiring a tutor, preparing for the initial tutoring session

What You Should Expect from a Private Tutor: 25 Rules (Part 1)

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Sat, Jan 20, 2018 @ 09:00 AM

This is the first in a series of articles about what makes for an effective private tutoring experience. The series will be written such that we assume most of the onus is on the tutor to create a positive experience. And certainly, when a parent or student invests $60, $70, $80, $90 or more per hour for private tutoring, they should expect a mentor and guide throughout the tutoring process. The tutor should certainly be the expert telling the student / parent what to do and providing clear advice.

That said, always remember that working with a private tutor is not a silver bullet. You, the student, are still responsible for taking ownership over the relationship, buying into the approaches, strategies, and tactics, putting in the hard work, and ultimately performing well in the class or on the standardized test. At the end of the day, it really is on you, not on the tutor, to perform in the class or on the test. CEOs of huge companies hire high priced private consultants all the time to provide them with advice and ideas, but they are obviously responsible for the performance of the company. No investor, employee, or customer ever really gives credit or blame to a consultant.  Similarly, you should expect a lot of focus, ideas, advice, and guidance from a tutor, but you should not plan on giving them much credit or blame if you succeed or fail. The tutoring process is driven by the student’s desire to work hard and improve.

So what should you expect when investing in a relationship with a private tutor?

Of course, a private tutor should be an expert in the academic area in which you are struggling. Or, at least, they should be an expert relative to your current level of understanding. If you are struggling in pre-calculus, they should have a clear mastery of pre-calculus. I hope this is obvious. But an effective private tutor should be much more than a master of the content, and there are a range of behaviors and actions a parent and/or a student should expect when working with a private tutor.

In this article, we’ll share some “best practices” around the tutoring experience. These best practices should double as reasonable “expectations” for a student or parent investing their time and money in working with a private tutor. In my experience, most tutors do not follow each one of these guidelines. But, we try to ensure MyGuru tutors do, or at least try, to follow a clear majority of them.

Before the Session

Communication and logistics

  1. You should expect that the tutor (or tutoring company) gets back to you within 24 business hours of every email you send, text message you write, or phone call you make. In 2017, with the pace of most people’s lives and the ubiquity of smart phones and lap tops, you should not have to wait 48 or more hours in between email responses. If the tutor is unsure of his or her schedule or the company is still in the process of coordinating, you should be receiving an update every day or so.
  2. The tutor should be clear in his or her communications about his near and medium-term availability and travel limitations. It is fair to assume that the tutor should accommodate your schedule and, if you are seeking in-person tutoring, travel very close to you. That said, it’s also reasonable to expect that you might need to be flexible on timing and location as well. You shouldn’t be caught off guard that he’s on vacation for a week (as an example).
  3. You should be presented with the option to do the session in your home or in a public location. Unless the tutor is clear about travel or logistics limitations, the session should be in a location that’s convenient and comfortable to you.
  4. The tutor should initiate the exchange of cell phone numbers and be clear about the exact time, place, and location of the session, as well as his or her physical appearance so you can identify the tutor. You should not feel stress about figuring out where to meet or who to meet on the day of the session.
  5. If either party needs to cancel the session, at least 24 hours of notice should be provided. It wreaks havoc on everyone’s schedule when a session is cancelled on short notice. At MyGuru, we have a 24-hour cancellation policy. If the student cancels within that timeframe, they can be charged for the session. If the tutor cancels on very short notice, it’s often reasonable to expect a free session.

Preparation and objectives

  1. While the tutor should have clear mastery of the material, they should also ask about your assignments, materials, syllabus, and teacher’s approach etc. in advance such that they can familiarize themselves and prepare. Every teacher or professor is different, and reviewing the material, at least briefly, in advance is key to understanding it completely and delivering an effective lesson. It may even be appropriate, as the tutoring experience progresses, for some interaction between the tutor and the teacher to take place, even if indirectly through the student or parent, such that key concepts or approaches can be clarified and explained to the student by the tutor in line with the teacher’s perspective. This understood.org article addresses the importance of tutor, parent, and teacher interaction.
  2. The tutor should ask you about your expectations for the session, and proactively establish objectives in advance. You are probably paying by the hour. So, within reason, students shouldn’t spend an entire 1-2 hour tutoring session reviewing only 10% of the questions in their homework. At the same time, if you are missing core conceptual or foundational knowledge to excel in the class, the tutor should communicate this clearly and explain why he or she needs to go slowly. For standardized test prep, objectives can vary widely. Are we diagnosing strengths and weaknesses and focusing on exploring what you need to know for the test, such that we can write out a customized study plan?  Or, do you have three specific concepts and a list of missed problems you want to review?
  3. Speaking of the development of customized study plans, they are almost always a critical component of a tutoring relationship and a very important objective to be met. Unfortunately, helping students develop customized study plans is a skill that few tutors have really mastered. We too often hear something along the lines of “the sessions were great. But I left without a clear understanding of what to do next on my own. There was no structured plan to follow.” Particularly when it comes to tutoring for standardized tests, a core objective should be to walk away from the session with a study plan. Here is an article that does a good job of discussing the importance of developing a quality study plan.

In our next article, we’ll cover what you should expect from a tutor during a session.

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Tags: private tutors, 1-on-1 tutoring, tutoring, Hiring a tutor, preparing for the initial tutoring session

'How Children Succeed'  Book Summary: Part 1

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Wed, Dec 30, 2015 @ 10:28 AM

MyGuru is launching a new book summary program where we summarize and analyze books that discuss recent research on what drives academic performance and leads to success inside and outside the classroom.

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Tags: academic performance, tutoring, study help, study tips, personalized education, online educational resources

A New Perspective on Academic Success

Posted by mark sko on Wed, Dec 23, 2015 @ 04:23 PM

The average person probably believes that a critical key to success in life, particularly one’s academic life, is intrinsic intelligence as measured by IQ.

Yes, most of would say, hard work matters a lot too, but at least in many academic situations, no amount of hard work can really make up for a lower level of raw intelligence or aptitude for certain types of academic or cognitive skills.

Some of us are “math people” and some of us just aren’t, right? Not really.

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Tags: academic performance, tutoring, study help, study tips, personalized education, online educational resources

The Under-appreciated Power of Paying Attention: Part 1

Posted by mark sko on Fri, Nov 27, 2015 @ 01:21 PM

When a student is really struggling in school or on standardized tests, reversing the trend can seem like a truly daunting task. One of the first things a parent might say to student who comes home with a “C” or “D” on a report card might be, “are you paying attention in class?” This is indeed a very important question, because paying attention in class is critical to performing well in school. Paying attention while taking a standardized test is also critical, yet oddly it probably seems so obvious that you may have never actually thought about the fact that it’s important. In this article, we’ll discuss a seemingly obvious concept in a new light: paying attention.

The idea that “paying attention” is important seems simple, but it actually operates on a variety of different levels. In this article, we’ll address the following three questions:

  1. What does it really mean to focus on paying attention? What are the different dimensions of “paying attention” that a student or parent should be thinking about?
  2. Why is paying attention so important?
  3. What are some strategies for improving your ability to pay attention (follow up post)

1. What does it mean to pay attention?

Let’s start by thinking about your typical high school or college student sitting in class. I’d submit that there are three level of paying attention to consider:

  1. Just listening to the teacher vs. staring out the window or day dreaming about something else
  2. Actively listening to the teacher, and focusing on when she explicitly calls things important, not important, assigns things, asks questions, and perhaps most important, when you do vs. don’t understand what is being said
  3. Fully engaged listening to the teacher, in which you are really trying to understand and digest what she’s saying (which I recognize is not easy if you aren’t also very interested in what is being discussed) to challenge and enhance your understanding of it

You might call (A) the bare minimum and (C) the gold standard of paying attention. (A) is fundamentally about being committed to being a part of the situation at a high level. The first step in this direction is, of course, attending vs. skipping class altogether. But, once you’re there, you really have to focus on listening to what’s going on. If you are day dreaming, it’s almost as if you aren’t there at all. The next step is actively listening, where you focus on identifying when something important has been said. Finally, in C), when you are fully engaged in the lecture, you will naturally ask a question when you don’t understand or want to make a point.

As you move from A through B and toward C, you are essentially realizing that listening to words being said out loud is only the first step in understanding an idea. When you are really paying attention, you are constantly breaking down explanations and ideas, re-phrasing them, creating linkages to other ideas you understand to be true, and making sure you understand.

2. Why is paying attention so important?

Many students think that reading and homework assignments are substitutes for attending or really paying attention in class. But, they are wrong.

When it comes to a typical academic subject, the more obvious reason that paying attention is so important is that classes are typically structured such that you learn things in class, they are reinforced in assigned readings, applied through homework and projects, and your knowledge is then evaluated through quizzes and tests.

However, it’s a little messier than that. Many of us have probably found that, when explained in layman’s terms by a teacher, a given concept or idea is much more digestible than when described in a text book. In other cases, something might be covered in class that actually isn’t covered in a text book at all. So, you can’t skip class, or sleep through it, and think that you’re going to be well positioned to do well in the class. You will literally be missing information that you need to have.

The more subtle reason that paying attention is so important is that our brains and minds don’t just learn things upon hearing or reading them. They learn through the struggle of trying to understand what is being said. The process of trying to digest what is being said in real time, ask questions if necessary, and synthesize information together to form our own opinions and perspective. If you aren’t really paying attention, you won’t be able to identify what it is about a concept or idea that you don’t understand, and therefore won’t be able to struggle to understand it. You might, in fact, not realize that you don’t understand something.

Finally, many people don’t realize that standardized tests explicitly measure your ability to pay attention. When you read a question that says “which of the below answers is not correct?” You may need to know algebra to correctly answer the question, but if you aren’t paying close attention, you might pick A), because it is the answer to the equation. Unfortunately, you would be answering incorrectly, because the question is asking for what is NOT correct.

At the end of the day, if you compare the straight A student with a 4.0 GPA to the straight B student with a 3.0 GPA, or the high school student that scored a 31 on the ACT to his friend that scored a 27, you might just find that the ability and commitment to pay attention is the only real differentiator.

In our next post, we'll explore some strategies for improving your ability to pay attention.

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Tags: academic performance, tutoring, study help, study tips, personalized education, online educational resources

Boost Your Academic Success With These Three Study Habits

Posted by mark sko on Tue, Aug 25, 2015 @ 11:00 AM

A 1961 study entitled "Project Talent" found that college students in those times spent an average of 24 hours per week studying. Fast-forward 50 years to 2011, and students were studying only 14 hours per week on average, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement.

Some have attributed this drop to the adoption of more pass-fail courses, so students need only do the bare minimum. Others have posited that foreign language requirements (and the long study hours associated with them) are being phased-out, while grades are becoming less important to job recruiters in lieu of extracurricular activities.

But grades don't necessarily have to suffer because you're studying less. Efficiency is more important than quantity when it comes to preparation. Here are a few ways to maximize the effectiveness of shorter study sessions.

Divide and Conquer

This phrase is a negative when referring to government strategies but is golden for college students trying to get the best grades possible. In courses that require a lot of reading, find a couple classmates who are dedicated and committed to getting good grades. The three of you can divide the reading assignments equally by three, take solid (yet brief) notes, then have a study session during which you all exchange the information. Each student can make copies of the other's notes after discussions about the main ideas. This method can literally cut your time spent reading by more than a third.

Variety Is King

A 2010 study by University of South Florida researchers examined a group of fourth-graders trying to learn new mathematical equations. Half of the group studied one type of equation at a time, calculating the solutions for several in a row, then moving on to the next type of equation. The other half studied a mixture of all four different types of equations simultaneously. When the students took a test the next day, the ones who studied the mixture of equations fared twice as well on the test than their counterparts.

An August 2011 study published in Psychology and Aging similarly tested adults using the same method. The first group viewed mixed collections of paintings by various artists, while the other group viewed a dozen paintings from each individual artist, then a dozen from another artist, etc. The previous group was better able to distinguish the styles of each artist upon testing.

What this means is that students should vary their studies as opposed to spending five hours on one subject on a given night. Do an hour of calculus, then read your literature assignment for an hour, then log onto your Lenovo and post your required discussion group response for your online history course.

Eat Blueberries

There is absolutely no better brain food than blueberries. Researchers at Reading University in the U.K. gave lab rats a steady diet of blueberries for three weeks. The blueberry-fed rats were not only able to improve memory by 83 percent when navigating through a maze vs. the control group, but also experienced a reversal in age-related declines in memory. College students and adults over 50 should eat a half-cup of blueberries per day to get the benefit of the flavonoids that regenerate nerve endings. Some doctors have even considered blueberries as a treatment for Alzheimer's disease. Blueberries are also tasty and rich in anti-oxidants.

About the Author

Neal Ortega - Neal is the co-founder of a student charity group at his university.

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Tags: academic performance, tutoring, study help, study tips, personalized education, online educational resources

Personalized Learning and its Benefits

Posted by mark sko on Fri, Aug 14, 2015 @ 11:33 AM

You can walk into any classroom today and see that different students struggle with different things.

Some students at the elementary school down the road might have a hard time doing fractions during math class while others might struggle with remembering the capitals of all 50 states.

Maybe a college student is in an Intermediate Accounting class, but her previous professor from Intro to Accounting only went over straight-line depreciation and never mentioned double-declining depreciation. She lacks that foundation she needs to succeed in her class. It is not her fault. Her previous professor just decided to emphasize a different topic of accounting instead.

Personalized learning is important because each student has his or her own individualized needs and focus areas to reinforce. Students learn in different ways. They come from different backgrounds. They even have varying academic foundations. When it comes to a student’s education, one-size does not fit all.

More effort will have to be put into identifying topics and subjects that each student individually struggles with. Maybe it is a teacher, a professor, or a tutor explaining it to them in a different way by using a visual graphic instead of writing it out on a white board. Maybe it means going over that biology material a few extra times to make sure the student understands it. Maybe it comes to a few extra hours of studying those GRE vocabulary words to guarantee you really have them down.

Thankfully there are many great opportunities, services, and tools out there to help personalize the learning of each student. Professors have office hours that students can attend and ask questions. Teachers are normally in their classrooms during lunch. Both of these options are both a) remarkably underutilized by students and b) completely free. These two options should be considered step one to improving your academic performance. Private tutoring is, in many ways, the gold standard of customized instruction, but it can be expensive.

However, there are also great online learning tools out there to help personalize the learning experience for each student. Kahn academy is perhaps the most popular. It’s free, and has a fast growing library of high quality, on demand video content in a wide variety of subjects. It allows a student to build their own study plan around the concepts they might be struggling with. Magoosh, ePrep, and Leanerator offer low cost, video-based, adaptive test prep environments for the ACT, SAT, GRE, GMAT, and many AP tests. Most of these solutions offer content and unique technology solutions to allow a student to customize their learning experience with varying degrees of structure.

Our Memory Science platform is a different type of online learning tool. It uses key tenants of neuroscience to deliver Byte-Sized chunks of information that help students learn and retain anything that they might struggle with. A student can create a supplement herself to help her remember the process of a reaction in O-Chem, or purchase premade content on macroeconomic theories. The Memory Science platform is a place for you to spend time on the topics and materials that matter to you.

 

 About the Author

Memory Science is a neuroscience-learning platform that utilizes Byte-Sized Learning to help students learn efficiently, retain more, and perform better. You can find us at https://marketplace.memoryscience.com/marketplace/

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Tags: academic performance, tutoring, study help, personalized education, online educational resources

6 Advantages of Online Tutoring for Students

Posted by Mark Skoskiewicz on Fri, Feb 22, 2013 @ 11:58 AM

Although online tutoring has been around for a while, many students (and their parents) haven’t yet caught on to the possibility of meeting with a tutor virtually, let alone come to recognize its benefits.  Once the idea moves from the realm of theory to the realm of actuality, however, attitudes generally change from skepticism and incredulity to enthusiasm and appreciation.

Much like telecommuting and virtual commerce for other businesses, online tutoring provides a number of distinct advantages that not only make it competitive with in-person tutoring, but actually superior in many cases.  Here are a few of them.

1.  Availability 

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Tags: online tutoring, 1-on-1 tutoring, tutoring