Online tutors

These individuals provide instruction and other traditional tutoring services for students by utilizing the Internet. Online tutoring services may occur in real-time or be delayed, and the services may be free or for-profit.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

Online tutoring takes on the nature and technologies of the Internet; therefore, some services are real-time (synchronous) while others are slightly delayed due to the type of communication (asynchronous). Some advanced online tutoring services utilize such technological tools as webcams, online whiteboards, and chat programs. These technologies help to simulate a more traditional classroom environment, allowing the student to actually see the tutor's work and methods. Additionally, in synchronous communication, the tutor can better gauge the student's interest and comprehension level dynamically during the lesson.

More widely used in online tutoring today are asynchronous methods. While these technologies do not offer true "real time" communication between student and tutor, they do allow a simple, fast way to exchange ideas. Popular examples of asynchronous tutoring tools would include e-mail, discussion boards, and file sharing. Typically, a student with a question in this type of tutoring environment would send an e-mail to a tutor or make a post to an online bulletin board requesting assistance or clarification. In addition, the student could send a report or homework assignment to the tutor for assistance, critique, or correction. The tutor would make the necessary changes and/or comments and send the file electronically back to the student. Again, while this type of tutoring is not "real time", it does provide a way for students to receive assistance online in an expedient manner.

Educational Uses, Benefits, and Issues

According to the ACT Department of Education and Training Final Report 2005, there are several key uses, benefits, and issues:

Educational uses and Benefits

Issues

Online tutorial and teaching support for students can help reduce isolation experienced by some undertaking online sources. It can impact on completion rates and student satisfaction levels if online queries are responded to quickly and contributions to forums are acknowledge.
Can impact on the workload of teachers/tutors who have to respond to online requests for help, clarification, or participate in online forums or chats.
Students can post questions and queries at times suitable for them.
Lack of timely feedback and response to queries can be demotivating for students.

Is likely to impact on the role of the teacher/tutor and may change staffing arrangements.

Providing additional support can be a costly option as it may require additional staffing. Student expectations may need to be managed

One Experiment in Asynchronous Learning

The IT Department of a regional university committed their entire program to student paced learning that depended on web based training and on line tutoring. As noted above, faculty became overwhelmed and have since described the experience as teaching a separate course to each student. One faculty member has confided that the effect on faculty morale was devastating and the department was still suffering from the experience five years after the program returned to a more common routine. This information is anecdotal, and a more disciplined study of this program and the consequences is anticipated.

Possible Problems

A problem that I have found little information regarding is academic honesty in using tutors. Many of the Online Tutuors have the ability to submit homework assignments and receive answers to these problems. The only barrier to an unlimited supply of answers would be economic in most cases. A learner could potentially provide answers to problems without ever addressing their own need to learn a process or subject area.

Example of how it works

Here is a news story that illustrates how one company Tutorvista works.