Online vs In-Person Tutoring: What’s the Future?

September 27, 2021 by Harry Denniston, Education Writer
picture of a tutor on a laptop screen and a versus sign next to a picture of an tutor and child sitting next to each other at a table
The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken up the world of tuition for good. With attitudes about online teaching and travelling changing, we take a look at what the future holds for face-to-face tuition, and weigh up the pros and cons between online and in-person.

It’s a well-documented and well-worn fact that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we all operate. 

There has been a fundamental paradigm shift toward online work over the past two years, and many of us have seen the benefits and advantages this has brought about. Flexibility, less travelling, more energy, a personalised approach: the list goes on. This shift has affected all age groups in every area of society, and the tuition sector certainly hasn’t been exempt.

However, when it comes to the world of tuition, it’s not as though the pandemic was entirely responsible for the shift online. Indeed, there were plenty of articles floating about well before March 2020 that forecasted a fundamental seachange from in-person to online tuition, as well as for change to traditional modes of education in general. The move online was always coming: the pandemic catalysed it. 

The technology – from online learning aids and the incorporation of online resources in lessons to administrative tools like Minerva’s Temple system – has been around and waiting to be harnessed for the past decade. But because the private tuition sector – like so many others – was dragging its feet in playing catch-up to the opportunities online learning could provide, the prevailing conception when it came to a personal tutor remained that of a harried twenty-something post-grad turning up at your front door after your child had finished school, ready to drill them on past papers for their 11+, GCSE or A Level.  

Whilst the general uptick in the appreciation and popularity of tuition was already beginning to change the stereotype outlined above, as well as driving change regarding the quality of the institutions behind the private tutors themselves, the predominant expectation regarding tuition pre-2020 was still for face-to-face lessons, in which a tutor would travel to a client’s house to deliver their service.

In this blog, we take a look at the differences between online and in-person tuition and weigh up the pros and cons of the two modes. We’ll take in conflicting matters such as the necessity for face-to-face contact, the wealth of tools and resources available for online teaching and the changing attitudes of tutors themselves to help us make our judgments, as well as our prediction for the future of in-person tuition itself.

In-person vs Online Tuition: A Deep Dive

In-person tuition simply means that a tutor delivers their lessons direct and unmediated to the student, usually travelling to the student’s home for an hour or so after school or on a weekend. Online tuition takes place over Zoom, Skype, Google Meets, or equivalent, with tutor and student separated by a screen, joined by video call. The duration of lessons tend to stay the same, apportioned out in hour-long slots. The two different modes each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

In-person tuition is, of course, great for establishing a connection between student and tutor. As we all know after having worked from home over the last few years, a Zoom call doesn’t fully replace the feeling of real-life interactions in the office, school, or place of study. With in-person tuition, it might be argued that a tutor can get a better, more immediate sense of all the extra-academic issues a student might have regarding attention, discipline and motivation. 

‘Active Learning’

Joanna Stell has written about the importance of ‘active learning’ in the context of online versus in-person university-level learning. The importance of the chatter, discussion, jokes and other aspects of an educational environment commonly associated with in-person teaching might not, however, be correctly and exclusively attributed to that mode, she explains. Passive learning – sitting in a daze while someone tries to impart knowledge – might just as easily happen in person as online. 

When it comes to one-on-one tuition, this hazard is usually addressed and circumnavigated anyway, whether online or in-person, due to the nature of the interaction: the tutor only has one person to deal with, and can easily tell – and address the issue – whenever her or his student is switching from the active to the passive. This can happen as easily over a video call as it can in-person.

And, whereas the arguments for ‘extra-academic’ learning are often deployed in educational environments associated with a full day’s worth of study – school, university – tuition is usually only for one or two hours anyway: the tutor tends to turn up, teach and leave, without enormous opportunity for much other pastoral care. Again, the shift online does not seem to affect this dilemma too substantially.

Still, it is undeniable that certain nuances in mood and attitude might be picked up better in person. However, as online tuition increases, tutors will become more adept at perceiving these across a screen.

‘Off-Screen, On-Screen’

There might also be the argument that, as young people spend increasing amounts of time on their screens, in-person tuition makes a valuable change and designates or retains the act of learning as a different, ‘real-world’ experience distinguishable from the absorption of other kinds of ‘content’ that flood our minds in our usual forays online. 

However, the counter-argument runs that allowing learning to occur online, after a day of traditional schooling – which still proves slow on the integration of digital learning resources – might perk things up for young minds, which are often more used to, and hungry for, online adventures than previous generations can compute! Blurring the boundaries between the fusty world of traditional learning and the frontier of the online might be exactly the spark a student needs to connect up the real world with that of their learning, seeing as online is an equally default interface for their ‘real world’ anyways.

‘Blurring Boundaries’

Other arguments for the shift online in private tuition are convincing, and have been regularly covered and documented on other educational and mainstream media sites, as well as in our two-part series on the future of tutoring.

There’s increased convenience for both tutor and student: all you need is an internet link. This means there is no need for either party to travel, which is strongly influencing tutors’ preferences and trends, as we’ll see in Part Two. There’s increased availability and specialisation: with tutors available online from all over the country – indeed, the world – parents and students have a wider access to a greater variety of tutors, and to a greater variety of subjects. Suddenly you can take one-on-one lessons in coding, or Mandarin, at the drop of a hat.

The lack of travelling, and the proliferation of available tutors, both contribute to an overall dip in the cost of private tuition for parents and students. This also means that tuition becomes more diplomatized and more readily available to people from various income bands.

Therefore, both in-person and online tuition remain equally necessary modes of teaching, but the common boundaries that distinguish them might not be as easily drawn as one might think.

With all the advantages of online tutoring brought to the fore over the past few years, there’s been time and space to normalise and appreciate the act of online tuition, which has opened up the field for parents and tutors alike. In short: now it’s here, it’s not going away.

The Future of In-Person: 4 Things to Think About

So what does this rupture in the received and hitherto accepted mode of tutoring mean for the future of the in-person style? What would a synthesis between the modes be like? And what might be the best way to optimise the use of both? 

There are four things to factor in when thinking about in-person vs online from now on:

  1. The Tutors Themselves

Quite simply, the market has changed. Tutors have become used, over the past two years, to being able to teach from home, with no discernible impact to the pedagogy. Indeed, in-person is not necessarily the preferred option for parents and students anymore, either.

This means that parents might have to get used to paying a little more, or being willing to cover the travel for tutors that teach in-person.

However, it’s true to say that tutors still want some in-person lessons during their weekly schedule, to keep things alive, maintain some real-world contact, and stop themselves going mad at home!

  1. The Students Themselves: Types of Learner

In-person will be likely to continue in specific instances where the type of learner requires it: if a student learns better face-to-face, for various reasons ranging from behavioural to motivational, then in-person tuition will be maintained and remain crucial. For some people who’ve already been struggling with distance-learning over the past two years, in-person could provide solace and re-connection.

Some students, on the contrary, prefer to work online for the reasons explored above, and online will suit them better, too. The majority of students will be able to work either way, in which case, online will be the cheaper, simpler solution.

  1. Specialist Lessons: When is In-Person Needed?

There are some lessons and subject areas that will benefit from – or simply cannot be done without being – face-to-face. Art, music lessons, drama: there are some subjects where in-person is a must-have.

  1. Intensive Courses

Because in-person tuition will be rarer, and because tutors are less prepared to travel for a single hour’s work, intensive courses, where tutors are booked for longer chunks of time, will become more common and viable.

In these instances, you might book an in-person tutor for a week – a half-term, say – or even 4 – 6 hours in a day, to work over specific subject areas, or prepare for exams.

There are also things like Minerva’s Half-Term and Summer courses which students can sign up for things like Coding or ISEB 11+ Intensive Preparation, where they can focus their tuition – both online and in-person – as well.

‘The Best of Both’

Tim Morris, President of The Tutor’s Association, has stated the need ‘to explore innovative ways to widen access to the best tutoring’ in order to democratise this fundamental part of the contemporary educational landscape. Online tuition is a serious step forward in this regard, and in the future, it can work alongside in-person to make this democratisation happen.

Online tutoring signals a general shift in attitude for the consumer, too: tutoring is suddenly cheaper, lighter on its feet, and more sustainable, meaning you could feasibly have an online session once a week throughout the year, for a bugbear subject, say, concretising a student’s learning slowly, steadily and surely. Read more about this in our post on heading back to school with an online tutor.

And, of course, whilst the prevailing shift will be toward online, with in-person retained for specialist reasons, there will also be plenty of opportunities for hybridised models, like Minerva’s Virtual Academy, in which the models are combined to best effect.

If you have any questions about online tutoring, or want to know any more about how Minerva can help you and your child, please don’t hesitate to get in touch here.

Meet Our New Online School!

If you’re thinking of schooling your child at home, then our brand new, thriving online school could be the perfect solution.

  • All lessons and learning material supplied
  • Group lessons with other pupils
  • 1-2-1 mentoring
  • Suitable for pupils in Years 9 & 10 (GCSE)
  • Free trial period available
  • Rolling monthly payments, cancel anytime

All you need is a computer with an active internet connection, and we’ll do the rest. Visit Minerva’s Virtual Academy now to register for an immediate start!

>> Go! <<